Image of an hourglass on a beach

About time

We experience time in a linear way. We move through time at a uniform speed and in a single direction. We can’t slow it down. And we can’t (yet) go back. Once time has passed us by, that’s it.

Time is also, from our perspective, finite. As Oliver Burkeman observes in his book Four thousand weeks, the average human lifetime spans, well, four thousand weeks. That might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. Especially if, like me, you’re probably about half-way through your temporal allowance.

Consequently, the way in which I spend my time is of considerable importance to me.

Like everyone else, I have absolutely no problem filling my time. There’s always something clamouring for my attention. And so managing my time effectively has become almost a full-time pursuit in itself.

The backbone of my approach to time management is my to-do list. I use the Todoist app, which allows me to record tasks, to allocate them to projects and to note when I’ll do them. It’s on my phone, my tablet and my laptop, so that I always have access to it.

Whenever I agree to do something, I record it in Todoist immediately. That way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

I also find that spending a few minutes after each conversation or meeting reflecting on what I need to do as a result of it really helps me to create what Adam Fraser calls the third space that can help us to transition from one activity to another.

I record time-specific commitments, such as meetings or travel time, on my Google Calendar, which is likewise available on my phone, tablet and laptop. This allows me to see at a glance where I need to be and what I need to be doing when I get there.

I set aside a few minutes at the start of each week to determine what I want to achieve and what I plan to do each day. I then assign the relevant tasks on my to-do list to the various days of the week, so that Todoist can generate a task list for me each day.

I also try to set aside time for regular habits, i.e. things that I do on a daily basis to help me to achieve my personal and professional goals. This includes a half-hour of reading each morning as well as time after work each day for exercise.

During the working day itself, I use time blocking (I’m a big fan of Cal Newport and his deep work philosophy) to structure my time and to stay focused on the things I want to get done. Essentially, this involves blocking out time in my calendar for each of the tasks I’ve assigned to that day and then focusing exclusively on that task during the relevant time block.

This all allows me to get a fair amount of stuff done. The big question for me, though, is how I know I’m getting the right stuff done. And that’s not something that a calendar or a productivity app is going to help me with.

Because we’re getting here into the question of what I want to do with my life. What do I want to do with my 4,000 weeks (or, rather, whatever I have left) on this planet? What is important to me? And what is not?

I’d like to think that I have a pretty good handle on my answers to these questions. And so the challenge – for me, at least – is in linking these longer-term goals and aspirations to my weekly and daily planning.

Based on what Oliver Burkeman and Cal Newport suggest, this means extending my planning time horizon way further into the future. I’ve always struggled with planning years ahead, because it seems a bit like tempting fate*. But it’s evident now that this is something I’m going to need to get to grips with.

Because time is ticking. And I still have a lot that I’d like to do.

* Yes, I am a bit superstitious. Which annoys my wife greatly. She is of the view that someone with a degree in physics should not be concerned about the possibility of bad juju.

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Image: Aron Visuals on Unsplash





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