Oswald Letter

Take control of the way you spend your time

Group of Hands Holding Clockby Dan Oswald

It seems as if we get busier every day. How often do you get to the end of the day and feel like you have more left to do than when the day began?

No matter how much you’d like to change it, there are only 24 hours in a day. And just because you show up at work every day—even if you log more hours than anyone else—doesn’t mean you’re getting anything of importance done.

Did you know the average office worker spends only seven hours at work each day? And during that time, the average worker does only four and a half hours of actual work.

Yet we all complain about how much work we have to do. It seems to me that the first thing we must do is make sure we aren’t mistaking activity for productivity. Are you spending your time at work on what is urgent or what is important?

We’re all bombarded with e-mails. The phone doesn’t seem to stop ringing, and our calendars are filled with a never-ending string of meetings. All of it seems so urgent! I mean, if it weren’t important, people wouldn’t send us the e-mail, give us a call, or schedule that meeting, right?

Here’s what you’re forgetting: You choose how you spend your time!

What was your reaction to that statement? My guess is that most of you completely disagreed with it by the time you finished reading it. You probably began objecting, “I don’t get to CHOOSE how I spend my time.” No, most of us believe other people choose that for us.

And therein lies our problem. We’re letting other people “spend” our time. Time is a precious commodity, yet we don’t guard it judiciously. Instead, we allow others to determine how we spend our time—and it’s the one thing we can’t get more of.

It’s your job to know the difference between what is urgent and what is important. You must decide how you want to spend your time. You must set your own priorities. If you want to be more productive, then you need to leverage your time by working on the most important things. And that doesn’t happen when you let others determine how you spend your time.

The first thing you need to do is stop wasting time because you aren’t going to get more of it. And the best way to stop wasting time is to take control of your day. There are many ways you can do that, but here are a few ideas that might help:

  1. Start each morning by making a list of the things you want to accomplish that day. Figure out what is important so that when urgent items arise, you don’t lose focus. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of activity during a day and lose sight of what you really need to get done. Have a list and refer to it often to ensure you’re making progress, dutifully crossing off the items you’ve completed.
  2. Choose one or two times during the day to read and respond to e-mails. If you stop what you’re doing to respond to each e-mail as it pops up, you’ll spend your day doing nothing but e-mail. Trust me on this. I counted the number of e-mails I received one day last week. The total was 144 e-mails, and that didn’t include those my spam filter caught for me. Had I responded to those emails during an eight-hour workday, I would have had to read and answer 18 e-mails each hour. If I had read and responded to each email in three minutes, I would have been left with six minutes each hour—or 48 minutes during the day—to do other work of my choosing.
  3. Learn to say no, politely. We all seem much too willing to give up our time to others. We allow their requests to infringe on what we need to get done. It’s OK to say no to others. It’s OK not to let others take control of our day. If you know what is important to you and stick to your priorities, you’ll quickly learn that you must say no to some things in order to get the important things done.

In his song Time in a Bottle, Jim Croce sings, “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do.” If there isn’t enough time in the day to do the things you want to do, you have to make the time. Only you can take control of your day. You get to choose how you spend your time. Don’t let others spend this most precious resource for you.