Taking Control of My Time (Can I really do that?)

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst
- William Penn -

I love multitasking, yes I really do! The ability to do many things at the same time, aha that is true efficiency, every business owner needs to multitask more. Give me more tasks, it’s just great, I love it, getting up in the morning with a list of 100+ things to do is why I started my business. Give me more, give me more.

I think it was one of the first times I saw Charlie laughing so hard, he literally fell on the floor while laughing. I seriously believe someone saw him and came up with ROTFL :-).

Charlie could not stop laughing while he kept on repeating one word – “multitasking”.

I was really upset with him and told him, what’s so funny Charlie? Everyone is telling me doing multiple tasks at the same time is not only the key to controlling your time but it is a must for any successful business owner. What’s so funny Charlie?

I remember Charlie fixing his glasses, trying to control his laugh, telling me something which I will never forget, he said “Elizabeth, multitasking is a myth; we can not control our time. We can only prioritize what we do within our time”.

Why do I try so hard to control my time? Can I really control my time, Can I slow it down? Can I achieve more by performing multiple things at the same time? Why do we think we can control our time?

I find it really fascinating, you know, to think we all have the same amount of time. It’s true, you see, time is the only resource every one of us gets the same amount of. But time also gives us a choice. I can choose what to do with my time.

“Elizabeth, multitasking is a myth; we can not control our time. We can only prioritize what we do within our time”.

After Charlie said that, I had a flashback to that Monday, I remember receiving a big order from an important client over the phone, talking to my sister across the counter telling her where to put the holiday decoration, and at the same time trying to make hot chocolate and clean the counter. It is really a painful memory because I completely messed up the order and the hot chocolate almost burned my hand. Did it ever happen to you?

I now know, I can not really be great in doing many tasks at the same time, Charlie calls it the hidden switching cost overhead. He loves getting all “academic” with me, using these big words, whatever makes him feel good…what he really means is, when we are doing many things at the same time we are wasting quite a bit of our time trying to “switch” between the different tasks.

For example, when I am trying to enter my invoices into my accounting software and at the same time bake my favorite chocolate cake. Every time I check on the cake, or add more ingredients to the mix, and then get back to enter my invoices or pay my bills, it takes me time to remember what I just entered into the accounting software. I find myself reviewing again the last entry or forgetting which category I need to use next. You get my point right? It cost me time to multitask. I find I end up with a mediocre cake and forgetting to pay one of my bills. It is frustrating to multitask.

“Elizabeth, multitasking is a myth; we can not control our time. We can only prioritize what we do within our time”.

OK, Charlie I got it, I can not multitask or control my time, time will keep on ticking away and I can not do anything about it, but what do you mean about prioritizing?

Charlie told me to read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey (I added a link to the book under my favorite reading list).

Call me a Gandalf freak but I like to call it the 7 hobbits… let’s keep it as our little secret :-)

I have to warn you, it is not an easy book to read, I even thought it’s boring when I first read it and way more academic than I can handle. Charlie insisted I should read it again, and again, he can be so persistent when he wants to.

Back to prioritization, in the book Mr. Covey talks about the 4 different categories of activities which describe our day to day tasks:

  1. Activities which are urgent and important
  2. Activities which are not urgent and important
  3. Activities which are urgent and not important
  4. Activities which are not urgent and not important

It may sound a bit confusing. It definitely confused me at the first go. Let me give you examples for each one of the categories. Stay with me, it will all make sense very soon!

The first category, Activities which are urgent and important are activities involved with handling business crises such as orders not fulfilled, bill not paid and clients screaming in the middle of the store. These are also our day to day activities which have a pressing deadline for example, filing the business taxes on time, ordering boxes of chocolates before the holiday season or wishing my husband happy birthday on his birth date, just kidding I never forget it…

The second category, Activities which are not urgent and important are activities which are more strategic or planning activities, you know nothing will happen if you will not perform these activities right now, so these are not urgent but these activities are very important and if you will never complete them, it will affect your business in the long run. For example, relationship building with new vendors, planning my budget, and marketing activities. Remember my business vision? It also falls under this category.

The third category, Activities which are urgent and not important are activities which seems like they are urgent but they are really not important. This one puzzled me at the start, but now I get it. These are dealing with other people’s minor issues, like my friend Laura calling me frantically not knowing which soup to make for dinner with her boyfriend (will that help my business?), there are all these emails which start with “Urgent/open now” and then it is just another marketing blah blah blah. This category may also include unnecessary reports. All these activities look like urgent activities but they are really not important activities.

The fourth and last category, which are not urgent and not important are activities which are just busy work, time wasters, “escape” activities. Yes, yes, these are the funny YouTube clips people send you all the time, it is even all these so called online social activities, which is really my need to know which movies my friends have watched WITHOUT me, or those long phone calls about nothing (you know what I mean right?).

I remember Charlie looking proudly at me after I finished describing the categories, clapping his hands excitedly and saying “Now prioritization is easy, try to do only tasks which belong to the first 2 categories”.

Is it really that simple?

So here is my secret for prioritization, I still write my “to do list” on a daily and weekly basis but I do two more things, next 2 each item I write the category which it belongs to,  and the time I estimate the time it’s going to take me to do it. It really doesn’t take me more than 10 minutes in the morning to come up with the list (I also don’t write down activities which take less than 15 minutes). And at the end of day I check mark the activities I have completed.

I also do one more thing, on a daily basis, I try to be very honest with myself and write down activities which were not planned but I still performed, of course several will be the first category, you know the crises, but I found out that many fell into the 3rd and 4th categories. Wow, that really opened my eyes. Do I really spend so much time on YouTube? How many times do I speak with Laura about what she needs to cook for her boyfriend and which candles to use?

Planning and prioritization of your time did wonders for me and my business, I am sure it will do the same to you. I can’t multitask but I can definitely control the tasks I choose to perform!

Question: How do you prioritize your time? What would you do if you had 2 more hours every day? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Note: I have included a new tool under my toolbox which I use, I call it what was the color of my week (it needs to be green). It is a very easy to use tool and it will give you great insights on your week. All you need to do, is every day enter every hour of the day the type of activities you do (from our 4 categories). It will not take you more than 5 minutes to complete if you do it every day, be honest. Go ahead and try it! I promise you many colorful insights.

About the Author: Liz

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