Time is what we want most, but what we use worst

The title of this post is actually a quote from William Penn. It’s as relevant today as when he first said it in 1681. And despite the diverse nature of all seven billion of us on earth, time is one thing we have in common. It works the same for all of us, and moves forward whether we like it or not.

Although we might like to think we can control time in some way, reality is that it controls us. But, although we cannot truly “control” time, we can control what we do with it. That’s the essence of what Penn was saying. To me, that’s one of the most powerful pieces of common sense that anyone can apply…and relates equally to our work lives and our personal lives.

Let’s take that somewhat abstract thought process and apply it to our work lives. Do this quick exercise in your head. Think about your average day, week or month of work. Then, bucket your time “on the job” into one of two categories … Planned time / Unplanned time. As an alternative, you might find it easier to use the categories of Proactive time / Reactive time. What would your typical day/week/month be made up of?

How did you do? How much time that you consume every day is planned in advance vs. simply a reaction to whatever the day brings you?

If you’re responsible for more than just your own work, how about the group(s) you are managing? Do you ever set any sort of tone or expectation for yourself or others with respect to how time should be used? How about your boss? Does he/she have a handle, or even a philosophy, on balancing the use of planned time and unplanned time…being proactive vs reactive? Or, maybe you think this is all nonsense, and semi or un-controlled chaos is the only way to be truly effective and innovative in today’s world.

In my simple world of common sense or nonsense, consciously trying to achieve some form of balance in how we use our time is pure common sense. But, like many things that are common sense, it can be a challenge to put into action.

Let’s start with a very simple example. For years, I have espoused the idea of achieving an average 75/25 split on my time. Seventy-five percent of the time should be spent doing work that is planned in some way; even if it’s as simple as starting a day with a checklist of items to accomplish. The other 25 percent is left to be consumed by things that are unexpected, that come in from left field or that require immediate action for one or more reasons.

For me, the 75/25 ratio is more of a guidepost than anything else. I don’t think there’s a need for being too precise about exact numbers … or else what started as common sense quickly devolves into nonsense or sanity to insanity.

So, in your average day/week/month … what is your typical split? What does it look like for those around you? That’s an important point to consider. How much of an impact does the way people around you use their time have on how you use your time?

If you agree this is idea is common sense, how can you start to put it into action? In the spirit of keeping things simple, I have three suggestions of where to begin:

1. In the context of planned/unplanned or proactive/reactive, think about how you use your time “on the job.” Is it a good mix … or is it out of balance in some way? If it’s out of balance, how much is caused by you and how much is caused by your environment and those around you? If it’s in perfect balance…congratulations!

2. Think about and try to understand what the three biggest influencers are on how you use your time. Are they controllable? Which ones are controlled by you and which ones do others control?

3. Determine what you think is the right mix for you. .at least to strive for? Then, identify three things you can change/do in order to get there. For the next 30 days, try to apply those three things and consciously observe what happens to your mix.

4. Return to step one!

Although I am a proponent of a 75/25 balance, remember it’s simply a guidepost. It doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. It also doesn’t mean you need to pull a stopwatch out and measure minutes and seconds either … this is as much an attitude or a mindset as it is an exercise in measuring time. Each person is different, as is each work day. However, in the average situation — where you can exercise control over how you use some or all of your time — a 50/50 split is about as low as I would ever recommend. Going below a rate of 50% planned can easily result in too much nonsense and be a recipe for futility.

Of course, if you don’t agree with William Penn and your common sense quote is “if chaos is a work of art, then my job is a masterpiece”…best of luck!!

Until next time, try to avoid the nonsense.

Mike