By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.

The 21st Century. 2000 years after the birth of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. But what do we today, a man from 2000 years ago, a knight from the middle ages, and a colonial planter from 1751 in Virginia have in common? All have exactly the same number of hours in a day.

Exactly the same number.

Look around you: you might see an assistant, the CEO, a housekeeper, a surgeon, a younger colleague, it doesn’t matter who it is, all have 24 hours in a day. So how come Bill the accountant looks calm and unruffled while Zelda the vice president is hollow-eyed and jittery? It’s in the way they handle their own personal 24 hours.

When most people think of time, they think “not enough of it”. But is there really not enough – or are there too many things that come into our time? It’s a little shocking to think of the past 80 years and the work that has been put into machines and methods aimed at saving us time. What’s going on? Did the machines work? And if they did work, where the dickens is all this time I’m supposed to have on hand now? The Big Question: How do I arrange my day to get important things done and still have time to relax?

The answer starts with understanding time. Time is inanimate, it doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t care what you are doing, and it certainly can’t be managed. So put any thought of time management out of your mind – time marches on! You have to begin with the concept that a day is a series of events. How did you begin your day today? What were the first things you did after your eyeballs popped open this morning? Chances are it looked something like this:

  • Turn off the alarm
  • Groan gently for a minute or so
  • Hit the bathroom
  • Take a shower
  • Greet your spouse
  • Make the coffee
  • Glower at your kids
  • Eat breakfast
  • Feed the cat
  • Glance at the news
  • Get in the car and drive to work

See any “time” in that list? Nope! That list is a series of EVENTS. And the rest of every day of every person is another series of more events. Some are predictable, some are not. But what events you allow within your 24 hours is the key to having a sane and productive life. It involves three things: knowing your priorities, having a plan, and using a system.

Knowing Your Priorities

To begin with, if you don’t have formal priorities for your life, EVERYTHING that enters your day will force its priority on you. You’ve seen it happen.

“This is critical, we HAVE to get it done!”. “If we don’t do this right now, the business is going to suffer.” Or: “Sure, we can skip this meeting, but it will mean the end of civilization as we know it…”

Of course, there are emergencies that come up, they happen. But look at those statements just made, do you see any similarities? It’s the word “We”. Every single event that you face in a day has a priority to someone, and the goal of that person is to get YOU to share in that priority. It goes beyond your face-to-face interactions with people. Email calls you to new tasks.

Internet “clicks” pull you into time-consuming blurbs about travel, social issues, and the newest drug for dealing with a health malady you didn’t know you needed.

Television gobbles up huge chunks of time showing that you CAN fire a rock over 1000 yards using only steam and a hollow log – an interesting study, but probably fairly low as far as usefulness in your life. All these things claim time from you, and leave less time for other things – remember, you only have 24 hours to begin with. Knowing your own priorities allows you the luxury to say “NO” to events pushing into your day’s events. They actually can free up significant pieces of time for you.

So the number one activity to get a handle on your time? Decide and write down your own priorities, both for your personal and your professional life.

Having a Plan

Obviously, having a set of priorities – knowing what’s important to you – is a huge step forward. But they won’t do you a whole lot of good if you don’t have a plan for accomplishing things within those priorities. A plan includes goals, both short and long term, for getting important things actually accomplished. Goals will probably include significant other people in your life, such as your spouse, or children, or parents. They might include skills you want to learn, hobbies you want to practice, places you want to visit.

A good plan takes into account the actual goal, but also the plan and the time needed to accomplish that goal. And don’t sell that last one short, ALL goals take time, and only YOU can see that the time to bring about that goal is there as it’s needed.

So your second activity is to write out goals within your priorities, including both the detail and the time necessary to bring them to fruition.

Using a System

Priorities and goals are indispensable for reclaiming time within your day, but it’s a system that actually allows you to get them done. The system should include a way for you to plan for finishing the details that lead to your goal. It will allow you to set time aside BEFORE your week – or your day – begins. It should allow you to track progress, and to monitor important daily events that you want to remember. Did you know that a study done by Franklin Covey showed that the average time a business professional spends just looking for such important information is six weeks a year? Would you like to have six weeks back in a year? What could you do with an amount of time like that?

So the third, and final activity to reclaim time is to have, and use, a system.