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Your calendar reveals who you are

Time, we can all agree, is really precious. We have very little of it; and we don’t know how much. So where do we expend it? Let me continue the discussion about the time of our lives, begun here last week.

As time marches on, and when we have had our fill of trying stuff out, exploring and experimenting, we realise this truth: there are only a small number of activities that are really important. What those might be are your choice to make. For some of us, it might be building and maintaining relationships. For others, mastery of a craft. For yet others, enjoyment of the things that make life worth living. 

Whatever our choices are, we must ensure that our calendars contain these things. If they’re not on the calendar, they’re not happening.

I ran a session called ‘You Are Your Calendar’ with the alumni of my leadership programme recently. They were asked to estimate where all their time goes in a typical week. 

The biggest chunk of time of course goes to planned work commitments (routine work, projects, meetings etc), as you would expect. This is that portion of the work we do that’s predictable and necessary. Fire-fighting (unplanned work, matters arising) takes up a very significant amount of time, though – mostly because of our inefficiencies (and of those around us) in planning and anticipation. 

Add in side hustles and time taken commuting and travelling to and fro, and that’s most of the waking week gone.

What gets very little time from the busy professional? Thinking ahead (planning, dreaming, anticipating) is so important, but where is it in the week’s diary? Personal development in this fast-changing world is also essential – we all need to keep up, stay ahead, and keep sharpening the saw. Again, where is it happening? Rest and recreation – meditative time that allows the brain to revive and imagine – seems to have no real allocation. For most, it is subsumed by sleep.

Family time? Erm, yes, work in progress, the busy executive will tell you sheepishly.

What about doing nothing? That’s right, nothing. Free time, with no productive aim in mind. Time that lets the mind wander where it will. Time to be calm. Time that’s open. Me time. Yeah right, no time for that. We’re grown-ups, and grown-ups must always be doing something. Anything. Busy busy…

I repeat: if it’s not in your calendar, it’s not happening. Your calendar reveals the person you actually are, as opposed to the person you claim or aspire to be.

Are there things you know you should be doing more of? Don’t say they will happen when you have more ‘free’ time. You probably never will.

The busy executive is burning out, steadily. Overwork, especially unchosen overwork, is leading to loss of health, productivity and judgement. We are not better because we are so busy; we are far worse. We make errors. We miss things. We make snap judgements. We are all busy-busy-busy, until we just…aren’t.

A wise person makes active, intentional choices about time. Time must not be treated as endless; it must be rationed and focused on essentials. Some amount of time is spent in the demands of the here-and-now; but a good amount must be spent on reflection, rejuvenation and relationships.

Show me where those are on your calendar.

“Time is the scarcest resource,” said Peter Drucker, “and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”

At the end of the day it is all about the choices we make about the things we can control. Your time is definitely in your control. If you are ceding that control, it is about unacknowledged payoffs: the fear of having less income; the need to belong to the oh-so-busy elite; the need to conflate busyness with usefulness.

May I suggest a good use of your time this Sunday? Spend an hour gazing at your calendar for the week ahead. How much of what is about to happen is actively chosen by you? Necessary for you to do in person? Cannot be delegated? Must be done now? How much of it will you enjoy, and how much will you hate? And how many of your week’s activities are not about the here and now, but about the person you hope to become?

That could be one of the best-spent hours of your life.

(Sunday Nation, 1 March 2020)

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