Protecting my time is something I started doing just this year. Before, my time management used to be a bleak and desolate affair. It is astonishing that it took me so long – because the advantages are significant. I get more done, I work on the things I’m most excited about, and I no longer feel guilty about the work I don’t get to. Below, you’ll find six questions that helped me with protecting my time. So without further ado, let me bestow my wisdom upon you!
Why do you want to protect your time, to begin with? This question comes first because it’s the most important one. You need to have a clear idea of why you want to protect your time. Without the why no amount of hows will be able to help you (at least if you’re like me). Before I knew what I was striving for, I would feel a painful restlessness. I’d take on any project just to feel busy. In my mind, feeling busy was a stand-in for being productive. And being productive was a stand-in for progress. So I would work on projects I wasn’t even sold on, not leaving any room to stop and reflect on why I was working so hard in the first place. If you understand what you want to do and what kind of project excites you most, it will become easier to protect your time. Because suddenly you’ll understand why it is valuable in the first place.
How much time do you actually have? Being excited about a project is essential – but it can also let you forget about the more mundane aspects of your life. I need to work at my day job. I need to cook and eat. I need to walk the dog. I want to spend time with friends. When you keep all that in mind, how much time is really left in a week? For me personally, optimism has not worked out in this area. I would consistently underestimate how much I can achieve on any given day. Then I’d feel guilty and stressed out about not hitting my goals. Nowadays, my preference is to be pessimistic. This helps me to feel more at ease with what I can realistically achieve in a day. And if I finish my task early? Yay, there’s an opportunity to work on the next one!
Can you work on one thing at a time? If your answer is a resounding yes, move on. There’s nothing for you to see here. For everyone else – this can be a tough one. Maybe you want to develop this one skill that might help you with an impactful career. Maybe you also want to learn how to cook. And, of course, you want to be able to speak French, too. Some people might be able to pursue all of these goals at once – and excel in them. Most likely, however, you’ll only become okayish at them. It’s important to remember that focusing on building one skill at a time will help most with realizing your potential.
Are you okay with disappointing people? Other people want their projects to progress, too. An efficient move to achieve that is to delegate work. If their project aligns with your goal, it can be great to cooperate! Otherwise, it’s probably best to say no to their requests. The person asking you for collaboration will probably be disappointed. And that’s okay. Think back to why you want to protect your time in the first place – and it will hopefully sting less.
Can you find an accountability partner? Even if you want to use your time deliberately, it can be easy to lose track of what’s important to you. An accountability partner can be a sanity check helping you to break out of your delusions. You can talk to them about your priorities – and check in about how well you could protect them. I still struggle with being appropriately pessimistic about how much I can achieve, for example. This is where your partner comes in. I present my plans for the week to my accountability partner Anabel. She calls me out for taking on too many tasks, enabling me to recalibrate. I try to do the same for her. Win-win!
Do you really need those meetings and one-on-ones? Before you schedule a meeting, you should have at least a vague idea of how it can help you! I used to schedule 1-1s because it felt like the “EA thing to do”, and not necessarily because I thought that this one person could help me – or I could help them. In hindsight, I believe that it was doubly irresponsible. I wasn’t protecting my time and wasting another person's!
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