Time is an illusive, mysterious, and incomprehensible concept. It’s the currency of our existence. We use units of time to measure almost everything: birth, death, age, years, days, hours, efficiency, productivity, and much more.
We all have access to the same hours and minutes every day, as long as we’re alive. Take out the time we spend sleeping and we have less. Depending on how many hours each one of us sleeps, the rest is at our disposal.
What we do with this time is mostly up to us—in theory. But the reality is we’re losing control over our time.
Making time might be a misnomer. We can’t create time out of nothing. Our days and hours are numbered. And in that space we all have access to the same intervals of days, hours, minutes, and seconds.
So it might be more appropriate to call it prioritizing time, or more accurately prioritizing choices within the time we have.
This article is about rearranging our choices in a way that will give us more space to get the important stuff done, and handle urgent interruptions without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
The limited view of time
Do you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day to deal with all the things you feel you have to deal with?
If you do, you’re not alone. Most of us face the same issue—too much to do, and not enough time.
On a logical level, everyone knows we all work with the same amount of time. But on an emotional level, we feel we’re running out of time.
In order to make time, we need to tackle the offenders, or time robbers, that cause us to feel we don’t have enough time.
The things that cause us to feel overwhelmed, rushed, or helpless are as universal as time itself. Let’s take a look.
1- The tyranny of urgency
Think of urgency as a newborn baby. Urgency doesn’t care about anything else other than what it wants.
When an urgent situation arises, it screams as loud as possible to get our attention (meaning time and energy). We feel compelled to stop and deal with it, ignoring all else.
2- Lack of clarity
When we feel we lack time, we need to examine our priorities.
The truth is: we don’t lack time; we lack clarity.
Clarity doesn’t mean that we should know ahead of time how everything is going to turn out. We can’t map out each day to the minute and hour.
But we can have a sense of clarity about what’s important to us.
If we focus on just one important task a day, we will feel more equipped to deal with any urgent situations and interruptions.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t get to do other stuff. We can do anything else after completing the most important action or task.
Being clear about our priorities can help us in staying calm in the midst of constant interruptions.
3- Unfocused attention
Being clear about our priorities will not be of much help—if we can’t focus on what we need to do.
Scattered attention leads to rushed, half-hearted, and spastic action. We end up with either mediocre results, or unfinished tasks that need more work in the future.
If we function under the mercy of urgency, don’t have a clear idea about what we want to accomplish, and lack focus, we will suffer dearly. And this vicious cycle will keep going—until we stop and make a conscious different choice.
How do we make time?
The best use of our time comes from neutralizing time thieves. The following can be of help.
1- Analyze the nature of urgency. Is the urgent situation important? What would happen if you didn’t get to it today?
Some situations will require our immediate attention, which is okay, if we left some room in our day for handling unexpected situations.
2- Be clear about the most important action. Knowing ahead of time that we only need to do one thing, and do it right, gives us time to handle interruptions.
When we choose one action step, we will have enough time to do it fairly well.
Determine ahead of time (maybe the day before, or early in the morning) the thing that matters to you most.
3- Start with the most important action. The beginning of the day is usually the time when we have optimal levels of energy and willpower. Unless faced with an important urgent situation, we need to do the one most important thing—no email, phone, social media, or other distractions.
4- Use interval focus. It might be hard to sit and do one thing after years of distracted and reactive focus. Start with 10 minutes of focused work, take a break, and then do another one. Build up your focus muscle by adding more time to each interval as you become comfortable with the idea.
5- Leave some space. Allocate no more than four hours of your day to the most important task. And let the rest be. If you have seven productive hours and you only use four, you’ll have plenty of room to deal with interruptions, and clarify your next important thing.
Empty time is not a waste of time. It can be used to review priorities, set intentions, deal with interruptions, and, most importantly, reflect on what’s working and change direction, if needed.
The five steps above are common sense. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to use them right away. Old habits are very hard to break—especially when it comes to taming the beast of distraction and yielding our attention to where it’s needed most.
I hope you get use this simple approach by clarifying your important work, and building your focus muscle. Best of luck!