It’s all about practice
My approach to time management follows this sequence of steps: awareness, organization, action, and lots of practice.
As we saw in the article “Time management: productivity, success, and what else?” when it comes to time management, we should start from a place of awareness. Awareness is coming from a place of deep self-reflection that allows us to bring consciousness to our decisions and actions.
We should think of time in a more holistic way. Using the concept of ozio creativo from the Italian sociologist Domenico De Masi, we should think of time as a combination of work with which we produce wealth, study with which we produce knowledge, and play with which we produce joy.
The goal here is to capture the value of these three categories—work, study, play—in a very broad way. They could represent three important pillars of our life. Work is probably the pillar we know best.
When we think of study, with which we produce knowledge, we can become aware of the value of experience. Some examples are the value of travel, the value of know-how, (whether it’s knowing how to play an instrument, how to sing, dance, cook dishes from different cultures and traditions—or even how to cook something very simple in my case), or the value of a good book, the value of learning something new, and so on.
When it is a matter of play, with which we produce joy, we can increase our awareness of the essence of the word “happiness.” Examples include the value of relationships, the importance of friendship, solidarity, good humor, positive attitude, and so on.
When we bring awareness to these different areas of our lives and recognize their value, we begin to prioritize what’s important to us. Then we begin to see that time is elastic, time is flexible, time is a choice.
Organization is the second important step in time management. It was covered in the article “How to look at time management: macro and micro moments.”
In looking ahead to the future, we have a great power that is accompanied by a great responsibility. We have the responsibility to manage our lives at our best. To manage our lives, we should organize our time.
Organizing our time means looking at time by distinguishing between macro and micro moments. It also means being flexible by constantly moving our perspective from macro to micro and from micro to macro.
Macro means having—and trying never to lose—the perspective of where we are going and why. Micro means focusing on the everyday, on the small moments of our lives. Life is made up of these small moments and of seemingly insignificant decisions that are of deep value in the long run.
Once our time is organized at the macro and at the micro level, we are able to take action.
Talking about action without pointing out how important is to practice can be extremely risky.
How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you have thought and reflected, you have made a decision, you have organized and started to do something, and then you realize that things haven’t come out perfectly—at least not immediately, at least not the first time?
So what? Sometimes you give up. You say, “It’s not right for me.” It’s too tiring, too demanding, and too boring, too much.
Have you ever heard the fable of the fox and the grapes? In this story from Aesop’s fables, there is a fox who is trying to steal grapes from the grapevine, but the grapes are out of reach of the fox.
The fox thinks the grapes are desirable while he thinks he can get them. When the fox realizes, however, that the grapes are too far out of reach and that he will not be able to get them, he begins to say that they are not worth the effort and that the grapes are not so good after all. Rather than admitting defeat, he decides they are undesirable. (This is, by the way, the origin of the phrase “sour grapes.”)
I say no! Let’s try not to abandon our goals during our first, second, or even third attempt that does not go perfectly. I believe (and it is also scientifically proven) that it is all a matter of practice—a lot of practice.
Practice, practice, and again, a lot of practice
At the cost of sound extremely cliché, I am going to use the example of running a marathon. Would you get out of bed one morning and without any advice, without any plan, just put on your shoes and start running a marathon? Absolutely not!
This example is very trivial and I am sure it makes you smile. What I do not understand is why if we’re talking about a marathon, it’s obvious that this is not the right approach, but if we’re talking about time management, we can’t see it. Perhaps it is not always so obvious that it is all a matter of practice, but in reality it is.
When it comes to time management—when it comes to expanding our Comfort Zones—it’s all about training. And in order to have a good “workout” (productive training), you need a plan.
The plan for time management
A time management plan is a training plan with a very specific goal: to improve our organizational skills.
The attitude is: you try, you come up short, and then you try again. You start, you fall, and you get up and start again. You go for it, you are a bit sore, but then you stay tough and improve. Step by step, conquest after conquest, you go forward. You learn; you grow up.
This is my approach to time management. This is the approach to take if we want to expand our Comfort Zones. When we are investing our effort in learning time management, we are also expanding our Comfort Zones.
We have one training plan with two perspectives: macro and micro. You can think of them as two sides of the same coin. Instead of heads or tails, you have macro and micro. We always start from the macro side.
The macro plan
1. Get a calendar
Paper or digital, the choice is yours. You must have the ability to look at the entire year, at six months, and at the quarters. Do you remember the zoom out concept we talked about?
I started using a digital calendar not long ago and here I will use Google Calendar as a reference. If digital intimidates you, paper and pens always work very well. With the digital calendar I can plan and make changes much faster. Also, at this stage, I can also look for reference at more than a year timeframe. If you never used a digital calendar, I recommend you to give it a try.
2. Identify and mark your macro moments
Here we get very personal, and there is no right and wrong approach. There is only you, your goals, and your priorities.
I do not have a fixed rule on how to approach this phase. I often find myself starting with important events and projects. Then I move on to holidays and I stop. The goal is not to mark the entire calendar.
The filter I use in this phase is quite narrow. Try to think of zooming out. Do you remember the Google map? In this phase, we can see continents and nations.
3. Take a first zoom in
Now we begin to see the main cities of each nation. Then we make a second zoom in, a third zoom in, and so on.
At this stage it is a matter of identifying the “what” and “when.” It allows me to run a quick reality check.
We are still at a macro level. We are not ten thousand feet high, and we have not yet lost the overall perspective. After this reality check, we have at least two scenarios in front of us:
- we pass the check and we can proceed;
- we do not pass the check, and we have to go back and make some adjustments.
The feedback-loop process is crucial, and it is the reason why I mentioned the two sides of the same coin. The macro perspective is closely linked to and interdependent with the micro perspective, and vice versa.
Once we have fixed the plan—you know how important is to keep a good dose of flexibility—it’s time to zoom in.
The micro plan
1. Get a diary
Paper or digital, once again, it is your choice. Here the goal is to look at the week.
The way I look at the week is from Monday to Sunday for different reasons:
- I like to think that the week is made of 5 + 2 days. Five days of work and two days of non-work, relaxation, etc.
- I like to plan the coming week on Sunday.
- I like to use on Friday for an evaluation of how the five days have passed and to understand what I need during the weekend.
After various paper daily agendas and planning, I recently started using the digital agenda (again Google Calendar) for a number of reasons:
- Accessibility. Having the agenda always at hand is essential. I can access the Google calendar from my office computer, from my home computer, from my mobile phone— thanks to the dedicated app—and even from the bathroom in the morning (as soon as I get up ask my Google mini assistant to list my appointments of the day).
- Sharing. Having the opportunity to share my agenda with my husband and have access to his allows me—allows us—to better coordinate the family week.
- Flexibility. This is a recurring theme. There is no plan etched in stone. With the digital calendar, the pencil (which I still love and continue to use for a lot of things) has given way to a few clicks.
2. Enter the commitments of the week
There are always commitments and mandatory activities, but there is much more to life! We must remember the macro perspective and that we have time!
“There are 168 hours in a week. Twenty-four times seven is 168 hours. That is a lot of time. If you are working a full-time job, so 40 hours a week, sleeping eight hours a night, so 56 hours a week—that leaves 72 hours for other things. That is a lot of time. You say you’re working 50 hours a week, maybe a main job and a side hustle. Well, that leaves 62 hours for other things. You say you’re working 60 hours. Well, that leaves 52 hours for other things. You say you’re working more than 60 hours. Well, are you sure?”
“However, over the course of 168 hours a week, I think we can find the time for what interests us. If you want to spend more time with your children, you want to study more to take an exam, you want to work out for three hours and volunteer for two, you can do it. And this is possible even if you work more hours than a full-time job.” —Laura Vanderkam
3. Train yourself to manage your time
You are facing an entire week—168 hours—practically every Sunday. Plan it better, keep track of what you do, and learn from what did not work the week before. You can start every Monday by training yourself to do better.
This is perhaps the part I like most about the whole process. This is for me the best way to train myself to manage my time.
You are not born knowing how to manage time, but you can learn it in a fascinating and personal journey made of trials, successes and mistakes. It’s all about awareness, organization, action, and a lot of practice. I hope I put a flea in your ear that pushes you to deepen your knowledge of time management and to find your way to manage time. I wish you good training!
“There is time. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”—Laura Vanderkam