The Problem with Managing Time
Time management is a constant requirement for just about anyone, and certainly for leaders and members of teams in high performing organizations. We keep full schedules with the intention of being responsible, productive and accountable – to ourselves, to the relationships we have on teams, and to the metrics and objectives of our organizations.
However, there’s an underlying problem nearly all of us have with time management. It’s indirect and not obvious to everyone, and is therefore easily missed. And to complicate it further, many who are aware of it deny or avoid dealing with it by “trying harder” or “pushing through.”
The problem is that at some level, we are all managing some amount of anxiety when we manage our time and relationships. When I share this with some people, they bristle at the idea, primarily because anxiety in our culture is defined as a mental health issue and cloaked in the associated historical stigma. Yet if we were talking about a physical health issue like cancer or the flu, my guess is there would be no such bristling. Geography is impacting our ability to openly discuss a prevalent and impactful area of leadership.
I’m suggesting that as leaders, we open the dialogue around the anxiety we all manage on a daily basis – no matter how significant or seemingly small it may be. By creating the psychological safety around this issue, as well as other mental health issues many of us live with, we may bring people out of the shadows and into the proverbial light and allow us all the opportunity to grow and develop as human beings.
If you’ve had a coaching, training or consulting relationship with Emergent you’ve experienced our take on becoming a “corporate athlete,” by which we mean someone who trains and practices their skill sets and fundamentals in their work like an athlete would for their sport or game. This approach is a mind-body discipline that includes excellent self-care such as purposeful movement, hydration, nutrition and sleep, as well as professional development in business acumen, emotional intelligence and becoming subject matter expert in relevant and contemporary topics that matter to the work. We also intentionally involve the spiritual components of development, including meaning and purpose of the work we do.
At Emergent, we suggest that corporate athletes manage their energy first. In this approach, I am suggesting that we are all managing some level of anxiety as part of our energy. With awareness and a willingness to relate to the anxiety differently, opportunities to manage our energy more effectively emerge – while also modeling for others that this shift is possible.
Above all else, leaders will benefit from self-reflection practices, which are key to managing the forms and manifestations of energy – including our anxieties. We are best served by getting out of our heads while we reflect. This may seem counterintuitive; after all, self-reflection is a cognitive process where we are thinking about our thoughts and experiences … in our heads! That’s where journaling comes in. The practice of journaling allows us to get the thoughts and intentions out of our heads so we might be more effective with them. Journal about any and all practices you choose to partake in, e.g. meditation, exercise, diet and hydration.
But (and I reserve “but” for the impact it has) don’t just write the thoughts down. It’s not enough. You have to take it a step further to change the energy, and here’s why. According to the research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day, and 90% of these thoughts are repetitive. The research also suggests that over 80% of those thoughts are rooted in the cognitive process known as the “negative bias,” meaning that these thoughts are, well, negative. The negative bias, as part of our prehistoric brain, is in place to keep us safe. It makes us “aware” of threats and risks at both a conscious and subconscious level. This develops into anxieties which, unless we experience a change in energy, tend to reside with us and inform future thoughts and actions.
So we know the thoughts to journal are already in our heads, and many of them are negative. If you are like most of us, you want to have new thoughts – or at least shift the reoccurring thoughts to positive, productive action and behaviors. Here is a 4-step journal prompting process that can help reduce and manage anxieties as well as manage other aspects of our energy. Then we can get to managing our time better, too!
Step 1: Write down what you aspire to achieve. An example might be to have an important conversation that you’ve been avoiding with one of your colleagues.
Step 2: Next write your reasons and intentions for this desire. This is the value statement of achieving the aspiration. It’s why you have chosen this aspiration to journal about and do. And there’s an important second part to this step – also write down the feelings and emotions that you will have when your aspiration comes true. It’s the future emotional outcomes we sometimes forget to connect to that are strong motivators to overcome our anxieties!
Step 3: Write how you are going to achieve the aspiration. All too often, out of the good intentions of being productive, we shortcut the reflection of getting clear on what it is we want to achieve and why it’s important. Here we end with the tactical approach … the “how I will approach the aspiration / how I will get this done or resolved” statement.
Step 4: Reflect on how you will feel when you achieve aspiration. Connect with the EMOTION, not the result. It’s not enough to say that you’ll feel good when you accomplish the aspiration; that’s a judgment. You might instead feel proud or energized or relieved … connecting with the emotion will pull you into the motivation to turn your aspiration into a reality!