How To Get Control Of Your Time

Many people go through life without finding any satisfaction in the simple fact of being alive. Yet this lifetime is the only time we will have – we had better make the most of it. Few of us do, of course. We act as if this time were just a practice run for the next. As George Bernard Shaw said, we seem not to live long enough to take our lives seriously.

Fortunately, however, we live in an age when people have developed methods to help us – if we choose – to use our time wisely. One such person has been Alan Lakein a time-management consultant who as of the early 1970s had given his seminar in this useful art to some 11,000 people. The purpose: to try and help men and women improve their motivation, reset direction (if it seems desirable or necessary), or find ways around or through situations that block them.

“Most people don’t think in terms of minutes,” says Lakein. “They waste all the minutes. Nor do they think in terms of their whole life. They operate in the mid-range of hours or days. So they start over again every week, and spend another substantial chunk of time in ways unrelated to their lifetime goals. They are doing a random walk through life, moving without getting anywhere.”

The real question is: What do we really want to do? If we do not know, sooner or later we will realize that, whatever it was there just isn’t enough time left to do it. Our lifetime is not entirely our own, and yet it is all we have, and it is absurd to spend that time in constant reaction and accommodation to someone else’s plan – whether that plan is imagined as God’s, the boss’s or a spouse’s. distinction must be made. If it is the boss’s time, then we must do his thing. Done properly, this should leave us time of our own to do our thing.

It takes organization and concentration to carve out your own time, but most important of all it takes self-knowledge to know what you want to do with it. Without goals and motivation the time will evaporate.

“A typical best use of time is to plan,” says Lakein. Some people don’t even make lists; much less imagine that today is connected with next week and five years from now. “But you can’t effectively plan the next few days without deciding on the next ten years,” says Lakein.

And so he begins by asking you to sort out your own personal priorities:

What are your lifetime goals? Write down everything you can think of, including money, career, physical, family, social, community, spiritual and personal goals. Try to fill up an entire sheet of paper. Now, place an “A” in front of three goals that are most to you. On another sheet of paper, be specific about each of the three: identify sub-goals, logical next steps, and immediate plans. Then, from each ‘A’ goal, select one “next step” to take next week. Now you have an action programme! This list should be redone once a month, to keep up a continuous and evolving spiral of improvement.

“Great power comes from having a clearly identified list of lifetime goals,” says Lakein. It is not unknown for a client at this point to decide that his minutes are not adding up to a lifetime he wants.

A busy woman lawyer, for example, told Lakein that her problem was not having enough time. After she’d made a list of her lifetime goals, which began, “To be left alone,” he pointed out that there were inconsistencies between her overcrowded life and her stated goal. It emerged that her problem was an inability to say no to anyone. She and Lakein worked together on a list of tactful ways to get her off the hook. Not only was time saved, but she improved her self-esteem by developing the courage to say no.

How would you like to spend the next five years? Not how will you, or how should you, but how would you like to? If you have just written down as a lifetime goal a desire to be rich, and now find yourself answering, “I would like to be building birdhouses in British Columbia,” you have not been honest in Question 1.

The point is to discover your own goals, not the ones you have been taught. We do too many things because of some atavistic sense that we have to. But do we? Even if the action was originally sensible, is it sensible now?

Herbert A. Shepard, a behavioural consultant to government and industry, asks clients to explore their wildest dreams – the fantasies or impossibilities they have filed permanently away because “People don’t do that” or “I don’t have time.”

Milton Glaser asks his students at New York’s School of Visual Arts to design a perfect day for yourself five years from now. There are all kinds of similar games – such as writing your own obituary – which, if taken seriously, can release people who are trapped not so much by circumstances as by lack of imagination.

One August, a reporter made a survey of young matrons sitting around a Long Island club pool. Their days were filled with sunshine’ and bathing suits and tennis lessons. The reporter asked them about their favourite fantasies. “They had none,” she reported, “only fears.” Fears of losing their money or their looks. Without imagination there can be no alternatives, and no motivation.

How would you like to live if you knew you would be dead six months from today? With this question, Lakein forces the client to face what is basically important to him.

Similarly, Shepard asks people, “When are you really glad you’re alive?” and “What do you regret not doing lately?” Many people have never consciously thought out the answers, and once they recognize their own feelings, they can begin to set firm policies to see that their lives are arranged to make them happier more often while reducing guilt and frustration. And that is the point of the process: to meet the stranger that is often ourself, and to establish priorities that take that person into account.

“There is always enough time to do what is important,” says Lakein. (Many people take the most productive hours of the day, between 8 and 11 a.m., to read newspapers, drink coffee, chat). Once we have realized that there is time for the important things, the next problem is to do them.

Now! After all, as Lakein says. “Time is life.”

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