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Do you manage time or does time manage you?

I am a recovering productivity junkie. I have a tendency to praise efficiency and I dislike 'wasting' time. I get excited about planning to plan, reorganizing my to-do list, and analyzing how I have spent my time. If you give me a book on productivity or time management, you can count on me diving right into it to find the next great productivity hack. But all this is slowly changing. Experiences from this year, together with coaching and reading the book “Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It” (by Oliver Burkeman) have made me approach time management in a slightly different way.

I completely agree with Oliver Burkeman about time being like a conveyor belt that keeps giving you new tasks. You try to be more efficient and faster, focusing on getting tasks out of the way and catching up with everything. Being on top of things. And sometimes it seems to work. But then, the conveyor belt just starts working faster, providing even more tasks. You do your best to get things out of your way, just to have more new things appear there instead. And then you get stressed because you feel like you are losing control. Though, did you have control in the first place or was it just an illusion of control?

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

This year I got tired of trying to beat this system. Instead, I am now focusing on setting priorities, getting better at saying “no”, finding a balance between being structured and flowing in time, and exploring new opportunities to waste time.

Setting priorities, saying “no” and getting comfortable with a never-ending to-do list.

Without priorities, I feel paralyzed by all the things that I want to do. Seeing the forest through the trees is challenging, especially when everything seems urgent and important. Once I set priorities, the path clears up, the direction becomes clear, and it gets easier (though still not comfortable) to say “no” to things that do not align with priorities.

Having a clear path is exciting and motivating. It is a joy to be on it. In fact, often so much joy that it gets hard to stop. Sometimes hours pass without me lifting my ass from the chair and once I do, I realize I have depleted all my energy. To address this, I am trying to take more breaks and in case time runs out, I allow myself to pause and leave a task incomplete until the next day. It is tempting to keep going, but I remind myself that the task list will never end anyway.

Seeking for a balance between deadlines and flowing through time.

I have started to drift from the world of deadlines and timelines to another dimension where I am flowing through time. Instead of committing to deadlines, I now prefer to set priorities, give myself a direction, and set an amount of energy I want to spend on it on a daily or weekly basis. Focusing on the execution. Just moving towards that goal, trusting that the results will follow, and being patient about when I would arrive there. It works well with my personal goals. Obviously, at work, I need to commit to deadlines and provide a timeline, so still exploring how that balance could look like.

Accepting that some of the time should be wasted and it does not always need to result in economical value.

There is joy in doing some things just for the sake of doing them. Activities that give nothing in return except joy and energy. Photography used to be such a thing for me. It was a hobby I did out of joy, expecting no return except nice memories for myself. I was fine being mediocre. And then I turned my hobby into a business and started posting pictures on social media. All of a sudden, it became 'productive time' that I did for exposure, likes, and to find new opportunities. Now I am selling my time.

Let's look at this economical value also from another perspective. Throughout this summer we got 6 Fridays off at work, with no impact except additional free days. These days were meant to be 'wasted'. When a survey was sent out later to ask for the impact of this initiative, I felt the need to prove that my productivity did not suffer and that probably I was even more productive as a result of it. Later, when reading the book, I started wondering why should an extra day off need defending in terms of improved performance at work? I could have just said that it made me a happier person instead.

Book tip: “Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It” by Oliver Burkeman

It offers a refreshing and philosophical perspective on time management. It challenged me in certain ways, and there was also a lot that I found myself agreeing with. More than anything, it offered a good opportunity for reflection.

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