“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”

Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fictional character with a very real problem – an anxiety over time. We’re all guilty of being in the clutches of this age-old paranoia – there’s not enough, we worry that we are running out of it and, we are not quite sure how to manage it when we do have it. Yet is trying to ‘manage and bottle it,’ just a waste of the very thing we are trying to tame?

Now don’t get me wrong, time is a most precious commodity and I’m not just talking about squeezing enough of it out of the working day to attend to all the meetings in your diary, work on a strategy document, delete half your inbox, work through a project plan and catch up with a colleague over a coffee, I’m talking about time as a whole. We are all more than just our office persona after all. So, I’m referring to the time that starts ticking the moment we wake up at home, to the commute to work, to the eight hour stretch in the office and then the time that seems to tick a little faster once we have put our work bag down and shut the front door. It’s a never-ending continuum of fitting in time to work, time to have fun, time to love, time to work out, time to do the chores, time to reflect, time to sleep and time to relax. It’s all around us so why isn’t there a magic solution that can help us get more of the thing that we most crave? Ok so here are a few things you’ll pay good money for at a time management course to learn that don’t really work at all:

  1. Clear your inbox: my inbox currently stands at 21,238 emails. I have a great friend who shudders when I tell her this. She is of the ‘delete and file’ kind of school of wisdom. But what’s the point? I reply to everything, I can do a quick search for anything that I am missing and I am not wasting valuable time deleting and filing and then not knowing where that precious email I so suddenly need has gone. It works just fine, my inbox goes back quite some years, the search function provides all the filing that I require.
  2. De-clutter your desk: as I write this I am staring at melon-shaped pencil case belonging to my daughter, a pile of paperwork that hasn’t been filed, my age-old and beloved Griffin savers Oxford dictionary, an Amazon gift voucher card, a pound coin and a chocolate wrapper – tidy my desk is not but again, you know what, it works. I know exactly where everything is in my chaos of my desk. Now don’t go and tidy it up because believe you me I can lay my hand on that dictionary faster than you can press speed dial, put it in a drawer and all manner of chaos may ensue.
  3. Give yourself enough time to complete tasks: this is pure lunacy in my world. The longer I have, the longer I take. Is my article any better because I have spent hours chewing over every word? No, it’s not. It just makes me anxious. Can I find a better holiday because I have spent more hours comparing holidays online? No, it’s not. I am just more confused than ever and I still haven’t booked anything. Having a pressure of time can help in the decision-making process, if you only have half an hour to do your supermarket shopping you are more or less going to come out with the same grocery items on your list then you would have achieved if you had half a day to do it in a leisurely fashion.
  4. Don’t be too attentive to your phone or emails: time management gurus often advocate allocating a certain time in the day to answer phones or emails saying that you shouldn’t distract yourself from the task in hand. I have my phone pretty much glued to my hand for one simple reason, instant replies work for me. It’s a form of ticking off the to do list, my gut reaction to an email, text message or What’s app is usually the right one and crucially I don’t therefore forget to do it. There, it’s done.
  5. Get up earlier and get organised: I get up at 7am everyday and the children (three of them) are in the car every morning at 8.10, we are never late for school. In precisely one hour and ten minutes I have fed them, clothed them, packed their bags and belted them into their car seats. Ok so if I got up half an hour earlier I could technically have done some morning yoga, washed the kitchen floor and replied to a few emails but again it works, for me. The pressure of time is a great thing, we all know where we are in a total rush, give me some extra time and I may just combust.
  6. Try not to schedule too much in: for me planning my diary and fitting far too much in usually gives me structure and purpose. Procrastination after all really is the thief of time, you really do get more out of your day if you have a plan in mind and if you have pre-arranged appointments and phone calls to fill that day with. Winging it rarely works and that doesn’t make anyone happy.

I’ll admit this may not work for everyone but the point really is that it just doesn’t work to have a one-size fits all approach to time management because it needs to fit with the individual. We are all very different creatures and the way we manage our own time is a very personal thing. Some will say, “I’m so busy,” when we know full well they’re not, others will bend over backwards saying, “Of course I can help,” when you know their schedule is already packed out. We are talking about behaviour here, our individual coping mechanisms and stress limits. So, if things are working for you, you are doing well at work, the children are getting to school on time and with all their homework done, you are managing family life, personal life, you are not dropping too many visits to the gym and you are happy then don’t be tempted to re-invent the time management wheel because the chances are you are doing just fine.

By Annie Hayes, HR freelance writer and expert.

Global Lingo supports Human Resource departments during grievance and disciplinary meetings and business restructurings. Working with Financial Institutions, Intergovernmental organisations and global Companies we provide specialist Minute-Takers for on-site or remote attendance delivering a detailed and accurate account of confidential and sensitive meetings.