The First Generation of Time Utilization
 
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“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

-- Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

“Learning cannot be disassociated from action.”

-- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

“The most important measures are both unknown and unknowable.”

-- W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis

 

The First Generation of Time Utilization by Kevin McManus

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to make you an offer that you can't refuse, at least not in this day and age. If I were to ask you what the one thing you, and others that you know, DON'T have enough of today, you might say money, you might say friends, or you might even say happiness. What most of you would say however is time. Time is becoming the ultimate commodity, if it has not become so already.

Try to go through the day without hearing at least one person say “I don't have time!” You might even hear someone supplement this phrase with “so could you do it for me?” This person must think that you have more extra time than they do, or else they would not be asking the question! A common variation of this phrase is “I'm too busy.” Both phrases are unrealistic and worn out.

For example, I have heard both people who work ten hour days and my mom use these phrases -- and my mom is unemployed! My basis for calling these phrases unrealistic is based on the reality that all of us have 24 hours per day at our disposal -- no more, no less. That is the key reason I prefer the term “utilization” over management. We all have the same amount of time -- it is just a matter of how we utilize or use it day in and day out.

Now you might be asking “What can this guy teach me about time that I do not know already?” After all, most of us have been exposed to time management theories and techniques of one form or another. We may have read about Covey's Habit #3, First Things First, either in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or in the entire book he devoted to the subject. We may have gone to one or more workshops on the subject. We try to use our planners religiously. If this is your logic, do you have enough time?

Covey's philosophies focus on what he calls the fourth generation of time management. He gives this title to his techniques because what he proposes goes beyond to-do lists, advance scheduling, and prioritization to focus on relationships and results. He says that we will become effective in both of these areas if we learn to better manage ourselves. He also states that the “efficiency” aspects of previous generations of time management damage relationships, and in turn, prevent results from being realized.

Folks, this is a classic example of what author Jim Collins calls the “tyranny of OR.” I have found that if you follow Covey completely, you will be taken advantage of by both the prevailing culture and by others who chose not to follow him. I have also found that if you aggressively pursue only the efficiency side of time management, you will experience exactly what he says will happen. The secret, and actually the power, lies in the middle ground. You must seek the balance between relationship building and efficiency.

For example, I think March has become the most unproductive month of the year from a work perspective in the United States . Why do I say that? Three key reasons exist -- the NCAA basketball tournament, the onset of spring, and the start of the baseball season. Think about it -- have you witnessed wasted time at work during the month of March as people talk about the impact of last night's wins or losses on their basketball pool projections? Now Covey might call this “relationship building”, and I will agree that some of it is. Let me ask you however -- how many minutes can you spend talking about last night's games before relationship building becomes BS?

The onset of spring results in productivity loss because it impacts our focus. This problem is less significant in the Pacific Northwest, because we only have two seasons -- light and dark. As nicer weather approaches, we are tempted to think more and more about what we will do when we get off work, and some people even try to come up with ways to get out of work. It is strange that the percentage of people that call in sick actually goes up as the weather improves.

At this point you may be thinking, “Boy this guy really wants to take all of the fun out of life.” If you are living with the “tyranny of OR” you are right -- you think your only options are to have fun OR use your time productively. If you are seeking a balance however between efficiency and fun, you will see a lot of truth in these unfortunately “too true” examples. In fact, the same people that you hear saying “I don't have time” are the ones wasting twenty minutes of that time talking about basketball and another 45 minutes on misdirected focus.

You see, most of the problem lies in how we view time. If we think of merely “managing” time we will only keep our heads above water. If we switch to a mindset of “time utilization” however, we can literally “walk on water” in relation to those struggling around us. Think about the difference between the two terms. Utilization is a much more powerful term. It implies a proper application of time. What I have to offer you today is based on the concept of time utilization.

The fifth generation of time management is actually the first generation of time utilization. Five key steps are involved in putting this skill to work:

1. Identify non-value added tasks and habits that you have

2. Eliminate most of your non-value added tasks and habits

3. Streamline the remaining value-added tasks and habits

4. Utilize multi-tasking whenever possible

5. Intensify the way you live them out on a consistent basis

Applying Covey's work will help you accomplish steps 1 and 2, but it will not help you address the other three key steps. I have found however that more power comes from the last three steps than it does from the first two, mainly because we are such wimps when it comes to getting rid of non-value added tasks and habits. If we don't want to let them go, we can still streamline, multi-task, and intensify when we execute them.

To understand “streamlining,” we need to look no further than keyboarding in today's world. Seventy percent of today's managers are now expected to use a computer to do their jobs. How many of these managers, who also are the first to say “I am too busy” also type only 15 words a minute? If they spend two hours on the key board each day, they could gain an hour a day (or more) simply by taking a typing class!

Some people have the second concept, “multi-tasking,” down to a science and don't even know it. These are the people who drive, talk on the cell phone, apply make-up, and eat a bagel all at the same time. Their focus is all over the place! Unfortunately, when they use this concept in a medium to high traffic environment, they are putting their safety, and the safety of others, at risk. I prefer to limit my “on the road” multi-tasking to learning and thinking. Once again though, how many people who say they don't have time to read spend two hours a day in the car, and don't own a single audiotape that is self or job improvement related?

To understand what I mean by “intensify”, let's look at the simple example of walking. Walking is something we all spend time doing each day. If someone walks 5 miles a day at a rate of 3 miles an hour, they spend 100 minutes a day doing this task. If they intensify their pace to 4 miles an hour, they will save 25 minutes a day, or 152 hours a year! I'm sure all of you can use that “extra” time! That's one example of what I mean by “intensify.”

The true power of these concepts comes into play when they are used in concert with each other. Exploring how we spend our time sleeping provides the best example of this. Most people spend around 30% of their lives sleeping. Have you ever thought about streamlining and intensifying your sleep investment? Do you have a strategy for getting the most value (rest and recovery) out of the time you invest in sleeping?

I have experimented in this area, and I have found that I can gain one to two hours of time per day simply by eating right, exercising, and controlling what I eat and do as bedtime approaches. I gain this time and still realize an equivalent, or better, quality of sleep in terms of rest and recovery. If you “don't have time”, optimizing your sleep investment is a quick way to find some.

Exercise and healthy eating in general aid significantly in helping you intensify how you spend your time. Both tasks are time investments, but it is only the second one that most people practice. Ironically, many people invest time eating in a way that actually results in their losing time during the hours that follow the meal. That's right -- eating certain foods in certain quantities will make you less productive!

These are just a few examples of how the fifth generation of time management, or the first generation of time utilization, can work for you. As you reflect on them, keep the “tyranny of the OR” concept in mind. You don't have to apply all three concepts all of the time. You don't have to analyze your day all the way down to pre-selecting the books that you place by the toilet (we probably spend 177 days out of our lives doing this necessary task -- is this a place to apply multi-tasking?). You only have to apply them enough to pick up the extra time you need.

If, three days from now, you have forgotten about streamlining, multi-tasking, and intensifying your daily tasks, I hope you still remember that we all have 24 hours a day. Different people accomplish different things in the time they have been given. Those that are successful however have eliminated the phrase “I don't have time” from their vocabularies and replaced it with “I choose not to spend my time that way.” They also apply time utilization techniques, whether they realize it or not. If you say you don't have time, you won't.

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“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates

 
Copyright © 2005, Great Systems!
Last Revised - May 31, 2005
Contact me at: kevin@greatsystems.com