Crusading against time crunch
“No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
I don’t practice Stoicism but this quote was a hard-hitting blow on my self-conscience. The one which slapped my ‘I-have-no-time’ whining attitude in the face and howled for an action plan to defeat the tyranny of the eternal time crunch.
I have this on-off relationship with time.
Some days I feel like a time-philanthropist, voluntarily giving away my precious time to others. My calendar looks like small pellets of time-eating capsules that I happily give away to people. There are days at a stretch that make me feel as if I’m running on a hamster wheel of a meeting. I leave one conference room just to enter another — thankful enough to the God of Air for giving me oxygen to breathe.
On such days, when the night falls, I stare into the black hole of productivity, wondering if I will ever be able to work on my craft and grow the organization? A feeling similar to dealing with negativity where you are almost always sure that the darkness is going to stay with you forever.
And then there are other days when I am a time-miser, fanatical about saving every precious minute. Those are the days when I take control of things. I don’t allow anyone to mess with my time. I give myself big pockets of time to reflect, learn, breathe and grow. I plan, evaluate, anticipate my day with utmost care. And on those days, I accomplish.
It’s been pretty much the same for as long as I can remember.
What I’ve discovered is that I’m not the only one fighting this battle. Whenever I’ve talked to other leaders, I’ve found that they too are struggling with the same demon. The initial comfort of someone else sharing my pain fades slowly into despondency – is there no way out?
Yes, there is a way out.
If you truly want to radically focus on making yourself, your team and your products better, here’s what I can recommend to get you started. They work for me in my sunny days, might work for you as well-
1. Keep at least two 90 minutes contiguous blocks every day to yourself. Use that time to reflect on your team’s progress, your team member’s career path, about design, your workplace culture, future trends you want to follow or ideas that you want to experiment. In short, use this 90-minute time block to think about or do things that are important but not urgent.
2. Abandon Skype/Slack (or whatever you use internally for communication) for things that can be caught over email. Yes, use email. That red notification dot on Skype is designed to feed your instant gratification monkey.
3. Check your email like you take Tylenol when sick- 4 times a day. Slowly take that count to maybe 3.
4. Start booking meetings in chunks of 15 or 20 minutes (Not the Google default of one hour). Ask people to come prepared by sharing the discussion material in advance. We follow this for our Design feedback meetings — we share designs with the entire team a day in advance so that everyone comes ready with their thoughts on yellow stickies. Those kind of meetings rock and are super productive.
5. Start saying NO to anyone who tries to hijack your time. Be it your colleague, your boss, or your client. Before accepting meeting invites, think about what value you can add to the meeting. Decline meetings which can be conducted without your presence.
6. Get organized. Prioritize. I have said this before and I will say this again- Go analog and start bullet journaling.
Time is perishable and it only moves forward. You cannot hold it, but you can definitely choose to spend it wisely. You can choose to move your time blocks from the tasks of low priority to the tasks which are more valuable.
Ofcourse, I am not perfect at this. But I can say that I have become better at protecting my time. I hope you do, too.
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