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June 2005 - Time - Noose or salve?

I have heard much lately along the lines "Haven't got the time", "Time doesn't allow it", "The time is not right" and so on. You may very well think you know the context in which these utterances have been made, but I could not possibly comment. This has led me to ponder the question of time - what is it? Even the dictionary relates time to other things - the closest it gets to a definition is "The indefinite continued progress of existence, events, etc."

In pondering the concept of time, I began to wonder what makes time seem to go faster or slower. I think you would all agree that there is nothing like a deadline to accelerate our perception of the passing of time. Make that two deadlines at once and what hope is there of ever having enough time? Conversely, time drags inexorably when there is a lack of deadlines or the lack of a driver to keep you focussed on work rather than the clock. In similar vein, a good time generally reflects the presence of personally rewarding experiences, including success at achieving a goal, while a bad time generally reflects a lack of recognition and a sense of failure.

It is an incontrovertible truth that we each have the same amount of time in a day. How then do some appear to achieve more than others in their allotted time? Why then do we appear to have less time available to us each year that passes? Why are some of us stressed to the eyeballs while others appear to pass through life without a care in the world? Do stress and productivity go together?

We have all been exhorted to study "time management" and many of us will have read and listened to experts in the hope of improving our time management skills. But take a moment to think about "Time management". Time management aims to enable us to fit more work into our daily allowance of time. The primary aim is to deliver finite amounts of time to each project we are working on so that our projects get completed more efficiently. In other words deadlines are imposed for everything that we are doing. This does two things. It pigeon holes our attention so that we tend to think about each activity in isolation and secondly we look for shortcuts to achieve completion by the appointed deadline. We may produce more but do we start to focus on quantity rather than quality?

I am not suggesting that efficient use of our time is not important. I have come around to thinking, however, that there is perhaps a more fundamentally important aspect to this riddle. Self-management. I have always believed that there are two intertwined guarantors of quality in our game - accurate instrumentation and stimulated staff. The quality of our output is critically dependent on interpersonal interaction and no matter how recently our equipment has been calibrated, then, unless we can extract the very best from our patients it is for nought. Similarly when teaching, the success of our endeavour depends on the enthusiasm and passion we transmit. When we are feeling stressed, tired and put upon we cannot hope to deliver quality in the classroom or the lab.

I would suggest that rather than seeing each day as a series of deadlines, we should focus on time as a series of opportunities that we can pick up or let go. We should become more aware of the successes we score and the things that make us feel good. We should take time to listen to ourselves when taking on new challenges and prioritising work. The focus should be on picking up jobs where we can get some personal rewards for the efforts we put in. These rewards may be seeing others in the team advancing, learning a new skill, sharing your experiences - rarely are dollars an adequate reward. Sure there are always things to be done we don't want to have to do but often even these can be turned into learning experiences that can empower you. At the very least they need to be put into context. Yes, you will need to say NO from time to time, ever so quietly of course, but this is not the primary requirement. More importantly you have to find a rhythm that gets the work done but allows you to breathe and be aware of your own needs. There are many tricks you can use. For instance if you start work at 8:00am, schedule your first meeting at 8:15 rather than 8:00am so you have time to grab a cuppa and chat with your team for 10 minutes first. This also allows for delays in traffic etc and can alert you to problems before they become major, both personal and technical saving you a great deal of time down the track. If you are at an off-site meeting then allow time for a coffee and a wind down from the meeting before returning to your office. This gives you space and time to consider the outcomes and actions from the meeting and to commune with the world around you, reinforcing a context for your endeavours.

Look at time as an opportunity not as a noose. Focus on self-management first, then time management. A well-tuned and cared for self will be more productive, will think brighter thoughts, will make better decisions and will transmit enthusiasm to their team

Kevin

June, 2005

kevin.gain@health.wa.gov.au

 

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