You’re probably thinking this is just another post on time management, filled with the latest businesses jargon sourced from LinkedIn. But it’s not. We push time management as the secret sauce to success and to getting work done, getting that promotion, and getting to have it all.
But what if “time management” isn’t what we need? There’s so much to “manage” these days, that I think when we fail to “manage” anything, the corresponding conclusion we come to is that we are failures somehow. To me, having that pass/fail test is only good for a certain number of things. Using your time wisely isn’t one of them.
So, here’s why I think we should strive for time mastery instead and a few tips on how to practice it in your own life.
Time Management and Time Mastery are not the same things.
So, if we return to our trusty dictionaries for definitions, we find two very separate ideas about management and mastery.
The root of management, of course, is the word manage meaning to organize, regulate, or be in charge of something. It means to have control over something. Well, think about this for a minute. Can we actually control time?
I don’t think so. Instead, let’s flip a few pages over to the word mastery. Ah! I think you’ll like the definition of mastery much better. Mastery refers to someone either having comprehensive knowledge or who is getting comprehensive knowledge of a skill or subject. I think this is more of what we want. Don’t you?
The preferred term for mastering time these days is time management. It sounds sleeker, more business-y, and there are thousands of articles, courses, and blog posts on how to “manage your time.” If you want to be a manager, then by all means, focus on managing your time. As if time is something you can boss around.
Mastery, however, means you aren’t there to boss around something you can’t really control. You can’t stop time, make it go more quickly, or reverse it. So why are you trying to?
If, however, you are gaining mastery; it implies that it’s a skill you have to work at acquiring and that it’s not exact. It’s a skill you build up. Management is a pass/fail. You either have it or you don’t. Mastery implies that you are practicing an art and a skill. Not passing some arbitrary test of your abilities.
This falls more in line with what we actually need and want in our skill sets. Goodness only knows we have enough “managers” out there these days.
Mastery is a constant project, not a one and done.
If you expect a formula for how to transform a day full of dead spots into one filled with productivity, you will be sadly mistaken. That’s time management you’re thinking of. Not time mastery. You cannot always master your time exactly the same way every single day. Nothing in the world can do that.
Instead, have a guideline for how you want your day to go. A guideline means you recognize that not every day will go the same way and that you will have days where your normal schedule will not work.
You try keeping your usual schedule with a fever, and see how quickly you land in the emergency room. Or succumb to something worse.
You can have a schedule and stick to it reasonably well for most of the time, but you cannot do so 100% of the time. That’s an unrealistic expectation for most people out there and life doesn’t work that way. Circumstances change. People change, economics change, families change, friendships change, everything changes.
If you’re expecting to be exactly the same way every single day of your life, then you’re lying to yourself. And worse, you’re lying to everyone else around you and setting yourself up to be used, abused, and then discarded when you no longer give what you’ve taught someone else is your normal.
If you treat your time as if it’s valueless, then it will be valueless.
This goes back to treating yourself the way you want others to treat you. If you don’t value your own time, then very few others will either. We can all grasp this intellectually, unless you’re still harboring any feelings of altruism or sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. Your time is the one resource you cannot make back. Once it’s gone. It’s gone.
Valuing your own time looks like weighting the merits of your time versus the money you have to spend to get it back. How much is that worth to you? If you’re on a tight budget, like a lot of us writers are, then you might not have much of a choice. But when you have a choice, what’s a better investment? A savings account or buying back your time?
Remember, you can always make money back. You can’t make time back.
Another way of valuing your time is to look at how much of it you’re giving away and where. Money can buy comfort. If that actually brings your comfort so you’re able to accomplish more, then it’s money well spent. Time well spent looks like something which brings you both joy and experience. If you volunteer your time, don’t just look at what you’re giving, look at what you’re getting.
How you spend your time tells other people how you want your time to be treated. If you give away your time blithely, then others will expect more and more of your time. That’s just human nature. It’s not necessarily malicious either, because it’s the expectation you’ve set. There are, of course, those out there who are malicious or who simply don’t care or don’t consider anyone by themselves.
If you’re only getting a headache, then you aren’t giving your time wisely, however noble the cause. And make no mistake, the noblest of causes that don’t appreciate the time being given them aren’t all that noble. Same for employers.
Multitasking is a horrible use of time. Multi-purposing a task isn’t.
All the times I’ve spent job-hunting, the one “skill” everyone demands is “multitasking.” Over the years, “multitasking” has become synonymous with “productivity.” Even worse, those of us who don’t “multi-task” are often told we have a “time management” problem when we don’t. We do better when we have blocks for tasks. Not a single time block during which we have to do multiple tasks at once.
Multitasking requires you to divide your attention and very few people can do that and still be effective. More often than not, what you end up with is a brief attention span and someone who has to change tasks to stay engaged.
Multi-purposing a task or a time slot is a far better solution. This is when you do a task and it ends up bringing you closer to several goals at once. For instance, if I’m researching for the blog, I try to research as widely as possible and I may even start blurbs that become several blog posts. That isn’t multi-taking. It’s a single task: research.
Taking a walk in the middle of your day likewise is multi-purposing. Say you take a 30-45-minute walk during the working day. If, in that time, you also come up to the solution to several issues, get an idea for the project you’re working on, and help manage your stress level at the office all in one go, I’d say that’s a good time investment.
In my experience, being forced to multitask only leaves a lot undone and raises stress levels. As I’ve slowly detoxed myself from the traditional working environment and embraced the remote work model, I’ve noticed my ability to concentrate actually increases. This after 15 years in retail and in regular office work.
The less concentration you have, the less you’ll be able to do in a timely fashion, long-term. Ever wonder why our attention spans are so horrible these days? It’s not just social media doing it. It’s also the demands of the modern workplace to “multitask.” Guess what? Short attention spans don’t work for everyone.
So, multitasking? That’s so last century. Try multi-purposing instead!
Plan the work and work the plan as much as you can.
If you don’t go into each day with some kind of plan in place for how to spend your time, then you may get a lot done, but you may not get a lot of benefit out of it and you may end up wasting more time than you think. Time to break out those planners and brush off your calendar.
Everyone like digital calendars these days. I do too, and I use them for clients. However, I also have a whiteboard calendar by my desk which I use to keep track of the days, how the month is going, etc. I also use a Clever Fox planner for my daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals. What’s the difference?
A written plan is the one that gets followed. A physically written one. We can all type until our fingers a number, but I’ve found the physical act of writing makes your brain connect with the information much differently than if you were to just type it out.
So I spend some time on my physical calendars and always keep those up to date, even if my digital ones are slightly off. Having your calendar visible is also important. If you never see your calendar, then you won’t act on it. You can silence or ignore notifications. It’s a little harder to ignore the calendar by your desk that tells you in big, bold letters you have a blog post due today.
Want more on planning? I’ve got a couple of other posts on planning!
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4 thoughts on “4 Tips to Begin Mastering Your Time”
I love anything that’s not one and done. That signifies constant work and effort, and anything valuable requires work. Love your take on this. Your points add much more than the usual generic pointers (ones I’m prone to giving lol), and I particularly agree with the planning bit. For some reason, I get work done much quicker when I list out what I need to do, versus just playing by ear. Thanks for this post!
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Thank you for reading it! I appreciate the feedback!