I recently had the privileiPhone screenge of coaching a group of first year Oxbridge students. Their common issue was time – how do we squeeze everything in?

How are you doing at squeezing everything in?

Most people reading this article will have been trained in the classic prioritising disciplines of time management and will recognise the advice I gave to the students.

You’ll remember the time management workshop where the trainer fills a vase with stones and then asks “Is it full?”, and then adds the pebbles and asks again and then the sand and ask again until finally, the vase gets topped up with water. The trainer goes on to explain that we can fit in much more than we realise, but the key is to prioritise the big stones first.

Whilst these disciplines continue to serve us well, it seems to me that now, as the speed at which we live our business lives continues to increase, we need something more. Do you, like me, remember the basic Time Management principles working well for you back in those wonderful days when there wasn’t a crisis unless your pager had gone off? What is there that can help us now that we live in a world of constant communication through texts, emails and virtual meetings?

It was with this curiosity that I happened across the emerging practice of Time Wisdom, which builds upon good old time management. Here are some of the things I’ve found helpful:

  • Clearing – Efficiency comes from putting aside blocks of time for significant tasks, and not allowing any distractions. Research by the University of California that found that on average you lose an additional 23 mins returning to a task after a digital distraction. Just a few months ago, a mobile phone app called Checky was launched to help people prove this to themselves.
  • Clustering – Doing similar types of work all in one go, e.g. focusing on all your spreadsheet tasks in one morning. Variety may be the spice of life, but it appears that speed & quality increases come from repetition. This might mean pulling together meetings of a similar type into the same day, e.g. having one day of the month when you have all your line management meetings.
  • Connecting – Finding time within your day to do extra little things by connecting them to something you were doing already. This could be listening to a podcast whilst driving between meetings, jotting down some notes whilst waiting for the phone conference to start, or spotting the opportunity to drop-in to the office whilst passing by to visit a client.

Having said all of this, there is a limit to that vase’s capacity. Many businesses are growing yet doing their utmost to avoid recruiting. As a consequence, many of the leaders we work with are severely stretched. Perhaps, if the case really is full, then experimenting with yet more sand and water won’t help anybody. It may just be time to get some more resource…