Where are you on your career timeline?
"I’m conscious of time..." How often have you heard this said during a meeting? And how often is it said when time is actually running out? The later items on the agenda get rushed and people have to leave (often to join another meeting). Face to face or online, it’s such a common phrase that we hardly notice it anymore. But each time I hear this I think, how conscious are we really of time?
I recently watched a documentary about Bill Gates, which showed how effectively he uses every hour of the day. He has more money than most other humans on the planet, but he doesn’t have any more time. That’s a thought, isn’t it?
During lockdown, many clients in the UK talk about time standing still while going too fast. For those able to work from home, the days are running into each other. No walk to the bus stop, train station or tube. No journeys at all - no driving, no climbing stairs and entering different rooms. No office chatter, no making coffee in the shared kitchen. Just sitting at a desk or a kitchen table, day in, day out. And right now, annual leave offers little-to-no escape.
I’ve coached clients struggling with time management and there are lots of apps, tools and an awful lot of advice you can try out to make better use of your time. Just search ‘time management' and you will find 3 million items – how much time will it take to read through all that?
The Getting Things Done (GTD) system
Let me share one of these tools, and then let’s see what else we can learn from this to really become conscious of time. This is from David Allen (no relation) who created a Getting Things Done (GTD) system:
Imagine that your day is a box. A physical box that you can put stuff in. Look at your to-do list and consider what you are going to put in the box today. The more you put in, the less space there is left. The more trivial, unimportant tasks you put in the box, the less room there is for the important, interesting stuff: the things that will impact your work and your life. And if you’re trying to squeeze something in and it won’t go, what’s getting in the way? Don’t underestimate how much space is taken up by unresolved problems or difficult emotions.
The box analogy is useful because it helps us to think of time in a less abstract way, and is useful in helping us prioritise how we spend our time. It also helps to remind us that time has boundaries. The superstar coach Tony Robbins says that people overestimate what they can achieve in a day and underestimate what they can achieve in a lifetime. The box exercise can help us to be more accurate in estimating what we can achieve in a day – but what about a month or a year, or the project you are working on, or the duration of your current work role, or the duration of your life?
This is where the real work gets done - here you have to get deeper and actually conscious of time and what it means to you. How do you feel about time? Do you feel you have enough and do you feel you make the most of it? Or do you feel that you're wasting it? Do you put things off? Is time running out?
If you really became fully conscious of time, would that help you to do more than cut your to-do list, learn how to say no, not respond to other people’s 'urgent' tasks (all useful time management techniques) and would it help you really focus on what’s vital to you?
Create your own timeline
A helpful and simple way to focus on this is to draw your own timeline. Consider your working life. Consider the beginning, the middle and the end.
- Where are you now on the line?
- How does it feel to be there?
- How long is the line ahead of you?
- Is the line ahead of you longer or shorter than the line in the past?
- What more do you want to achieve in your working life?
- Can you do it in the line that’s left?
- Can you do it in your current role?
- Can you do it in your current organisation?
- If you have been thinking about changing jobs or even careers, how much further down the line do you need to go before you make the move?
- Is it time to take action?
We don’t have any more time than Bill Gates, nor do we know how much time we have to achieve what we want to achieve. Whatever we draw, we don’t actually know how long the line ahead of us is. Take a look at that line again and think about the time left. What do you really want to do with your life? And when is the right time to start doing it?
I am a transformational coach, supporting professionals to resolve workplace challenges so their career can flourish. If this sounds like you, I'd love to hear from you. You can contact me directly from my coaching profile.