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Time Anxiety

Time Anxiety

 

The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

…….And space is supposed to stop it from all happening to me.

It usually happens on a Friday, a few hours before a looming deadline, the day before a holiday. The printer stops. The computer goes into update mode, or crashes altogether. People you need to talk to vanish off the face of the earth, just to spite you. All you want to do is get out of there, close the door and run away, very fast, and very far. But you can’t, because you’ve remembered that you’re a grown up, with responsibilities and people who are depending on you. And shouting at your laptop isn’t a good look.

So what can you do when time anxiety grips you? It’s about managing your state, as well as your time.

Step 1. Stop.

Stop and breathe. You’re going to need oxygen, but not for running away. You’ll need it to think straight and clearly and come up with a plan. But for the moment, just stop and recover. Stand up. Feel the weight on your feet. Relax and drop your shoulders. Move your centre of gravity down to your navel and breathe slowly, from your belly. Be present. You might need to repeat this from time to time,as we go through the next steps,  if you feel that your centre of gravity has shifted upside your head.

Step 2. Gather Resources.

Gather resources, starting with yourself. Go back to the past. Think back. This is probably not the first time you’ve needed to deal with a deluge of demands, 90% of them unreasonable, unfair and poorly timed. How did you overcome? What are your strengths, that you know you can rely on in a crisis? Name them and gather them in a circle in front of you. Bring to mind a few more of those sticky situations and the resources you used. Put them in the circle in front of you. Then step into the circle and take them on board, one by one. Use a key word as an anchor to bring this state to mind when you need it in future.

Step 3. Plan

Using what you now know from Steps 1 and 2, look around you. Who else could help you, if you asked them?  Ignore the voices in your head telling you it will take too much time to involve other people. Pretend you have loads of time, just for now. Even if you just bounce your ideas off someone else, you won’t be on your own.

Now put together a visual plan to get you where you need to be, broken down into timed chunks. If you have an hour, split it into 10 minute chunks. If you have longer, split it into 30 minute segments. Be clear, and write down how you’re going to use each timed segment, including a small amount of time to review each chunk. This will keep you in control.

Step 4. Do.

When you’re pressed for time, the easy thing to do is to start here, in the belief that you don’t have any time to plan. But steps 1 to 3 should only take you ten minutes in total. Your return on this investment is regaining your sense of control and agency. Your anxiety level has dropped.You’re back in the driving seat. Things aren’t just happening to you.

Step 5. Review

When it’s all over, take stock and get a wider perspective. If you could get a re-do, how would you change things? Start from further back than when the shit appeared to hit the fan. You’ll probably find that things were set up to go wrong at a much earlier stage.The warning signs often get ignored. You should review dispassionately. This isn’t beat yourself up time, it’s a genuine discovery process, so you’re being curious, not the Witchfinder-General.

In summary, you combat time anxiety by getting back in control. Of yourself, mostly.

Many people will tell you that Time Management is really about Self Management, because you can’t manage time. They’re right, if repetitive. But it’s not about a Spartan regime of discipline and self-denial. I prefer to call it Self Mastery.

If you liked this article, you might like this one: “Time Poor. You’re Probably Making Things Worse”.

And you might want to subscribe to our email list, so you won’t miss out in future. There are links over on the right hand side.

 

Time Geography

We’re not in Kansas any more…

Read A Geography of Time, by Robert Levine. It’s a really witty, well-written book about time culture – how different cultures behave with time, based on his personal experiences and his own and his students’ experiments. We all do time differently. In Brazil, arriving at 4pm for a 1pm appointment is not necessarily being late.  Hopi North American Indians have no verb tenses for Past, Present and Future. The Spanish use one word for “expect”, “hope” and “wait” – esperar.

Levine has a unique way of measuring the pace of life, and he’s measured it in 31 different countries.

  • Walking speed in downtown areas (time to cover 60ft)
  • Waiting time in the post office to buy a stamp
  • Accuracy of public clocks

He adds these proxies together, to rank countries by pace of life. The 1,2,3 is Switzerland, Ireland and Germany. Mexico brings up the rear in 31st place. There are all kinds of surprises in there – I’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland and would describe my experience overall as relaxed, rather than fast paced. The USA is only in 16th place, when it feels like they should be higher (yes, they walk fast, but have massively long waits in the post office, and the clocks are way out of time).

So all countries have a time culture. And within countries, all regions and individual cities have different time cultures. In the US, Boston is the fastest pace of life, Los Angeles is the most laid back. In general, the North-East industrial area occupies the top slots, and California takes four of the six bottom places (together with Shreveport, Louisiana, and Memphis Tennessee).

“CFOs tend to look rearwards, at last month, or last quarter. “

What does this mean for you at work? Well, if you work for an international, or multi-national, there will be many sub-cultures, where time works differently. You’re regarded as an alien if you fail to see this, and conform to those (often hidden) cultural norms. Even within departments, it only takes a moment to imagine how differently they perceive time:

  • Finance – essentially looking in the past. Last month, last quarter.
  • Sales – In the present, but slightly future focussed on the next quarter
  • Legal – trained to look at the past to assess risk in an imagined future
  • R&D – looking way into the future
  • Operations – existing in a continuous present. The past is rewritten.
  • Maintenance – issues occur in the present. But they plan for the future
  • CEO – Strategically working to a 3 year plan

Now imagine you’re a CFO, whose looking for their next move to CEO. This article Forward Looking CFO (pdf) by the Wharton Business School describes how CFOs find it so hard to make the transition from a rearward looking discipline to a forward-looking CEO.

Have you experienced a culture clash like this? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below. And read the book, it will get you thinking.

Knowledge Economy

What’s productivity in a knowledge economy?

Here’s how we really measure productivity today, in a knowledge economy:

  • Number of emails received/sent/commented
  • Response time to emails
  • Number of meetings
  • Hours present in the office

This is the stuff we’re concerned about – on the scale of how busy we are. We measure them because they’re quantifiable. It’s what we boast and complain about. If that’s how we keep score, it’s no wonder that busyness is the main business of business.

In manual jobs, Time Spent ÷ Good Widgets produced ≡ Productivity.

What really adds value in a company where information is the main commodity? Here are some suggestions:

  • Innovation
  • Speed to execute
  • Ability to adjust rapidly
  • Problem-solving
  • Team Working
  • Learning

These are the things that companies often say they care about – the behaviours they encourage. But it’s not what we talk about among ourselves.

What gets attention at your place of work? How should we be keeping score of the things that count?

 

 

Time Management - the Future

Believing is Seeing

I gave a presentation titled “4 tools to smash time management” to a local Enterprise group this week. The main take away was “We live in a visual world. Use visual tools”. I borrowed the idea from Kanban, where you use a board to track the Backlog/Doing/Done phases of your tasks or projects. It’s an upgraded To-Do list, because you get a sense of movement as a task moves through the three phases, and accomplishment when it’s in the Done column. With a To-Do list, it’s either To-Do, or crossed off/not on the list. Kanban is also a great way to share information quickly within teams. You don’t have to go searching for files in cabinets, or files on a system. It’s there, for everyone to see.

The other examples I used were a Yearly Wall Planner, an egg timer and our Time Intelligence Report (TIR). Year planners work really well for people who can’t see further ahead than the next couple of days. The whole year is laid out in front of them as a picture. The egg timer was for the 45 minute sprints I talked about here. Again, you can see how much time has elapsed, and how much is still to go.

My business partner, Alan, used to be a graphic designer, and he’s done a great job with the TIR. The scoring information is all visual, and we use this spider diagram to show scoring on your Time Perspective 

Time Perspective

Past, Present, Future

It’s a lot more digestible than the raw data, which is just columns of numbers. I’m proud of how the TIR looks, and the great job it does in making complex information easy to understand, just by looking. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a million digits.

Simplify your time management by using visual cues for yourself, and to communicate within your team. It will save you time!

I have a feeling, not backed up by any science at all, that knowledge workers get stressed about workload because they can’t see it, it looms over them as a weight and a presence, but has no physical form or appearance.

What do you think?

 

Time Perspective

Business thinking about Time Management needs updating.

Did you know that we all have a preference for the way we think about time? It’s called our Time Perspective, the concept’s been around for 25 years, with tons of top-quality cross cultural and longitudinal research. People who are Future (F) orientated make sacrifices now, that they think will benefit them in the long-term. They have career plans, pension plans, insurance plans. They’re about plans. Present Hedonists (PH) get distracted by immediate gratification. They’re good at being in the moment, and live for today, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Present Fatalists (PF) feel they have little control over their destiny, someone else is in charge of their life plan. Past Positives (PP) have a rosy, nostalgic picture of the past, the good old days. Past Negatives (PN) are, well, negative about their past, and the past in general.

“Every picture tells a story”

These 5 perspectives explain how we go about our daily lives, and how we make our choices about time use throughout the day. They’re fundamental to how we use our time at work, but also to how we do our work. Let’s have a look at the diagram above. How will this character behave at work?

They’re high PH. Reactive, present, personable. Combined with Low F – not so good at making plans or being proactive. Easily distracted by something interesting that grabs their attention, so maybe not a good finisher. Low PF – they believe they’re responsible for their destiny, won’t blame things on “the management” and will manage their own development. Medium PP and low PN – they won’t have much time for the people who remember how Project X went wrong in June 1987, or who like to reminisce about when we were a start-up working out of a garage.

“You’re failing to connect the Past, Present and Future”

Why does this matter? Next time you’re driving through a change management project, and you meet resistance, it just may be because people aren’t buying the future you’re selling. You’re failing to connect the Future with the Past and the Present, and not everyone wants to live there anyway.

“Time Management and Productivity used to be the same thing”

Psychologists have been studying Time ever since psychology became a science, yet what they have discovered mostly stays in the academic world. Business  thinking about time is still rooted in Frederick Taylor’s time and motion studies, where efficiency and productivity are still the declared goals. This worked in the 19th and early 20th century, when factory output was, literally, what counted. Time Management and Productivity used to be the same thing.

Today, most people are adding value by using their knowledge, rather than being part of an industrial process, yet we still use the same words to talk about output. This leaves no room for measuring modern concepts like innovation, problem-solving, creativity, strategic thinking, collaboration and team-working.

People who use their brains for a living, which is most of us, need a better framework for managing their time and measuring their effectiveness than working faster, harder, or longer. That’s not Working any more.

If you would like to find out more about your own Time Perspective, please leave a comment below.

 

Time Poor? Pack it in.

When you’re time poor, it’s easy to think that you’re being more efficient if you pack as much as possible into those 1440 minutes in a day. Working at 100% capacity has to be efficient, right?

Here’s how stressed people with no time try to make more:

Speeding Up

  • Speak faster. Miss things out.
  • Skip lessons learned briefings
  • Cancel “soft” meetings like 1:1s and reviews

Replacing a long-duration activity with a short one

  • Email instead of phoning or meeting face to face
  • Skimp on background information

Multitasking

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fs4lO2IceFk

Wall to wall scheduling

  • Leaving no gaps between activities
  • Not leaving enough time for any one  activity
  • Scheduling “free time” 
  • Racing from one thing to another

Time and Space are inseparable concepts, ask any physicist. So are No Time and No Space.

Oh, and there’s a fifth one. Looking for quick-fix tips, tricks and apps about time management, hoping they will make you time rich. They’re the Ponzi schemes of the time management industry. You’ll spend your time trying them out, but waste most of it, because only a few will ever work for you.

Do you recognise these behaviours in yourself or members of your team?

Covey's 4 Quadrants

A way to prioritise, if you have time

How do you prioritise when everything seems to fall into the Urgent or Important quadrants of Stephen R Covey’s  model?

I always assume that people have seen this model before, and know how it works. I guess you can think of it as a sorting-hat for tasks. If the tasks are in the top two quadrants, they’re important, and that’s where you should spend most of your time. The bottom two quadrants are for tasks that are not important, but it’s very easy to spend a lot of time there.

This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising

If you’ve ever spent your day being busy, but not feeling like you’ve made any progress on your goals, you’ve been hanging out in the Urgent zone. You’ve been working to meet deadlines and reacting to the thing in front of you – the Boss, a phone call, an email – stuff that didn’t even make it onto your To-Do List for today. This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising.

The truth is, not everything is Urgent, we just don’t get time to stop and think “which box does this really fit in?” – all the moles have to be whacked urgently. No one stops to find out where they’re coming from in the first place. No one stops to think whether we’re in the business of whacking moles either.

Much as I like Covey’s model, in my opinion it doesn’t deal with the systemic problems that teams face – of managers saying stuff in the top right quadrant is strategically important, but their behaviour doesn’t back it up. People thinking that they need to reply to an email in a nanosecond, otherwise they’re not on the ball. Colleagues making demands and causing interruptions that cascade into a wasted day.

So how do you prioritise, when everything seems urgent?

 

Work Life Balance - how are you doing?

Work Life Balance

I’ve always had a problem with the concept or work life balance. It’s a logical contradiction, because Life is a class which has the sub-categories of work, rest and play and all the other things that fit into a life. Yep, people call me a pedant sometimes.

Nevertheless it’s a hot topic, and has been ever since we started making the distinction between work and life. Interestingly, this seems to have started in the ’70s when the number of women in the workplace was increasing rapidly. Apparently, before that, men didn’t notice there was a distinction, or care if there was one!

There are still many people today (men and women), who aren’t bothered by that distinction. And if it doesn’t bother you, I guess your work-life balance is …err… balanced. As long as your friends and family accept that as well.

Uh huh, just let me finish this important email

So that leaves the rest of us, who feel a conflict, some of the time. I experience it as tug-of-war for my attention, and it happens in real-time, as a choice. My epiphany came 13 years ago, when I realised that my two kids, who were 5 and 7, only needed one thing from me. My attention – now. Not the “uh huh, just let me finish this important email” kind of attention, but a fully present human being, during the time I was with them. For my part, I realised that time was not unlimited, was irretrievable, and that days quickly turn into years. Now they’re 17 and 19 and we’ve had some really, really  good times together. I have to admit that, now, I’m on the receiving end of “uh huh, let me just finish this really important Facebook status update/Twitter “, but I don’t need their attention, so that’s OK with me. I guess.

Eventually, if you add the slices together, you’ve got yourself a life

The other time demands that hit us in work and in life are a series of micro-decisions and choices about what we’re going put our attention, for that particular slice of time. Eventually, if you add the slices together, you’ve got yourself a life. which you either live consciously, by actually making a decision, and asking “is this the best use of my time?”. Or not.

Otherwise you’re just passing the time.

Here are six techniques I used to coach marathon runners to get from the start line to the finish line, that you can use to move your list from “To Do” to “Done”

  1. Understand your big goal.
  2. Check your motivation.
  3. Give yourself a series of timed check points.
  4. Make some progress.
  5. Use visual cues.
  6. Incorporate rituals.

1. Understand your big goal.

Our big goal is to run 42k in a target time. To get there we need to meet some process goals (like training regularly) and some outcome goals (like hitting 10k at your pace time). Only things which move us to the big goal make it onto the list, anything else is irrelevant. Look at your To Do list and double-check that it relates to the big goal. How do “check email” and “attend weekly meeting” relate to your big goal?

2. Check your motivation.

Why are you doing this? How does it directly relate to you, and who you are? What turns “ought” into “have to”, or a duty into a necessity, for you. If you’re mostly extrinsically motivated, you’ll need some recognition from other people – make sure you get some. Intrinsically motivated people are more interested in mastering a subject, and having control over how they achieve this. Use this motivation to errr.. motivate yourself. Seriously, it’s easy to forget what’s driving you sometimes, don’t get bogged down in the minute to minute, day-to-day stuff, remember why you’re here and use it as a touchstone.

3. Give yourself a series of timed check points

The big goal might be to run 42km in 3 hours 40 minutes, but you need some check points along the way. You need them to check progress according to your time plan, and also to give yourself a pat on the back as you hit these mini goals. It’s important to review how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. Don’t actually try patting yourself on the back while you’re running, you’ll probably fall over.

4. Make some progress

Sometimes you just have to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. You’ve hit a wall and run out of mental tricks to motivate yourself. As Winston Churchill once said, “if you’re going through Hell, keep going”. Take a step, then another step. Walk when you get to a drinks station, but don’t stop. Do something, anything, however small, that advances you. Adjust the timing , but keep the momentum, and don’t stop. It takes sooo much effort to get going again.

5. Use visual cues

We looked at a map and turned it into an itinerary. “At 2 hours I’m running past the Berlin Opera house”. “My support group will be cheering me on at 13 miles, I can see my wife waving a banner.”

To Do list - personal kanban

My to do list is a personal Kanban – tasks move through from Backlog to Done

Here’s my visual system for work. It’s called a personal kanban – it’s ridiculously simple. Open tasks sit underneath each heading – I’ve removed them here, because you wouldn’t be able to read my writing so you can’t see my top-secret plans . I’ve found Apps and NagWare like Outlook tasks don’t work for me, because they’re static and a “Done” task just disappears. With this, one task moves from the Backlog column, through Doing, to Done. It feels more dynamic and lets me know what I’ve achieved, as well as what’s to do, which motivates me more. There are never more than five yellow sticky notes under the “Doing” sticky note.

6. Incorporate rituals

If you can make anything a habit, you don’t have to think about it. Marathoners will wear the same running shoes and use the same energy drinks or gels. They also run through the same check list before a long run or a race. Some runners have mantras that they will use to get into the right state.  They choose what to incorporate into their rituals. Some serving suggestions for you:

  • Make a review of your To Do list the night before,
  • Rehearse the first 5 minutes when you brush your teeth.
  • Remind yourself of your bigger goal before you start the day
  • Get one of the items on your list done before you dive into your email.
  • When you have your first coffee or tea, use that time to reflect on progress to date.

Feel free to make your own up, and let me know how you did.

 

 

 

Time Management - the Future

When I was 17, my friend wanted to be a pharmacist. His future wasn’t a dream, or even an ambition, it was more like a fact that hadn’t happened yet. Like an airline pilot planning a flight to Hawaii. He knew where it was, how to get there and how long it would take. I’m not sure why, pharmacy didn’t run in the family or anything, but that was definitely what he saw himself doing. He had a very clear picture of his future destination, which was real and immediate, not out there in the distance.

Mark’s now a very successful research chemist (in pharmacy), he’s exactly where he thought he would be, nearly forty years ago. I guess he’s had different aspirations along the way as well, but he’s achieved his lifetime career goal.

I admire Mark for his focus and vision (notice the visual words we use in English to talk about the Future). He’s very Future orientated.

Our time  perspectives drive how we all manage our time in the macro sense – managing our life time. They’re the dynamo that drives time management behaviour in the micro sense as well – how we manage our days and hours. Can we keep our eyes on the final destination, or are we more prone to deal with what’s appears right in front of us? This affects how and what we instinctively prioritise, regardless of what we think we should be doing, or what’s theoretically number one on our to-do list.

Mark’s goal  may have been way out in the future, but it had two essential qualities. Firstly, it was connected to the present by his sense of purpose. He was highly motivated in the here and now to work towards it. Secondly, the goal was more than just a vision, it was a fully realised thing that he could touch, smell, taste and hear, as well as see. When those two qualities are present, the destination is a real place, worth going to, worth spending time getting there.

So, if you can make your goal real for yourself and other people, and if you can connect it to your inner motivations, you will be propelled towards it, and it will get more real as you draw closer.

Let us know if that’s interesting to you.