Time is a nebulous entity. Everyone gets the same amount. Sometimes it flies and other times it seems like it takes forever. Clock time is something everyone agrees to in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, days and months (Mathews et al., 2006). Clock time can’t be changed, so efforts are put into managing it. However, this concept is sort of nebulous too. How can one “manage” time? A change in mindset can perhaps be beneficial. Instead of thinking about time management, we can think about “me management.”
When someone wants to be more effective in managing himself or herself through this concept of time, they often seek advice from various professionals. In my experience as a sales person in a health club, I read books, watched videos, attended workshops and listened to many people give advice about time management. Sales people, including personal trainers, are traditionally trained in managing time since they need to be self-motivated, work long hours and maintain a positive attitude while prospects reject their pitches.
This article will review three components of “me management”:
- Fixed Schedule Productivity
Fixed Schedule Productivity
Efficiency experts, motivational speakers and successful business professionals often talk about this concept of "fixed schedule productivity." The basic premise is that a person determines a reasonable schedule in terms of balancing life and work and then does whatever it takes to keep to that schedule (Newport, 2008). This is a difficult notion to buy into, especially if you thrive on being busy and over-committed. If, on the other hand, you strive to have downtime and do not feel you need to be available 24/7, this is a very powerful tool to gain control over productivity. Organizing oneself within this mindset accomplishes several things including:
- Helps to identify what is being ignored
- Identifies what actions and habits are not important
- Reveals which actions steal effectiveness and precious minutes from other important components of life
- Motivates one to say “no” more often
Let’s follow a personal trainer’s efforts in re-structuring her career with this mindset: She starts by thinking of herself as a project manager. What are the different components or categories that she has to manage in her career/project? This could include:
- Time spent with clients during workouts
- Preparation time
- Travel time (if training clients in various locations)
- Education/research, etc.
If she has multiple income streams there is a whole other list of categories to identify. She must also consider family and all other non-work related commitments such as:
- Children/Family schedules
- Social commitments
- Personal fitness/exercise
Once she has identified the components of her project (i.e., “her”) she needs to determine where she can be more efficient. This brings her to the next phase, which is awareness.
An effort to change or improve habits and actions must start with awareness.
When I was a salesperson, we were told to divide one week into 15 minute segments and document what was accomplished during these segments of time. At first I thought this exercise was a waste of time! However, this proved to be a powerful tool. Think of it as an assessment. For the trainer described above, this assessment could help make her aware of exactly what she is doing daily and recognize patterns of inefficiency vs. effectiveness. I became aware of exactly how many minutes I spent cold calling vs. prospecting vs. learning. What about all of the other seemingly important things I was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t?
After engaging in this exercise for several days, you can become aware of how much time you spend on each component of your day. Which part of your project is not receiving the attention required? What are you willing to cut from your schedule?
Some of the things this personal trainer could potentially identify by completing this exercise are as follows:
- Wasted time: She may be surprised at how much time she actually spends (wastes?) checking emails, texts, social media, etc. She now observes that she looks at the same simple emails multiple times without actually responding.
- Available time: She reviews how many minutes she had between clients and exactly what she did with that time. 20 minutes, several times each day add up to lot of time!
- Potential stressors: She recognizes that working late into the evenings is making it difficult to fall asleep and that she's passed up fun activities on weekends because she feels she needs to work more.
- Inefficiencies: Repeating similar steps multiple times because she didn’t plan ahead with paper work, printing, etc.
Once she sees how she is managing herself over a one week period, she needs to decide what is not that important and what she is going to do about it. She has to decide what is not getting enough attention, and what she is going to do about it. This can be tough. She needs to have a plan. This is where the preparation is crucial.
As trainers, we have all talked to clients about their efforts to eat better. First, the clients identify that they need and want to eat better. Then, we encourage them to have a plan and to prepare. For example, we might very well recommended that they prepare meals in advance so that they don’t make poor choices at the last minute. This trainer should do the same with her “me” management.
After assessing her actions, she could potentially change several items:
- She will decide on only two times during the day where she will check emails and texts. Obviously, this does not refer to the last minute client cancellations she needs to respond to. Rather, this refers to the mindless, endless smart phone use. People will get used to not hearing back from her immediately.
- She will arrange her client list as efficiently as possible and prepare specific tasks for her available time, such as reading or research to do between appointments. From there she needs to work backwards: What does she need to prepare the night before to bring with her in the morning?
- She will look for triggers in her behavior that lead to unwanted actions. Teachers and moms talk about awareness and preparation to first identify potential triggers, instead of constantly reacting to small explosions. For example, a teacher might try to identify what triggers a student to act out, and attempt to mitigate the trigger more effectively (Feder) so the action never happens. This trainer can decide that no work is done after 8pm and then try to stick to that in order to be more relaxed before bed. She also tells herself as she is out running that her non-work time is just as important as work time.
- She will realize that some of the work that “had” to get done on the weekend really wasn’t that important anyway.
- She will re-think her actions with programming and documentation so she can be more effective (e.g., instead of working through each client one at a time, she will assess what things are necessary to more than one client and do all at the same time - like printing out papers or documents).
Remember that good actions require continuous practice.
As personal trainers, we often try to educate our clients on the difference between “having” time and “making” time, in terms of consistent exercise. It is this same mindset that we can adopt in managing ourselves. Deciding to be more productive takes a commitment, awareness to what our current habits are, and then an action plan. Of course it’s not easy. But if we choose to live our lives with the conviction that we are in control of the nebulous time clock, we will be more productive, more successful, and...happy!
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