How to minimise time commitments

‘Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.’  Richard Bach

Creating legacy and managing your diary

Creating legacy is strongly dependent on your ability to free up time in your diary. For most of us, it seems that we already have so many urgent appointments, deadlines etc. that we couldn’t possibly take the time for something as long-term as working on a legacy project.

I have already blogged about how to minimise emergencies by working on tasks in reverse order of urgency. I have previously also argued that one way to free up time for creating legacy is to decrease the number of commitments we take on. Today I’d like to take this idea further and look at ways to free up time by minimising commitments relating to other people.

Two types of time commitments

In the big scheme of things, there are two kinds of commitments we take on: commitments that relate to other people and commitments we take on ourselves (legacy projects fall into this category).

The commitments that relate to other people consist of things such as meetings, deadlines for taking particular actions, and small duties such as replying to emails and other paperwork that come our way.

Commitments relating to other people may take longer than expected

One of the problems with such commitments is that we usually underestimate the time required to fulfil them properly. For example, when scheduling a one-hour meeting we usually think in our heads ‘this means I’ve got another 7 hours left in the day to do other work’ (if you happen to work 8-hour days). But this is totally misleading.

For instance, the ‘one hour meeting equals one hour of my time’ does not take into account the time it takes you to get to the meeting and back. For example, it may take you half an hour to get to the meeting and another half hour to get back.

You also need to take into account the time you waste just before leaving and just after returning. It is often the case that at least a quarter of an hour before you are due to leave for the meeting you may start getting fidgety about the time, and it will take you at least another quarter of an hour when you return to settle back into work.

This means that in practical terms, that one hour meeting has actually taken at least 2.5 hours out of your 8 hours that day. If you’ve got two one-hour meetings that day – you do the maths.  

Similar problems apply to other types of commitments relating to others. Emails take longer to write than you think, phonecalls extend beyond what you thought, reports take longer to write etc.

Commitments relating to other people are ‘anchored’ in your diary

Another big problem relating to commitments relating to other people is that once taken on, you cannot easily shift them to suit your particular circumstances at any particular time. If you haven’t slept well that night and are therefore feeling unproductive, but realise you have two meetings that day plus your legacy project time allotment, you will go to the meetings and postpone your legacy work.

Doing it the other way around would cause lots of friction with other people and would soon lead to being branded unreliable; so you prefer to be unreliable with something that only you know about. This makes sense in terms of social etiquette etc., but it does mean that you are attending to short-term at the expense of the long-term.

How do you solve these problems?

Based on the above, there are two steps you can take:

1. Be careful when taking on any form of commitment that relates to someone else. Especially when it comes to meetings, always ask yourself things like ‘is this meeting really necessary?’ and see if you can find an alternative whenever possible. Also, do not readily accept admin and other such tasks without asking ‘why is it me that has to deal with this?’ if this isn’t immediately obvious. It is  often to your advantage to establish yourself as difficult when it comes to agreeing to take on extra work; this means you will be able to provide better quality on the work that you do agree to take on.

2. Be realistic about how long a commitment relating to other people will take. When you schedule a meeting in your diary, immediately put in a generous estimate of the time you will need to get there and back, plus the fidgety time before and after travel, so you do not count on that time in your day for doing other work. Being aware of how long something takes will also give you extra ammunition should someone try to question you on why you are not taking on a particular commitment in step 1; you will be able to give them a very accurate estimate of what you already have taken on and therefore justify why you cannot possibly take on more commitments. Providing a valid justification is more socially acceptable than a blunt ‘no’, so go for that whenever you can.

What about you?

How do you deal with commitments relating to other people? How do you make sure you have enough time in your diary for creating legacy? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at www.alexaispas.com