Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
- Henry David Thoreau
Almost everyone at some point in their career will toy with adopting some kind of time-management system. Few stick with it. The challenge is that too many time-management systems focus too deeply on the activity level—what to do first, what to do next, what the priority order is—without paying enough attention to the bigger picture. Simply viewing the world through the lens of urgent vs. important is not enough.
The bigger picture starts with understanding how you spend your time, and then considering how you want to spend your time.
At RAIN Group, we find it instructive to think of time in 4 categories. TIME can be:
Of its nature, time is finite. If you are spending it on one thing, you are not spending it on another. Highly effective people tend to accumulate time day after day in the treasured and invested categories, and proactively fight to dwell less in the mundane and empty time zones.
Indeed, success follows as you accumulate time in the right categories. Investments add up and eventually pay dividends. But you have to keep doing it to get the right return.
Treasured time is time you hold dear. Where we all want to get. For different people it means different things:
- Time with children or grandchildren without distractions
- Vacation with loved ones
- Alone time
- Sports and games
- Working (yes, sometimes people tell us they are at peace and fulfilled most at work)
If you spend the rest of your time wisely, you will find yourself with more time available for treasured activities. Make enough money and you can retire early and do what you want with your time. Build the right work habits and you will get more done in fewer hours, allowing you to have more treasured time each day.
The key to maximizing happiness and fulfillment is maximizing treasured time.
Investment time is the time you focus on becoming more effective, getting more done, getting the right things done, and achieving top performance. You eventually get a return on your investment time as it pays dividends to gain skills and knowledge, accumulate experience, and put in the extra effort that will lead to success. Investment time can also be personal, such as investing in exercise, that can affect your professional success.
The key to success and achieving top performance is maximizing investment time.
Mundane time is time spent doing the things that it feels like you have to do. Commuting to work, shaving, mowing the lawn, paying bills. All are examples of mundane time: things on your to-do list that it feels like you have to do.
Note that “feels like” is not “have to.” You can minimize mundane time by turning it into invested time, such as listening to business books while you drive. You can also turn it into treasured time by listening to books you enjoy reading, so you free up an hour in the evening to do something else. You can move closer to where you work and minimize the commute, or try to work from home. You can also choose to delegate mundane time to others, like hiring a landscaper to mow the lawn, using a delivery service for your grocery shopping, or having your laundry done at a fluff and fold.
The key to mundane time is to minimize it, or convert it into treasured or investment time.
Empty time is exactly as it sounds: time spent, nothing done, nothing gained. At least with mundane time, if you need to spend 30 minutes to get a haircut, your hair gets cut. If you are just flipping through Facebook, watching YouTube videos, or reading Us Weekly you are simply letting time pass.
Now, it’s quite possible you treasure this time. If that’s the case, so be it. But most people would prefer to decrease the time they spend watching TV, playing games on the Internet, scrolling through Facebook, or puttering around the house aimlessly.
We all need some empty time. Just doing nothing or being mindless is important for recharging. We all need rest. However, most people have, and would like to, reallocate empty time to better use.
The key to empty time is to eliminate as much of it as you can.
If you are like most people, changing your mundane and empty time habits will be hard. Delegating or eliminating mundane time, and minimizing both mundane and empty time, means changing habits.
Where people tend to spend their time on any given day is a reflection of how they are likely to spend time for months and years to come. Time is a habit. If you want to be maximally effective, you have to first understand your time habits. Only after understanding these habits can you do something to change them.