Time management is a concept that high-achievers, goal-oriented performers, and humans in general, are intimately familiar with. We are engaged in a perpetual tango between our looming deadlines, neverending to-do list, and that project that seems to be growing in scope and scale overnight. Add in sleeping, eating, exercise, family time, and homeschooling during a global pandemic, and you can see why we are on an endless quest for that magic app or productivity hack that will help us with this juggling act.
Furthermore, time-management skills are not only essential for the individual trying to juggle her workload. Studies have shown that the ability to prioritize and mastery of time management are some of the most sought after behavioral skills for leadership and management positions. If there are pages and pages of apps focused on productivity, libraries of books on the subject, and endless articles promising time-management hacks, why aren’t we any better at actually doing it?
Part of the problem lies in the idea that relying on these hacks and tips is enough to actually prioritize and manage our time effectively. According to Erich C. Dierdorff, professor of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University in a recent HBR article, the issue is that no matter how skillfully designed these apps and tools are, if you don’t have the prerequisite skills required to use them, they won’t be effective. Basically, you can’t hack your way to productivity or excellent time-management. So what can we do? A key strategy for time management is first identifying your values. This is one of the cornerstones of Values Endurance within the Valor framework and is crucial in prioritizing what we need to get done and not getting distracted or derailed by tasks not paramount to our goals.
To gain clarity on your values, we can leverage strategic time outs. Just like when the football coach calls a time out so the team can regroup, strategize, and change up the play, time outs in our workday help us recognize these inflection points and can prevent us from letting a single project or problem hijack our time. By identifying and staying true to our values, we can take intentional actions, prioritize the things that are most important to you, and minimize or delegate what isn’t.
Think about the purpose of a time out in professional sports. It’s not to take a break, nor to relax, but to step out of the fracas and refocus, reframe, and strategize for a moment. It’s easy to get swept up into the action (or for our purposes: task list, product backlog, or growing inbox), but instead of being reactive, we take a time out so we can be proactive. It’s a lot easier to manage your time when you are aware of your values so that you can effectively prioritize. And you’ll make better decisions when you are taking these deliberate time outs.
When you think back to professional sports, it’s the coach who calls the time outs. Their outside perspective can provide a sounding board and be a mirror and thought partner to ensure that you are working on the right things at the right time—given you and your goals. And although there is no miracle cure to prevent mounting requests for your time, building up your Values Endurance and taking time out to step back and reflect on your priorities will go a long way toward protecting your energy and attention and will result in success toward your goals.