Faced with the impossibility of cramming endless obligations, meetings, tasks, personal activities, and, maybe, sleep, into a fixed number of hours, people have flocked to the concept of “time management.” Somehow, if they could just organize and manage time, it would yield to their needs. The reality, though, is that time marches on. It can’t be manufactured; it can’t be subtracted. Everyone gets 1440 minutes a day. That’s it. Ultimately, the only thing people can control are their choices and priorities.
Stop Trying to Manage Time: Just Use It Better
Time can’t be managed; it can only be used. Folks have time so it becomes necessary for people to set priorities and make choices on how to use it optimally.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, tells a story of an “expert” who was speaking to a group of “overachievers.” The expert pulled out a gallon-sized glass jar and a dozen fist-sized rocks. After he carefully placed them into the jar, he asked, “Is it full?”
“Of course,” the students replied. “You can’t fit any more rocks in.” He then pulled out gravel and poured it into the jar. “Now is it full?” he asked. They were starting to get it and answered, “Maybe not.”
He poured sand, filling the spaces between the larger rocks and gravel. “And now? Is it full?” “No,” they said. To prove them right, he poured a pitcher of water into the jar.
What Are Your Big Rocks?
The expert then asked about the point of the exercise. One student said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you really try hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”
“No, that’s not the point!
The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them all in!”
People have to set their priorities, make their choices, and then be sure they put those in the jar – or on the schedule – first. Otherwise, their days get eaten away with the sand and water; the trivial details or the minutia.
Covey says, “Time management is really a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
A Juggling Act
Juggling is an apt metaphor for the balancing act of life (and so is this): work, family, social obligations, community, recreation… But not all balls are created equal. They can be plastic, rubber, tennis balls, or basketballs. But the most important in life are the crystal balls because when you drop them, they break. They don’t bounce.
Rather than putting the focus on “managing time,” it should be on managing those “crystal balls,” those aspects of life that just can’t be dropped. What are the priorities? They change throughout life: now it could be devoting 18-hour days to grow a company; tomorrow it could be devoting 18-hour days to raising a child. Whatever the specific crystal ball at this moment, forget managing time. Manage the priorities and allocate time accordingly.
Whichever analogy resonates, it’s important that people ask themselves: What are the biggest rocks in my life? What are the crystal balls?