OPINION: Becoming a time realist

Published Oct 12, 2018


JOHANNESBURG - Julie Morgenstern, a productivity and time management expert, wasn’t born organised. Chronically late, forever losing things, utterly disorganised, Morgenstern lived in a state of chaos.

Then she had a child. She turned the lessons she learnt from taking control of her time into a career as an adviser and coach. She is the author of six books, and her latest, Time to Parent, was published on September 4.

But there are patterns Morgenstern has identified that can help people understand and improve the way they approach time management.

There are time realists and time optimists, according to Morgenstern. Time realists look at a task and break down the maths of it. They’re conscious of how long things take, and they factor that in to their plans for the day.

Time optimists, by comparison, are just that: hopeful about things they would like to do. It leads to them to overstuff their days and become frustrated when their list of to-dos doesn’t get completed.

Be a time realist. Here’s how:

Don’t automatically say “yes”, no matter who is asking, according to Morgenstern. Even if it is your boss, think, “How I can fit that in?” If, after calculating how long the task will take, considering what else you were going to do in that time against what you could take off your plate, you’re still in need of relief, Morgenstern suggests going back to your boss and saying, “I could do this, but I’d then have to postpone that. Which way do you want me to go?”

Morgenstern recommends looking ahead. She says that doing so allows you to see in advance if you planned your calendar for the next few days well, “sort of figuring out the puzzle,” in her words.

Batch activities, such as administrative work, creative projects, hobbies and social activities, by mental function in order to identify your concentration threshold for each. Morgenstern says that batching activities helps you to carve smaller subdivisions into your days, creating mini-deadlines that make concentrating on and completing dreaded tasks more manageable.

Speaking of dreaded tasks! Here comes some good news for those of you who have 16942 unread emails in your inbox: Morgenstern is a believer in declaring email bankruptcy.

She suggests sorting all unread emails by date, moving the most current ones to a separate folder and simply deleting the rest, sight unseen. “How far back you want to go - three days, three weeks, one month - depends on your job or your life. If it’s more than a month old, there’s nothing in there. It’s either going to come back, or it’s gone forever.”

If anything is going to take you more than three to five minutes to do in that moment, schedule that into your calendar, she suggests.

Morgenstern takes a hard line when it comes to communication channels - email, text messages, messaging on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, phone calls - and the limits we need to place on them. She says that “time management is about managing your energy and brain power for peak performance, and so you have to impart control over all this chaos.”

Make the decision: Are you a paper or electronic calendar person? Then stick to it.

Integrate your to-do list into your calendar. To be efficient, Morgenstern advises adding work and personal obligations to the same calendar and integrating all your different planning systems into one.

Reclaim your personal time, whether it’s writing that novel, or crushing a fitness goal, or successfully binge-watching all 15 seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

She explains that people’s perception of time is that it’s “this ethereal, relative, slippery, conceptual thing. It’s not. It’s 24-hour cycles, seven days a week. You have 168 hours to work with every week. You have to carve out the time if you really want balance.”


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