Never enough time
I’ve lost count of the number of clients who seem to have too much to do in too little time.
Fascinatingly, when I start to explore with them the underpinnings of ‘too little time’, those underpinnings often turn out to be something from a completely different source, which simply manifests as ‘too little time’.
What might lie behind ‘too little time’
One client had taken from his childhood history the message that he was responsible for doing everything. Another – in a general climate of many-layered and complex change – had a line manager who hadn’t ever clarified priorities, which meant that my client and her peers never really knew what the priorities were, and were constantly trying to tackle everything at once. One other very senior client had never articulated her purpose or focus, albeit she understood the tasks implicit in her role. However, she got a lot of pleasure from helping and developing others – and so spent a disproportionate amount of time on the unstructured small stuff but hadn’t yet delivered on her real potential to make a difference. A fourth was very clear about his purpose – but was also distracted by the joy of ‘helping’, which meant his whole schedule got constantly set back. And a fifth was working to a very old pattern of indiscriminate perfectionism which meant she was trying to squeeze an unrealistic amount of work into every working week.
Part of what’s common to all these stories is a lack of consciousness of the patterns that people were allowing themselves to get sucked into: once they became conscious, they were able to give themselves options and were able to design priorities which both allowed them to do what they enjoyed and deliver more value.
The costs of apparently too little time
The constant striving to fit an unrealistic amount of work into the time available has resulted for many of my clients in a greater or lesser degree of feeling stressed, harassed, and exhausted, but without ever feeling they’ve got anywhere. Their effectiveness is diminished, their potential unrealised, and they tend to pass on the patterns to their teams, who work the same way. One or two of them have ended up in a tailspin towards burnout.
Managing time so it doesn’t manage you
In my experience, clients struggling with time, therefore, are actually struggling – probably unconsciously – with embedded patterns of thinking, behaviour and loyalties. Gaining insight into those patterns and so giving oneself more choice is the key. Fundamental to that is taking some time – perhaps just half an hour, but on a regular basis – for honest and courageous reflection, either alone or with a skilled coach, particularly in order to look in the face at what’s actually happening, and what prompts your curiosity. Who might approve of the way you’re currently working, and is that approval something that’s relevant to your working life now, or does it come from your past? What are you getting seduced by, and is it serving you?
Building on your curiosity, design a small-scale, safe-to-fail experiment from which you can gain learning – and then create the next experiment. Explore the deal you’ve created for yourself: what are you gaining and what are you giving? Does it stack up?
Look too for time management techniques, of course – and importantly, look beyond them.