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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Solving the Time Management Dilemma


This month for me is all about the big push to finish the manuscript for my book that’s coming out this fall from Wiley, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. As the title implies, my premise is that being somewhat more mindful in your approach to work and life is an effective alternative to being overworked and overwhelmed.

The chapter I’ve been working on for the past couple of days is the distillation of 10 lessons learned about mindful time management from more than 45 leaders I’ve interviewed for the book. One of those lessons is to acknowledge reality.

The reality is that each of us has 168 hours each week. The research I’m reading tells us that the average smartphone enabled executive, manager or professional (most of them in the United States, in other words) is connected to their work an average 72 hours a week. Let’s assume that those same people spend about eight hours a day on sleeping, bathing and personal grooming. That’s another 56 hours a week. All of you math majors have figured out by now that that leaves just 40 hours a week for everything else—taking care of the kids, commuting, shopping, cooking, eating, exercise, whatever else you’re trying to fit into your life. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people feel overworked and overwhelmed?

A few years ago, I heard Jim Collins, the leadership expert and author of Good to Great speak on this dilemma at a conference.

In the question-and-answer segment someone asked him how they could get everything done and still have a life. Collins stepped to a flip chart and started drawing a fraction. The top number—the numerator—was 10,000 and that stood for the number of hours of work that you could choose to do in a year. (Remember that a year’s worth of the mythical 40-hour work week equates to 2,080 hours. Even if you’re working the 72 hours a week of the smartphone enabled executive, manager or professional, you’re only up to 3,744 hours.) Collins’ point was that the possible amount of work you could do in a year far exceeds the amount of time available to do it. (A non-leap year only has 8,760 hours total.) The denominator of his fraction was how many hours you could work in a day. He started with eight, crossed that out and wrote 10, then crossed that out and wrote 12. He made his point. Of course, with a numerator that large, the time available for the denominator doesn’t really matter. Any way you look at it, you’re way behind the curve in terms of raw numbers. So, given the limited amount of time available to you for work and the rest of your life it just makes sense to approach it all in the most mindful way possible.

One of my big lessons learned so far from all of the interviews, coaching and observation I’ve done? You’ve got to make mindful choices about where you’re going to spend your time and attention in any given day, week, month or year. As Laura Vanderkam wrote in a recent Fast Company article:

“Here are some things that could fit in 24 hours: Eight hours of sleep, one hour of personal care, 10 hours of work (including the commute), a 90-minute trip to the gym, and two hours of TV. Here are some things that cannot simultaneously fit into those same 24 hours: grabbing drinks with a colleague, starting your taxes, fixing the leaky pipe in your basement, shoveling snow off the driveway and going to your nephew’s basketball game.” 

It’s all about the mindful choices we make on how we spend the limited amount of time we’re given to work with in any given day or week.

Let’s do a little crowdsourcing. What processes or criteria do you use to determine what’s going to get your time and attention this week? Share your tips in the comments.

(Image via Gajus/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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