Wishing our time away

“Wish there was five more hours in a day.”  “Why can’t we add a day to the week called ‘Funday’”?

These are recent postings from friends on Facebook. Both of these people lead very full lives. They have full-time jobs (more than full-time in one case, with a heavy travel schedule) and one is a mom to a toddler. They each also have spouses. Not an untypical scenario for successful people, who scramble for more time to complete all the required and important tasks that greet them each day. It’s a wish many of us can relate to.

So many of us find ourselves in similar situations that an entire industry created! This industry, time management, sells books, workshops, devices, software, planners and more. We blog about it, we make resolutions. Time management even creeps into our personal relationships as we try to balance work/life needs, avoid arguments, and be there for our children.

What if we are looking at time management all wrong? What if, instead of trying to manage time, we managed ourselves? That’s an assertion Srikumar S. Rao, Pd.D. makes in his new book, Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What. Inevitably, following a presentation, Rao receives questions from audience members (CEOs to trapeze artists) asking how they can manage their time better. “You can’t manage your time better. There is nothing you can do to manage your time better,” he responds.

Before you throw your hands up in exasperation, consider this. What you can do, suggests Rao, is manage yourself better. Yep, that’s right! Manage you. Time, he explains, is something outside of us. That makes sense to me; 24 hours is 24 hours, no matter how you slice it. It’s easier to blame something external rather than addressing something within ourselves.

“Begin managing yourself and more time will appear magically.” This is the name of an exercise Rao proposes in his book. He asks the reader to observe their day; accounting for how often tasks are interrupted by things such as email, Twitter, Facebook, IMs, and colleagues dropping into your office. Then, he suggests, shut down your cell/smart phone and computer. Now observe how many of those distractions disappear and, consequently, how much time you gain. Think about how many messages, calls, postings enter your work time that have to be dealt with in that moment? I suspect few.

You may think this is impossible to do. It is difficult, as I sit here writing at my computer with no internet browser open and my Smartphone on silent so no pings interrupt my writing. I hope when I am done writing that I don’t find the sky has fallen – and I didn’t know about it. And no, the irony that my busy friends posted gripes about a lack of time on Facebook, and that I was on Facebook to notice those postings, is not lost on me. It is time to manage me.