Krystyna Skarbek was an impatient, dynamic special operations agent who understood the need for action now. She wanted things done, in her words “immediately, or sooner”.
We have all heard the saying ‘time is money’. Simply put, it is a reminder to not waste time and focus on what needs to be done now to create a successful outcome. Time is limited; it can never be recovered and therefore the management of that valuable resource is critical. Mismanagement of time is a common reason for delayed product launches, or projects dragging on longer than expected. In this fast-paced world, with an ever-increasing list of things we want to get done, the precious nature of time is becoming more apparent. With more and more flexible working patterns in place, workforces are beginning to realise the benefits of focusing on how we utilise our time to best achieve results, rather than simply accruing time to earn a salary.
The Passing Of Time
Time has always fascinated me. I confess, I cannot make head nor tale of Einstein and other brilliant scientists’ understanding of the space time continuum. But, I do have an ever-present, not quite sub-conscious, awareness of the passage of time and with it a sub-clinical level of anxiety about clocks and where the hands are pointing.
I love to get things done. I love even more to be in the state of flow on some piece of work where the passage of time seems frozen, a little like in the Star Trek movie where some people are frozen to the spot and others can cut around doing things. I also know the relief and sense of accomplishment that comes when you focus to reach a deadline with only seconds to go.
Some people are late and it doesn’t bother them, others are oblivious to being late and for some, being late hurts. For me, being late is a fear. It doesn’t mean I’m not late; that I have some incredibly efficient, iron disciplined adherence to always being on time. I don’t. But, throughout my life, I have frequently redoubled my effort to avoid being late.
The Use Of Time
By now, you may be thinking – ‘So what?’. Time is the one non-renewable resource and once it’s past, it’s past. Paraphrasing the Roman philosopher Heraclitus who said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. This simple observation can change much in our lives. It can change how our teams work, how we function as families and how we reflect on events that happen in our business and personal lives. It can be a strategy that multiplies our effectiveness, or become a mechanism for self-flagellation.
In project management, time is one of the five key objectives to manage. As a project manager, it is imperative to understand how to manage both your time and the team’s time to ensure that the deadlines are met. Accurate reporting of time helps to build knowledge about how long things take. This is especially helpful when planning future projects, where you will have a better understanding of where to allocate each resource most effectively.
There is a balance in the use of time. Kipling wrote in his poem If; ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…” To fill each unforgiving minute, we must plan ahead, organise and orchestrate effectively. We need to identify things that can start now to avoid being late. With a team, it means clarifying what needs to be done in the far distance, middle distance and near distance and then identifying what must start now versus what can wait. For “the Earth to become ours”, we must master simultaneity and efficiently monitor and manage those activities.
Time Thieves And Time Terrorists
One problem preventing our ‘sixty seconds of distance’, is that time is stolen. Time lost not doing something useful, delivering something you promised, or arriving well prepped for the meeting ten minutes ahead of schedule, instead is hindered by text messages, device alerts and technology fumblings. Time is lost a second at a time with countless distractions. I shared a philosophical moment whilst waiting late one night in my boss’ office for his attention. He was responding to e-mails and finished his last one with a look of just getting the ball across the line after a hard-fought rugby game. “You have to keep on top of e-mails!”, he proclaimed. I asked, “You are the boss. Whose agenda are you working on by staying until 1030pm to answer your in-tray?”. He looked at me and said, “You’re right – it’s not mine!”. His time was being stolen. We chatted about it and reflected that one hour simply visiting people in one of the many locations around the world was worth about 1% of growth. Several hours of e-mail could be worth nothing.
Procrastination is a time terrorist. It kills your time and fills your brain with thoughts of what you should have done to prevent it. Sixty seconds of distance run becomes sixty seconds of thinking, or worrying about maybe running the distance tomorrow. We go nowhere, but our share of the load increases by default.
Time Well Spent
Now, does all this risk us turning into uber efficient machines seeking to utilise every second, working ourselves to the bone? It can, but that would be almost as big a mistake as not using every second. The challenge is to use our time deliberately; choicefully. There is a time to work and a time to rest, a time to act and a time to think, a time to rush and a time to be still, a time to talk and a time to be silent.
I am grateful for one side effect of the pandemic. I have walked more, even stood still and simply looked around and smelled the air in the woods early on a morning. That time is a gift; a gift that replenishes our minds. It is satisfying also to look at my watch and calculate which route I can take to be showered, prepped and ready for my first meeting of the day. I love time and filling it with all I can, but I also appreciate, as someone once said, ‘being in my nothing box’ and choosing to fill sixty seconds with nothing. Then I look at my watch…