Thinking about Time
Welcome to The Center’s blog! Starting with this piece, we will be making weekly posts on topics of interest to small business owners. We hope you find these articles useful, informative, and thought provoking.
The focus topic for January is time management. “Time management” has become a ubiquitous phrase in the modern world. With the technological progress that we’ve seen in our lifetimes has come unprecedented access and connection to everything around us. I feel blessed to live in such an exciting time, but with new options come new choices. While our horizons have expanded, the day has not grown any longer.
This post will not address specific techniques that you can apply to improve your time management skills. This purpose of this post is to encourage the reader to reflect on their relationship with time.
The problem of time management is one of “wants” versus “capacity.” Wants are what people want to accomplish or achieve in a certain amount of time, while capacity is the limit of what that person is capable of achieving in that same amount of time. It is interesting that time itself is not a direct factor in creating time management stress. Time is an axis upon which capacity can be measured, but the passage of time cannot be slowed or quickened and is therefore a constant in the equation of time management.
With that understanding, we can isolate our attention to just “wants” and “capacity.” It is in the balance between these two ideas that we can find successful and stress-free time management.
“Wants” are everything from working a job to household chores. A woman may want to paint the house and also spend the day with her kids – but she can’t. No matter what, she has to choose between the two. In making this choice, she can look at time through one of two lenses: either as 1) an enemy; a ticking clock that she desperately races against, or 2) a valuable resource to be treasured and fully savored.
When a person views time as an enemy to be defeated or an obstacle to be overcome, they exist in a paradigm where they always “want” more. They may accomplish many great things, but they can never accomplish everything. And, often, that is the impossible condition that they impose upon themselves – to defeat time by accomplishing everything despite the constraints of time itself.
If, on the other hand, one perceives time as a valuable resource, one that enriches life by providing a context of urgency and scarcity, they instead compromise with time. Unable to accomplish everything they want, this person must reflect inward and choose what is truly important. By making this choice, she affirms the value of that which she chooses to accomplish in the limited confines of the day. Time is not the enemy – time is the sieve that concentrates and distills her wants down to considered priorities.
Walking the first path takes us to a place of frustration and stress, dissatisfaction and disaffection. We are forced to leave things by the wayside, things we want. In contrast, the second path leads to compromise and reflection, value and affirmation. We choose that which we want most, and by choosing, polish that desire to a brighter luster.
Capacity, on the other hand, is an individual’s ability to make use of time. We can, and should, train our capacity to accomplish things that we want. We do this through study and practice, by gaining skills we previously lacked. We may, in some cases, also build capacity by employing others. Take for example the person that hires a handyman to fix a leaky faucet. The handyman is happy to lend his capacity to the homeowner in exchange for money, and the homeowner saves what would likely be hours of unsatisfying, inefficient work.
In the example above, the homeowner makes the wise decision to spend his time on wants aside from fixing the faucet and instead employs another party to assist him because he accurately assesses that his capacity at fixing leaky faucets is less than the handyman. The ability to accurately assess one’s own capacity is, in many ways, as critical as the ability to increase that capacity.
To summarize, time management arises from a tension between a person’s wants and capacity to satisfy those wants. Minimize frustration and stress by embracing the scarcity of time and picking high priority desires to satisfy. Finally, people should work to increase their capacity in areas that make sense in the context of their wants, and should be realistic and accurate in assessing their capacity. I hope this post presented a useful perspective on time management. Visit our blog again next week when we’ll have specific tips and techniques on how to manage your business so you can get the most done!