Last week someone asked me whether I was interested in conducting a seminar for a software company. If I could do a seminar on time management for approximately 20 developers. So I asked how much time they were planning on investing and the answer was: “Our staff doesn’t have much time. We were considering three to four hours.”
That reminds me of the story about an exhausted lumberjack who wasted a lot of time working with an edgeless axe. When someone suggested he sharpen his axe, the lumberjack replied: “No, haven’t got the time. I have to cut down trees.”
When I told the human resources manager of the software company that I needed more time she asked me about my approach and which methods I used. In the short time available she wasn’t very satisfied with my answer. Neither was I. So I sat down to give this important issue some deep thought.
Here’s the output:
Time cannot be managed.
Language creates reality. So depending on how you entitle a problem you always imply possible solutions – or meanders – at the same time.
Looked at from a cultural perspective we have agreed on time being an object. You can do something with it. Indeed that is nonsense, but when many people believe something, it is easily considered a fact. (You can observe this before elections come up.)
The consequence of making time into an object is, that we now believe time can be availed.
- Or make a time present or save time.
- Catch up on time.
- Waste or even kill time.
Just like some people go for a stroll to “make use of the good weather”.
But that doesn’t work.
There is no time.
Nature isn’t aware of time. Nature knows continuous, flowing change. And it has been working brilliantly for millions of years. We date the beginning of spring to 20th March, but each year nature couldn’t care less about that. (The meteorologist likes to scold nature: “Spring was two weeks late this year!“)
Time doesn’t just pass either.
What humans actually mean by that, when we wonderingly or wistfully say „How time passes!“ is: Oh dear, we are dying away – in time. Then we are aware that we are becoming older, every moment and inexorably.
Therefore: Time cannot be managed. Time management is also not self-management, because the “self”, who or whatever that may be, is certainly no object either.
Time is not money.
If that were the case, boredom would feel great.
Nevertheless, I keep encountering people who sacrifice many years of lifetime when offered a lot of money in order to “have time for themselves” later.
A full lotto jackpot predictably seduces millions of people to try their luck. In my seminars we sometimes play through the fantasy what each person would do, if they had five million dollars at their disposal.
The interesting outcome is: most of them wouldn’t fundamentally change anything. And what some would change (more time for themselves, their families, a different job, their partners etc.) – they usually don’t need five million dollars for!
Therefore: Ask yourself what you’re missing in life. And bear in mind: millionaires are not automatically happier people. They only have other worries.
There are no practical constraints.
By the means of language we create realities. A perfect example is the famous “practical constraint”. We use this expression to justify why we’re doing something with external circumstances, that seem to be immutable although we’d much rather be attending to something else. (“I’d love to but practical constraint x doesn’t allow that.“)
That’s not true, there are no practical constraints.
There are situations and consequences. But there is no restraint. There’s a German saying: “If you’ve said A, you have to say B” (“in for a penny, in for a pound”). Bertolt Brecht, a German poet, playwright, and theatre director, once said: “If you say A, you don’t need to say B. You can agnize A was wrong.”
By justifying something with practical constraints, we try to shift the blame of our responsibility for our decisions on to external circumstances. That is understandable and often works so that we fool others with it. But you should at least not pull the wool over your own eyes.
Therefore: With which “practical constraints“ do you justify certain decisions? What would it be like, if you became aware that you‘ve made your choice without any restraints – and that you therefore have to live with certain consequences due to the choice you’ve made.
You always have a choice.
The point is not whether this statement is true or not. Or whether there are existential situations (war, assault, kidnapping, illness etc.) where you don’t have a choice. What I’m trying to get across is the importance of being aware of your inner attitude. The inner attitude “I (never) had the choice”. (Being the victim) may be an emotional experience for the person in question.
But attitudes remain attitudes, not truths.
And attitudes can be changed once their conscious. The attitude “I always have a choice” is also just an attitude – and not a truth. But it has completely different consequences.
Being in the role of the victim (I have no choice) blocks your own creativity and your will to take action. You will find gazillions of reasons and problems why something won’t work.
The good news: you’re not alone with this attitude because there are millions out there who love the role of the victim as well and you’ll easily make friends. (Next time you’re at a bus stop wail about what’s keeping the darn bus so long. You’ll immediately find yourself in a conversation with total strangers.)
The attitude of your own responsibility (I always have a choice) sets free a lot of creativity and energy for taking action. You’ll also find like-minded people – but they’re usually envied or mocked. (Go to the bus stop and dare to say that by having chosen the bus as your means of transportation, you’ve also chosen the possibility of delay. The only thing coming at you will be people shaking their heads.)
Of course you can’t rule over everything in life. What happens to you (the fortunate as well as the hurtful), you didn’t „generate“ that (even if sometimes esoteric practical constraints have been used as a reason). We don’t choose fortune and we don’t choose agony. What we can choose is the way we deal with them – our attitude towards them.
A common reason is that the person earned it.
As if we could earn happiness, because we’ve experienced something awful before. And as if a person has earned agony, because things were going to well beforehand. I personally believe that those are effects of immature religious ideas, that life has to be fair (“An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth“). Nature also isn’t fair. And it has existed for millions of years – and we are a part of nature. If nature were just, then humans probably wouldn’t be living in it.
Therefore: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is a statement I first heard in the eighties. This statement can have a bigger impact than any book on time management, if you seriously consider it or take it to heart.
Try it out today! Think about it a couple of times a day and be aware that everything you experience today is a consequence of the choice you’ve made. You chose it. The positive things you encounter – you’re a part of that choice. But also the displeasing things: your moody boss, unsatisfied customers, the traffic jam on your way to the office, the weather. You are a part of that choice!
Oh, I almost forgot: What you’ve chosen can also be voted off.
If you want something, you’ll find a way.
If you don’t want something, you’ll find reasons.
What I wrote above about non-existing practical restraints or the attitude “victim“ versus “personal responsibility“ is what this saying expresses in a nutshell. The difference between these two attitudes though is striking.
When you don’t want something you lose energy. To put it more precisely, you invest energy in the “not wanting“. And automatically you begin to think in a problem-oriented manner. According to the motto: “Oh dear, this is hard and it probably won’t work.“
When you want something it always sets free motivation and energy. When difficulties come up, you automatically think solution-oriented. According to the motto: “Okay, this is difficult, but I’ll make it through somehow.”
Therefore: if you realize that you‘re constantly justifying to yourself and others (no time, not in the mood etc.), why you still haven’t done something, try out my following suggestion.
Admit to yourself that you simply didn’t want to do something. Period. You didn’t want to. Because it had nothing to do with difficulties, lacking desire or time. Those are – understandably – your human excuses. You didn’t want to.
Then think again: for what you really wanted in your life, even if it was hard, unpleasant and time-consuming – you did it and you made it!
If you want to have time, then you have to say “no“.
You remember: Time is not an object. That’s why there’s a shortage of water or a lack of money – but never a lack of time.
What those people are missing when they have a „lack of time“ is the permission to draw the line.
To experience separation from others. Or to put it in more practical words: If you want to have time, you need to say “no“ – or learn to say „no“ more often. Especially without having a guilty conscience.
The reason why some people are good at that and others fail lies within their experiences with relationships in their individual biographies. Those who are told “Be considerate of others”, “Don’t be so self-centered”, “Be reasonable, you’re the older one” at an early stage, learn to adapt early.
You’ll probably be popular with your fellow men but you pay a high price. Namely, that you don’t draw the line very well. Either because you don’t even feel your own limits or you’re convinced you don’t have boundaries at all. Or you make others aware of your limits too late. Or you do it too tentatively, because you feel guilty (of being self-centered). And you’re scared of being rejected.
Your intellect may know that your colleagues at the office won’t cut you off, if you say “no“, but that doesn’t help. The experiences from erstwhile operate unconsciously and are therefore disproportionately more powerful than rational comprehension.
You don’t only need to draw the line towards other people. But also towards your own demands. Inner boosters are also learned attitudes with which we are so identified that we don’t perceive them as helpful boosters anymore but as a part of our identity (“When I do something, it always hast to be perfect!“) Of course you then encounter time problems because the great Pareto-principle states: “that, for a result of roughly 80% you only need 20% of the time. For reaching the 100% result you need the rest of the 80% of time”. You’ve heard of this rule but you don’t apply it.
Therefore: To whom or what would you have wanted to say “no“ this week? What were the consequences for not having done so?
And towards who or what could you draw the line today?
PS: By the way, I did not accept the request for the 3-4 hour time management seminar at that software company. Nothing expedient would have come out of it (in my opinion).
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