Take Back Control of Your Time

A Word About Time

How many of us wish we had more time in our day?

Most likely, the majority of people reading this post would jump at the chance to add a few more hours of “cushion time” to get everything done. That’s why time management is so crucial, and yet, as hard as we try, we never seem to be quite in control. Some of us end up giving up on the idea altogether and eventually surrender control over our own day as a lost cause.

But if time is your most valuable asset, why be content wondering where it went, when you could tell it where to go?

People typically think of budgeting from a monetary perspective, which means many of us have a love-hate (or even hate-hate) relationship with the practice. However, we can substitute the word “time” into a conversation about financial budgeting, and the statement holds true. Dave Ramsey’s words – with a little substitution magic to adjust for time – form a mantra we could all use as a reminder to keep striving in our effort to gain control of our schedule:

“A {time} budget is telling your {time} where to go instead of wondering where it went.” 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I’m sure we all love the idea of simply “telling time where to go,” but we all know it’s not always quite so simple. That’s why today’s post will cover a few strategies to help you reflect on the ways you spend your time, then walk you through a few steps to guide you in re-prioritizing your time so you can take back control.

That brings us to an important question:

When was the last time you wondered where your time went? 

Did you implement proper planning and intentionality to organize it, or did you manage your schedule on-the-fly, reacting as demands, obligations, and surprises ambushed you? 

Keep your answers to the above questions in mind as you following the tips below. These reflection questions and exercises are calibrated to help you figure out how to better prioritize and manage the precious time you have under your control.

Admit You Actually Have Control

Admitting responsibility is half the journey. If you ask people where they spend most of their free time, one of the most common responses will inevitably be, “Free time, what’s that?!” That answer is, of course, understandable, since we all know there are days that just happen to get away from us or weeks where nothing we do seems to get us any closer to finishing our workload.

But there’s an important designation that we need to make.

Free time isn’t empty time.

Free time isn’t the moment you tell yourself, “Wow, I’ve got three extra hours today that I have no idea what I’m going to do with!” That rarely, if ever, is the case. The point, however, is that we always find activities with which to fill our discretionary time.

When we talk about free time (discretionary time), we’re talking about time that we have control over – time during which we can decide to do activity A or B instead of activity C or D. During that time, we are the ultimate decision-makers and priority-setters with regard to what gets done and what does not.

Of course, we all have time that other people control, don’t we? We have an employer/work time where we’re responsible to somebody else who pays us for our use of that time. We may have family time where we’re responsible to a spouse and/or children, and others in our family.

But, at the end of the day, each of us also has time that we alone determine how to spend.

Identify Time Barriers

So, let’s consider what your free time looks like. The following questions will help you paint a picture of how you currently use your discretionary time:

Reflection Questions

  • Where do you spend most of your free time?
  • The last time you had a choice about what you did with your time, what did you use that time for?
  • Think through your typical day. What do you typically fill your available time slots with? Consider your answer for both a typical weekday and weekend day.

 Application Questions

  • Make a list of the top five things that take up the time you control. Now, consider the following…
    • “What are five things that you wish you had more time for?”
  • Compare those two lists: what takes up your time vs. what you wish you had more time for. Then consider the following…
    • Why do you end up spending time doing the things on the first list (the things that take up your time) instead of the things on the second list (the things that you wish you had more time for)?
  • Oftentimes, the urgent things in life squeeze out space for the important things.
    • When did you last experience this?

Be sure to take the time and intentionality, to be honest with yourself. Time is the one thing you can never take back, earn back, or buy back. So follow up the exercises above by making a list of the top five things that steal the time you control away from the things you wish you had more time for.

After walking through these questions and exercises, you should have a better idea of where your biggest time barriers arise. So leverage this knowledge to become more aware of those barriers and be proactive in taking back control.

At the end of the day, where we spend our time reflects the priorities we place on those activities. The worst part is that many of those things we give preference to are things we would gladly give up in exchange for something we value more if we only took the time to step back and prioritize our time budget.

Consider Your Ideal Week

Another helpful exercise involves thinking through your week and planning out what your ideal week would look like. Author Michael Hyatt wrote a great article to help you walk through this process (he even provides an Excel template you can use). You can check it out at the link below. If you need a little nudge to push you into action, look for natural seasonal change points to spark a time of reflection and action.

Check out this link for Michael Hyatt’s ideal week planning guide: How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week

Protect the Flow of Your Day

Even once we have a clear idea about how we would like to spend our day, sometimes our reality fails to match the ideal. The fact is, most of us don’t have the luxury of completely dictating our schedules without the input of others. There are always obligations and meetings that demand time from us, as well as other external pressures over which we have little control. Too many of us are intimately familiar with the workplace phenomenon known as “death by meeting.” On top of that, unexpected interruptions will inevitably arise to derail our plans.

Instead of being interrupted by meetings all the time, it’s helpful to block out designated times during the day that are available for meetings, if needed, while also setting aside strict “no meeting” work periods during which you can be productive. The best way to implement these protected time blocks is to schedule them in your calendar so people know when you are or are not available. Doing so ahead of time will make it that much easier to say no to people wanting to meet during one of your designated working blocks. If you do that, then you will have taken the first step in protecting the flow of your day.

Worth Fighting For

In the end, it all comes down to choices and priorities. Time is THE most valuable asset we have. It’s the thing that allows us to build meaning in our lives through the people we connect with and the work we do. Yes, some of the things we talked about in the paragraphs above will be difficult to implement. It will be challenging to say no to people – to stand firm in protecting the flow of your day or to be proactive in shaping the way you want your week to look. But if anything is worth fighting for, it’s the power to be in control of your own time.

So step up, take a risk, and seize the day!

Become the master of your own ship.

This was originally posted by GiANT Worldwide and I wanted to share it here as well. If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your time management for the sake of a healthier life and leadership, I’m happy to schedule a meeting to discuss. Just click the contact button and let me know!