Improve Your Quality of Life with Time Management, Not Busy Work

Photo credit by Ali Nassiri; creative commons license

Time management techniques improve both your productivity and—if you’re willing to change your point of view—your quality of life. It’s not really about finding time to do all the things you must do, but finding time to be all the things you want to be.

I still recall standing in the public library one evening after work when I was a busy, chaos-wrestling 25-year-old career woman (“career woman” was the term we used back then). I set my briefcase aside as I handed the librarian my choices—at least 3 sets of time management courses on cassette tape and probably 40 hours’ worth of listening. Time management had become an obsession for me because I had so much to do and so much I wanted to do—I was working 80 hours a week and I barely made a dent in either my weekend chore list or my job assignments—and I was constantly taking on more. You’re heard of The 4-Hour Work Week?

Not for me! I felt lucky to get four hours’ of sleep a night.

I listened to the tapes while I commuted, while I gardened, and while I cleaned house, but I was disappointed. I was looking for the secret treasure trove of tips. Most of it, I’d heard before. Some of the productivity techniques were good, but most were either about delegating your work to someone lower on the corporate ladder when I was the lowest or how to cram every possible minute with yet another little task to juggle with the rest. Life became an elaborate checklist.

After a time, I became quite good at what I thought was time management. Or so I thought. I really wasn’t managing my checklists—they were managing me. But I sure looked great to everyone else! In fact, you might say that I became the Poster Girl for Productivity.

Friends and colleagues marveled at how much I managed to accomplish in the same 24-hour day that they managed to go to work, feed themselves, and watch a little TV. As I finished my advanced degree, got promoted to even more responsible jobs, and started both a family and home business—all at one time—I joked that someone should clone me. That, in hindsight, was a warning signal because if I needed to be cloned a few times, then I was doing too much task juggling and not enough living.

I was so very good at managing my workload and yet my non-stop complaint was, “I don’t have time” or “There’s never enough time to do ______.” How could I accomplish so much and not have time to enjoy the moments? Life became a blur of checklists.

You were only killing time and it can kill you right back. – “Out of the Frying Pan (and Into the Fire),” Jim Steinman

Then something changed. It wasn’t that I suddenly had more time in a day or even that I started doing less. My mindset changed when I reached mid-life. I began to look at time differently. Suddenly my time and how I spent it had much more relevance. If I put a dollar value on my time, it made it easy to figure out what I could outsource and what I could let go.

The key to changing my way of thinking about time management and productivity was to understand that many resources are renewable. I can always make more money, for example. What I can’t make more of is time. It’s the one resource that, whether wasted or spent, is gone and will never be renewed. I found that I could hire out tasks I had no passion for, and often at a much less rate than the value I put on my time. I found that I could hire out jobs I would have spent weeks learning the basics of, just to become productive. I found that I could hire out parts of big projects to specialists and clerical help, which meant I had the fun parts of coming up with the money-making ideas and then integrating them into one package. I found that I really could delegate most of the things I hated doing and focus my time—my most precious resource—on what I really wanted to do…and more importantly, on being what I really wanted to be.