Walk down the personal improvement aisle at your local bookstore and you'll find dozens and dozens of books on the subject of time management--shelf after shelf of them.
The authors of those books really do mean well. They're trying to help you get your time organized and tame your commitments into a manageable plan.
Committing to getting organized and being more productive are certainly positive goals--and popular ones around the new year.
But I believe that concentrating on time management--moving blocks of commitments around on your daily calendar with the goal of fitting it all in--is looking at the wrong side of the ledger.
It's also chasing the wrong goal.
As I wrote about earlier, highly successful people never get everything on their to-do list done in a given day. They prioritize, and they get the most important things done. With any leftover time they have, they fill in as much as they can.
Instead of trying to manage the time you have, maximize it. When you focus on time maximization instead of management, you're actually creating more time in your day.
Let me explain how it works.
No matter how exact you are with your planning, you're going to have "soft spots" in your schedule over the course of the day. It might be something planned, like a gap between two meetings, or something unplanned--when a client finishes early or shows up late.
Your goal is to take conscious control of those soft spots.
First, decide what is the maximum amount of time it is acceptable for you to waste.
For me, it's three minutes.
On my daily schedule, I have the two or three most important things I need to do--usually client meetings--time blocked. In between those appointments, I plan the rest of my day--phone calls, meetings, travel.
If I have a minute or two to spare in between appointments, it's fine to return a text message, check a baseball score on Web or just zone out. But if I have three minutes to spare, I'm going to my to-do list and ask myself, "What is the most important thing I can get done in the next 3 plus minutes?" I'll make a quick business call, or draft a short email.
The more successful you become, the smaller time increment you need to think in. If you're somebody with a big staff or a lot of decisions to make, your waste threshold might be a minute, or even 30 seconds. It can be looser if you prefer, but I think it defeats the purpose if you go much beyond 15 minutes.
If you don't operate on a schedule--or you don't keep the one you have--thinking in these small increments can seem severe or intimidating. I understand that fear, and I'm not going to tell you it will be a quick and painless transition.
But if you embrace this idea of attacking the open space in your schedule, you're taking a huge step toward emphasizing and valuing productivity over time. Handle these day-to-day steps with more care and attention and you can get more done while pending less overall time working.
Instead of grinding away at the office for 10 hours, you're streamlining your process so that when it's time to go home, you can actually go, knowing you won the day by completing the most important tasks.