What Would You Do If You Had More Free Time?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
The amount is up to you: one million, five million, 50 million. The question, however, is not what you would spend it on (gold shoes, obviously) but what you would do with your time?
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So, before reading any further, have a think.
If you’re anything like me, you will have read straight on to this sentence. And why not? So, let me tell you a little bit about what happens when I ask this question on time management courses. The first thing, is that people often realise that they are already doing many of the things they would want to do (spending time with friends or family, travelling, exploring new ideas for future work). They would just like to spend more time doing them.
The second surprise is how often work is included in the list. Perhaps not doing it quite so much, and perhaps in a different area e.g. volunteering, but there seems to be something that work offers us that we value. My guess is that it is to do with meaning and purpose: having an activity that allows us to demonstrate our abilities, express our values and connect with other people.
One of the reasons I like the lottery exercise is that it encourages the participants to think about what is truly important to them. Not just at work, but in their life. The time-management guru, St Augustine, said in The City of God, that our lives are like the path a bird takes when it flies in through one window of a room and flies out through another. Quick. If that is true, then the question is: what am I going to do with my time?
Is our obsession with time management ruining our lives?
Oliver Burkeman, in his provocative essay, Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives, argues that time management techniques merely create an unhelpful obsession with time and generate more space to be filled by other things. Once again, in his conclusion, he argues that perhaps we should be concentrating more on what not to do and what choices we want to make in our lives.
I’m not such a pessimist. I think time management techniques can help when work becomes overwhelming.
I recently ran a project management course. One of the participants was struggling with how to co-ordinate several projects at the same time. I could have mentioned the available software. Instead we talked about ‘Eat Four Frogs.’ At the end of each day, decide which are the four most important things to do. The next morning, do them. There is a sense of achievement that comes with this and very real inroads are made into your work.
Another way that people feel overwhelmed by their work is when other people try to interrupt or impose their own priorities.
A simple skill is being able to say no. On a course, a few years ago, a participant was complaining that at the end of the day, her boss would always ask her to do just one more thing. She would do it and end up staying well beyond her proper leaving time. We discussed a broken record: stating your boundary clearly, offering a positive and, if any objections are raised, just repeating your original boundary and offer. She came up with, ‘I can’t do it now, I’ll do it tomorrow.’
She was not optimistic about its likely success. But when she came to a follow-up session, she walked in on her tiptoes, ‘I have found the golden key!’ She explained that her manager had approached her after the last course and asked her to do one more thing. She screwed up her courage and said, ‘I can’t do it now, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ Her manager had said, ‘Okay.’
Since that time, in her own words, she had used it with her husband, the kids, her colleagues. ‘They don’t know I’m doing it!’ she said.
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Paul is a Masters qualified trainer with experience in interpersonal skills, work skills and management training. He has worked in the public, private and voluntary sectors for over fifteen years. Paul has a Distinction in the Institute of Personnel Development Training Certificate and the teacher-training certificate for Mindfulness-Based Approaches from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. In 2017, Paul was a Finalist for the Learning Professional of the Year at the 2017 Learning Awards.
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