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Want to Do Your Best Work? Stop Letting Work Dictate Your Time

I know it seems counterintuitive, but hear me out

Image by Elnur

When I was in the second grade, I got my first wristwatch — as a reward for good grades. (You already knew I was a nerd.) Yep, it was a Timex. I wore it every single day and certainly subjected it to a lot of abuse, but it “took a licking and kept on ticking” as advertised. (Marketing — thank you, John Cameron Swayze — works; as did my Timex. You have to be my age or older to understand that one.)

Telling time was a valuable tool. I knew when to be in front of the school to catch the bus. I knew when it was time for lunch and recess (VERY important in second grade). And I could anticipate when the final bell would ring to let school out. Yep, telling time was a skill that changed my life.

I wore that same watch for 29 years, only giving up on it when it quit working and when I received a new watch (self-winding!) for my birthday from my spouse.

Knowing the time is important to everyone’s life. Knowing when it’s time to rest, for example. Time to work. Time to take a vacation. Time to pay attention to detail. Time to take time for yourself.

Life is a time-limited position

No matter how you use it or designate it, we have a fixed amount of time — 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. (Yes, thank you, I know the next “leap year” is 2024, and there will be 366 days that particular year!). I’ve been one of those crazy people who insisted I worked “25 hours a day.” Even The Beatles sang about “8 Days A Week.” But, that’s all just silly.

We are time-limited, no matter what we say or think.

I’ve read many books on time management — and written lectures and articles on the topic. If we truly only have 24 hours in a day, then we’d best spend those hours well. That’s the concept of time management — trying to maximize our use of the available time we have.

I’ve used many of the “tricks” proposed in those books to do my best to utilize time on my daily schedule. I insisted that if I was going to attend a meeting, it had to have an agenda and a time limit. I set my meetings at odd times so people would pay attention and show up on time. For instance, my weekly staff meetings often would start at 8:24 a.m., or at 9:06 a.m, etc. I have to admit, those odd times stuck in people’s minds (but, again, those who are always late for meetings were always late, no matter what time the meeting started).

But aside from all those great tricks to maximize “squeezing every minute out of every day,” the best trick I learned was when to tell when it WAS time — time to rest; time to slow down; time to enjoy life; time to put family first. I fell ill, was hospitalized, and — as difficult as it was for me to admit — I was forced to change my priorities for use of my time! Work was still important, and I still did my job as best I could; however, I no longer let work dictate my timing.

My illness had pushed me in a new direction for setting priorities. I knew it was time to put my family first, to spend significant time with my children, to take time to show my wife how much I cared about her, and to set time to be away from work for vacations, trips and “family fun days.” I also took some time for myself so I could pursue some hobbies, learn to relax and have time to write. (I didn’t say I was a writer, just that I took time to write!)

This surprised me, too

I found I had just as much time to work, I got just as much done at work, and I was a better manager to my employees.

Why? Because I focused on utilizing the time I had but also setting time. I was happier, I was more relaxed, and I had a better understanding of the time my employees needed. I became a huge proponent of taking vacations and rewarding employees with days off and special trips.

And my employees began to use their time better as well. I had a time-management specialist come in and address the team and also spend individual time with each employee. The concept of “working 70 hours a week” shifted to the reality of “getting the job done in the time we have.” We worked smarter and more as a team (even the people who were normally late to meetings started showing up on time)!

Was everything just wonderful, and did we completely maximize our time? Of course not! We still had deadlines and timing issues and people who didn’t want to get on board. Just because you learn to manage your time well doesn’t mean everything will turn up roses. But over time (you knew I had to say that), we definitely learned to get the job done (and then some!) in the time we had.

Very few people wear wristwatches anymore. (I wear an Apple Watch on my wrist — more to pay attention to contacts and fitness than time.) We have cellular phones that give us the time (and plenty of distractions to go with it). Regardless of how we note the time, most of us still adhere to schedules that are based on times — video conferences at specific times, deadlines for projects/products, meetings we needed to attend and so on. You know the drill.

It seems keeping time is a requisite for managing our lives, so it’s best we learn how to manage our time as best as possible. As the great Alan Lakein said (in his book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life), “Time = life; therefore, waste your time and waste of your life, or master your time and master your life.”

Take time today for yourself and for time management!

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on August 24, 2021.

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