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Francis Wade | Why you have so little me-time

Published:Sunday | August 16, 2015 | 8:00 AM

As a knowledge worker, you aren't alone if you find yourself running out of 'me-time' - the time you need to spend taking care of yourself.

If the amount is far below your expectations, here's why.

Back when you completed your tertiary studies or apprenticeship, finding me-time" probably wasn't an issue. However, as you assumed greater commitments over the years, you probably started to feel a squeeze.

Today, if you are an ambitious, Type A individual, you may have an acute problem. Your high energy levels and competitive spirit have made it easy to create more time demands than other people.

This has had a positive effect - more recognition and promotions - but also an expensive, accumulated toll.

What kind of toll? Well, if you define me-time as the discretionary hours spent each day away from work, community obligations and church responsibilities, then it covers opportunities to recharge between intense projects; date nights with a spouse; play-time with your kids; long chats engaging your parents; hanging out with friends; and daily devotions and/or planning.

When you allocate time away from these activities, it takes a toll.

In an earlier article published August 31, 2014, I mentioned the need to spend 15 hours with your spouse per week if you hope to maintain the relationship. Recent research backs this up, showing a direct, negative correlation between time spent together and the probability of one day being divorced.

Some adults fail to see the need to spend quality time with their children. When I was a teen, a friend shared that one of the worst days in her life was when her parents forgot her birthday. Perhaps they just weren't spending enough me-time.

Most articles that address this problem focus on the need to make explicit, written schedules that produce the desired balance. "What gets scheduled gets done" is more than a clichÈ; it's backed up by researchers like NYU's Peter Gollwitzer, who coined the term 'implementation intention'. It describes a time demand that also specifies a specific start time, duration and location.

Data show that implementation intentions dramatically increase the odds that a task will be completed.

It follows, therefore, that if you want more 'me-time', all you need do is schedule it. Unfortunately, this particular time demand is one of many, with each deserving an equal commitment. Why not schedule them all? If you have ever tried this technique, you know that there are some major obstacles.

EVOLVE YOUR BEHAVIOUR

One obstacle is a misconception. Too many of us believe that becoming a better time manager involves discovering a single method and applying it diligently for the rest of our careers. This is incorrect. Instead, if you hope to survive the inevitable increased demand on time that life brings, you must evolve your behaviour.

Fortunately, my research shows that there is a standard track for knowledge workers to follow in their development in this area. Success relies on your ability to make the right shifts at the right time from one method to another.

Here are five examples that can help you retain all the me-time you need. Each of them involves picking up a new practice, as stated, and they are listed here in approximate order of complexity.

Change one - From mental calendar to paper calendar

New practice: Carrying a printed calendar everywhere. Back in the 1990s, toting around a leather notebook-planner was a sure sign of being a serious professional. Taking the extra step of converting a time demand from a mere thought into a written object transforms it.

Change two - From paper calendar to digital calendar

New practice: Managing an electronic device. It is all too easy to use a smartphone without mastering the necessary skills. They include keeping it charged, backing it up to the cloud and making its calendar available on multiple platforms.

Change three - From only scheduling meetings to scheduling all major tasks

New practice: Placing all your tasks straight into your calendar as soon as they are confirmed. Eschew to-do lists.

Change four - From manually juggling your schedule to using software

New practice: Obtaining and using some of the most recent software like Timeful or SkedPal. I play an advisory role in the latter. Both use artificial intelligence to produce an optimised, customised calendar with the press of a button.

Change five - From doing your own scheduling to trusting an executive assistant

New practice: Training and trusting someone else to manage your schedule. Share your priorities so they are never violated.

While most people find themselves stuck at Change 1, there are knowledge workers at every level here in Jamaica. The reason so few are able to progress is that five changes are hard to make. But they are the only way to keep finding the "me-time" you need to function.

For those who are successful, me-time is not an afterthought, but a matter of consciously refining hard-won scheduling skills.

n Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, email: columns@fwconsulting.com