Thibaud Marec introduces us to time management. Thibaud is the Home Geek Consultant and blogger championing simplicity & minimalism for a happy life and successful projects. Thibaud is a freelance management consultant passionate about bringing simplicity and minimalism into his personal life and sharing these experiences on his blog. He is particularly interested in applying simplicity and minimalist concepts and ideas to productivity and personal or family project management. To him, minimalism and simplicity are all about multiplying the power of our focus by learning to direct it on what is truly important.
Time is one of those things that none of us can control. Time is the fixed factor, not the variable one. Time defines the nature of our existence, which is temporal. We’re not eternal, and we have to die one day. Therefore, the biggest mistake ever is to believe that we can “manage time”, because the reality is exactly the opposite. Time manages us more than we manage it.
What we call ‘Time-management’ is the management of ourselves
The phrase “time-management” is misleading: it makes us believe that we can control or manipulate time. When we talk too much about “time management”, we end-up thinking that performance and effectiveness are a matter of doing things ‘fast’ or ‘slowly’, doing more or less. We’ve got a fixed set of things to do, and then we have to make sure it fits into our life no matter what. Ultimately, we feel the frustration of not “having enough time. So from today, let’s just stop talking about “time management” and start to focus instead on the safest and most relevant thing we can manage: ourselves.
Accepting that time passes is a key element to a happy life, because it makes us aware that each moment is unique. Embracing a minimalist or simple life is all about freeing ourselves from what prevents us from living and enjoying the present moment.
Here are 9 tips to help any of us become friends with time
1. Be aware of the choices you make in terms of how you spend your time
Our own life is, without a doubt, the most manageable thing we’ve got in our control. What it means is that everything we do is a matter of choice. We do what we choose to do with the time available. Those choices are rarely constraint-free, as we often do things under the pressure of external factors: taking care of a child, doing something for our boss etc. to the point that too often we end-up believing that “we don’t really have any choice”. But in reality, we make many choices amongst several options based on which one is the safest, the most moral, the most enjoyable, the one in line with our values, or in line with our immediate short term needs. And choosing comes with some significant implication: we have full accountability for how we spend your time. And this can be really empowering when you think about it.
The right thing to do is to stop complaining about how time is against us. Let’s realise that we are the master of what we do in our own time. We have a galaxy of opportunities in front of us. Let’s be aware of the choices we make, as these define who we are and who we want to be.
Time is not the issue but the solution, as we are entirely free to allocate our own time to the things that we value most in life.
2. Have your priorities in order
Let’s be honest; we’ve always got something to do. There is always another friend to see, a new book to read, a new piece of music to listen to, a new movie to watch, another game to play, another thing to buy etc. Especially in the age of distraction we live in, we are constantly given the opportunity to do a million different things, and we end-up frustrated by not being able to do them all.
In this context, setting the right priorities and having them in order ensures that we always focus on the right thing at the right time, and therefore never waste time.
One of the best “time management” tips I learned is the following: Do the most important thing first; then the second most important thing etc. so that when we run out of time, we’ve only got the least important things that have been left incomplete, and it’s not really a problem.
Priorities put “importance” at the centre of our life, bringing clarity and direction into chaos. Importance allows us to compare on a same scale what we have to do (e.g. paying taxes) and what we want to do (e.g. your hobby). And very often what is important to us counts as much or more than what is important to others, so let’s make sure that we prioritise accordingly.
3. Have a plan for your next steps
We frequently waste time when it comes to action: we try to figure out what we need to do instead of actually doing it. This reduces the effective time dedicated to actually moving forward. For example, if my priority is to make progress on my blog, and I have put aside two hours today for this, it would be a shame to spend half of this time figuring out what I need to do now: Marketing? Writing posts? Promoting the blog on social media? The solution to that is planning.
Prioritizing helps us focus on the right area in our life. Planning helps us do the right thing in the right area. Thanks to our plan, we make good use of our time available to complete our next priority.
By giving us a clear idea of the sequence of tasks to do, our plan also helps us dedicate our full attention to the right tasks (mindfulness), which has benefits in terms of performance (we achieve more) and satisfaction (we take pride in achieving).
Planning can sound scary, but don’t forget we’re minimalists here! Only the minimal level of planning is necessary: For each priority, we just need to know the two or three next steps/actions. This way, we can be sure that we are doing the right thing at the right time, which removes stress and anxiety. I personally try to never be in a situation where I am wondering what I should be doing now. And to do so I plan every upcoming week for about an hour every Sunday evening, and I spend 15 minutes at the end of each day planning for the next day. This is sufficient for me to constantly know what I need to do.
4. Kill time-wasters and distractions
In modern society, we are ‘connected’ 24-7 via all types of gadgets, mainly smartphones. Our smartphones send us constant notifications of news, social media, commercials, e-mails, messages etc.
Notifications steal our attention from our task at hand and provide distractions that are the worst enemy of focus and productivity. Notifications should be treated as one of the worst forms of clutter, because they destroy our ability to focus. Our focus is the best asset we have in our lives and needs to be protected accordingly.
By turning all those notifications off on our phones, by using focus apps, which ‘prevent’ you from using your phone during a pre-set amount of time, or (even better) by just keeping the phone away or the web browser down, we can reduce our exposure to distractions that are so destructive to us. In a similar fashion, the time we spend on TV and social-media is usually non-important and non-urgent. These non-important and non-urgent activities should be the privileged areas to find more time to do activities that are meaningful to us.
5. Say No!
All time spent on activities that are not our priorities is spent on someone else’s priority. This person should be very grateful for our contribution!
We have to make time for our own priorities in life, and the best way to set the right boundaries is by saying No.
By putting the right boundaries in our life and not compromising on them, we give ourselves recurring timeslots, which allow us to focus on the important things. Saying No is one of the most empowering thing we can do in our life, though it is also one of the most difficult. Saying No means refusing what someone else wants for us. It’s a declaration of freedom, the freedom of spending the time we have on what we want.
Saying No does not have to be aggressive or negative. There are very positive ways to say No, and people tend to respect an honest No more than a half-hearted Yes.
6. Keep your daily Effective Available Time in mind
Time is fixed, but our expectations have no limit. It is important to align (even roughly) our expectations with the time we’ve got. The first step to do so is to be aware of the time we actually have to do our personal activities. This is our Effective Available Time (EAT).
When it comes to time, making expectations realistic is key to avoid frustration. A strong awareness of the time available is the first step towards an effective and productive use of this time.
Let’s take a typical day and subtract our sleeping time, eating time, working time, grooming time, family time, commuting time, kids time etc: everything we have to do that is not negotiable. Then let’s have a look at what time is left. By comparing this EAT to our current priorities, we see roughly how much we can do on a typical week day or weekend, and whether we’ve got too much on our plate. If so, it may be worth deprioritizing some activities.
7. Be mindful
As we aspire to a simpler life, we learn quickly that what matters most is not really what we achieve, but the journey that got us there. In order to make the most of this journey, we’ve got to be mindful. Minimalism and simple living are all about removing all types of clutter that prevents us from achieving a mindful and meaningful life.
Time must not be perceived as a means to our ends, but as a companion. As time passes, we grow, and being aware of the uniqueness of each moment is what gives value to time.
‘Having less’, ‘living slowly’ etc, all of these initiatives have a single purpose: get us to focus on enjoying the present moment, because it does not make sense to focus on the future if we are not able to enjoy the present.
Mindfulness can magically turn a random moment into an unforgettable one, and often we experience great moments without even anticipating them: a family dinner, a drink with a friend, a conversation with our partner etc. In the end, this is about making every moment an opportunity for enjoyment, happiness and development.
8. Don’t trust the gurus: there is no ultimate tool for time management
There will always be people and commercials to tell us about the latest app or gadget that will transform us into a productivity champion. After trying lots of different apps and self-organisation systems, I can tell you that such miracle tool, device or system does not exist. On the contrary, the simplest are usually the best.
What matters is to find a system that suits us, who we are, how our brains work and what makes us feel comfortable. The best time management system/tool for us is the one that we use every day. Full stop.
For example, there is no point getting the best app on our phone if we feel more comfortable writing everything on a notepad. Some people love digital features, some don’t. Some write a lot, some don’t. Some people love to have calendar and task manager connected, some don’t. Everyone has the right answer for themselves.
What is more important is to choose a tool that can be improved and refined over time (which is why I am personally not a fan of apps). A bullet journal, or a Kanban for example, are great tools because they can evolve and be shaped and tailored over time based on our experience and our personality.
9. Don’t feel guilty doing nothing
We’ve already mentioned how our phones and other gadgets generate destructive distractions in our lives. They also prevent us from just doing… nothing. Nowadays, every time we are alone (or not!), we take our phone and get ourselves distracted by Whatsapp conversations, Facebook, games, news feeds etc.
Our phones have conquered our ‘alone time’ to the point that we don’t even know any more how to spend time on our own. We even feel guilty doing nothing.
Doing nothing is actually a very valuable “activity”. We can let our mind wander, bring us to new places, explore new ideas etc. Doing nothing is extremely useful to let the mind breathe and make ourselves understand that we don’t have to be constantly stimulated to feel alive. Learning how to do nothing is a great way to learn how to feel happy on our own and to get to know ourselves better.
Doing nothing is even more valuable when supplemented with a positive activity such as meditation. So there is no reason to feel guilty about doing nothing, as this is a great self-development activity.
The relationship we have with our time should not be constrained by silly phrases like ‘time-management’ or “free time” or even worse “I don’t have the time”. Perceiving time solely as a means to an end can only lead to a dead-end, because it can only fuel the frustration of not having enough time to do it all.
Successfully becoming friends with time will only be achieved by making more of each present moment. Life is nothing more than a succession of present moments. It’s down to us to make them meaningful.
– Thibaud Marec