Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain

You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you

No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

-Gilmour/Mason/Rogers/Wright

There are a lot of things I like to measure. I measure most things but not all. 

Time is one thing that I manage carefully. That’s because time is the one thing we never seem to have enough of. It’s a precious commodity. And yet how often do we think about the way we manage our time? 

How many of us feel we don’t have enough time? Or that the time we do have we’re rushed, stressed and not having the impact we want?

The reality is, while there are many things in life that are difficult to influence or control - time isn’t one of them. You can make better use of your time - but first, you need to understand how you’re using it.

Tracking time

I’ve become increasingly conscious of how I use my time. I think about this in terms of blocks. Blocks of time for family. For work. For exercise, rest and sleep. 

We often talk about searching for balance but the blocks of time are never perfectly balanced, and certainly not on a single day. Over a week, they each get a good share but with no doubt, work occupies the most. 

I use a number of apps to measure exercise (such as a smartwatch and Strava) and use the data to determine if I am on track or behind, as well as the quality of the exercise. I’ve also become more interested in measuring the quality of sleep. Both of these directly impact how I feel, my level of energy, and my motivation. 

When it comes to work, my diary tracks and plans everything I need to do. I use it to allocate time to jobs or tasks and look at it constantly for where I need to be, who I need to meet and what I need to get done. I move things around and ultimately respond to what priorities may arise. 

Questions I often ask myself include: What is my plan for this week/month? What did I achieve today? This week? This month?

Planning for effectiveness 

I’ve been looking for a better measure of effectiveness. How the week is set up (or what it becomes) can influence how I feel and how effective I feel. Meetings - their number and my productivity - naturally influence my sense of busyness, achievement or not, and whether I feel or am on top of things or the right things. Sometimes you can feel hectic after a week, wonder where it went and what you achieved and wonder why.

The better I can understand my time allows me to:

  • plan a week (set up for success, determine the work needed)
  • prepare(mentally and emotionally), and
  • review results to understand why a week has or hasn’t produced specific results.

The data on meetings

Like most knowledge workers, meetings take up the majority of my time at work. But what’s often not clear is: was the time allocated to meetings well spent?  

Where does time go? What was the cost of that? Am I busy enough? What is the bigger picture for meetings and what is the relationship to mood? These have become even more relevant since Covid restricted us to a screen.

Recently I became aware of Google’s new calendar feature Time Insights.  As someone in the business of data, I quickly dived into a deeper understanding of my work week and trends showing time spent in meetings, types of meetings, and with whom. The summary data gives me a quick view of the percentage of time spent in meetings with other people (e.g. 1:1s, group meetings) as well as the time I use for reading and preparation.

Naturally, it doesn’t (yet) cover the time spent thinking about work, doing work and tackling unplanned work.  

Asking the right questions

At Iress, we have established meeting principles and everyone has a license to apply these. But the Google Time Insights give a bigger picture to schedules and how to easily review and strategically manage time allocation.

Effective meetings and productivity are well-worn discussion topics. It is too easy for meetings to be ineffective but they can be managed  - by having a clear purpose and desired outcomes, by issuing agendas in advance, by ensuring the right people are in the room - and sometimes, by declining g if they aren’t set up for success). 

But even after taking this into account having too many meetings, effective or not, can have an impact. Some of the questions I’ve been thinking about include:

  • How much time in meetings is right? Are the right meetings taking place?
  • How many 1:1 meetings are useful and when do they detract in total from the whole week?
  • Should all the time be in meetings and ensure all work gets delegated? (not everyone can actually do this, else no work gets done) ?
  • Are meetings adding or detracting from productivity? 
  • Are regular meetings too regular?

I have views on these, but the answers will differ individually. What I do know is that busyness doesn’t help me, or my teams, and it does affect how I feel. I can only imagine that it also impacts you as well. 

Without enough time to think and prepare, time gets crunched, perspective narrows and mental capacity suffers. 

What if you aren’t in control?

Understanding your week in aggregate is a great insight. The focus can shift to understanding how your time overall is spent, quickly and easily. 

But what can you do about it? Task-based activity has become overwhelming without the social environment that encapsulates productivity. Many people feel helpless and tired at the moment with countless Zoom invites, often back to back. The sense and value of time have taken on a new level of appreciation and many are looking for anything to change to bring about relief. 

Leaders need to ensure they put their own oxygen mask on first and look at their schedule to determine whether they’re striking the right balance

A week that I’ve planned and directed feels very different to a week where I’m at the mercy of other people’s agenda. It’s easy to be drawn into other peoples’ problems and priorities, and managing this against your own priorities will require you to say no. 

This might be easy if you have seniority to do so but taking control of your agenda, prioritising work and carving out time for work, personal pursuits, family, exercise and rest can, and should, be done by people at any stage of their career. 

Leaders should be having active conversations with their people about this. They also need to ensure they put their own oxygen mask on first and critically look at their own schedule to determine whether they’re striking the right balance across all aspects of life.

Time is the most valuable asset we have and taking steps to control it is important for every person.

A good place to start is meetings, but why stop there? When was the last time you looked back at your week, or month, and assessed whether it was working for you? How often do you plan ahead, take charge of your own agenda, and set yourself up for success?

Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Well, now there is an easy tool to take measures, to take control, and to give yourself the ultimate gift: more time with less busyness.