Do you sometimes find yourself wishing that you had more hours left in a day? Have you had the experience of putting in more hours at work just so that you can get your task accomplished? We all face pressure from various things in our lives that compete for our time and attention. There is work to do in the office with your boss needing you to put in more hours to get tasks done. Your spouse is clamoring for more quality time with you at home. If you have children, they also want you to be there for school game nights. Yes, as a good citizen of your community, you also need to attend a fundraising program to support the local elementary school in your neighborhood. Ah ha, you have plans to progress in your career by learning new skills, so you are attending an evening class to learn and acquire some new knowledge. What if you still have a toddler that you need to pick from daycare and feed when you get home, before going to the adult education center. By the way, as a fitness enthusiast, you need to steal some time to hit the gym so that you can keep fit. And guess what, you have to cover all these activities, day in day out, just within 24 hours. Oh, I forgot, you have less than that. You need to sleep, you are human.
How do we juggle our time between all these competing and seemingly essential activities? How can you stay engaged and productive in one activity without feeling guilty for not being there for other activities? How can you properly allocate your time to ensure that you are achieving your most important goals?
Work-life balance has become a catchphrase in our culture today, especially among working professionals. It is an idea that we can become more effective by scheduling an equal number of hours for the different activities involving our professional and personal lives. This is a fallacy, and it is unrealistic. There is a better approach — work-life harmony, which is about seeing both our personal and professional lives as two interdependent parts. If you are happy and fulfilled at home, you will be more productive at work, and vice versa. Work-life harmony is about harnessing our time such that we complete those activities that are considered critical to our ultimate goals and vision before moving to the less important ones.
Recognizing the fact that both your personal and professional lives are integrated will give you some peace that the two go hand-in-hand and they are both equally important. Here are some quick tips that will help you to better manage your time and achieve work-life harmony.
- Prioritize more wisely: After many years of training people on time management, I have come to the conclusion that most people do not have a time problem, but prioritization problem. Most people spend their time on things that do not add meaning to their lives, and they often find themselves always behind schedules. To be effective, you need to start out each day determining what is important and critical for you and focus on those things that will help you in your overall objective. If you have a timeline to complete two tasks in your office, for example, say the first is within a month, and you have three months to deliver on the second task. You can start by allocating over 80% of your hours on the task that will be due within the month, and about 20% on the other task. Basically, the task with the shorter timeframe should take priority here because of the urgency around it. You can apply the same principle to your personal life, what are those activities that are crucial to your goals, put priority and your focus on those activities, and only spend time on other activities when you have successfully completed the important ones.
- Say NO more often: There are too many distractions around us, and to be effective at managing your time, you need to learn how to say ‘No’ to unimportant activities. You should put non-value adding activities in your “Not-do list” and keep them there to avoid mixing them with things that are more important to you. When you are at work, you can turn off those incessant social media alerts that are preventing you from focusing on the task at hand. You should also eliminate unnecessary meetings where a simple email can resolve issues. One of the biggest time wasters is the addiction to phones and electronics in general. Put down the phones to avoid distractions at work, and to allow you to enjoy quality time with your loved ones at home.
- Delegate more often: As you plan each day, there may be some activities that do not require your personal attention. To be effective at managing your time, you need to develop the skills needed to delegate those activities to other people around. If you are a manager in an organization, delegating may involve giving up some control and letting your subordinates take the lead on some of the tasks that would otherwise take up some of your time. Delegating does not mean that you are no longer accountable for the task; instead you are helping your subordinates more competent by giving them more responsibilities. It is not a hand-off attempt, you should still be available to support and mentor them when they request for your help. As parents, you can delegate age-appropriate activities in the house to your kids so you can free up some of your time for other essential tasks. Delegating frees up your time so that you can focus on those activities or tasks that are crucial to your goals and avoid burn out as a result of being involved in too many things.
How you use your time will go a long way to determine whether or not you will achieve your goals. Prioritizing your time, saying no to unnecessary things, and delegating more often will enable you to better optimize your time to become an effective time manager. Your time is your most valuable resource, use it wisely.