Thieves of time

by Guest Contributor

22 June, 2018

by Dominic Irvine

“I don’t have the time to do what you do.” The implication is that somehow I have more free time, a less demanding job, or fewer family commitments. I must have heard this comment said to me dozens of times. It’s nonsense. I’m married, have a family, and along with my colleagues, run a successful business. What makes me a bit unusual is on top of these things, in my late forties, I have also been lucky enough to become a record-breaking cyclist and author. I’d like to say it’s because I am talented, clever, genetically gifted and brilliant. But sadly, that’s also nonsense.

My two biggest revelations have been:

1/     Extraordinary performance requires a huge amount of time and effort and a relentless drive to keep improving what you are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a brilliant artist, musician, baker, investment banker or sports person, there is no substitute for graft. It’s harder than you think and takes longer than you might like.

2/    Time is perishable. You cannot save time, only spend it. Think of it like a hotel room, if the hotel cannot sell the room that night, it cannot store that unused night up for a busier period – the revenue opportunity has gone and will never come back. The key challenge is how you spend time not how you save it. We cannot change the number of hours in the day, but we can do something with the hours that we have.

From my experience I have found five thieves of time and found some solutions that have helped me recover precious hours to spend on becoming a record breaker and author whilst still being a full-time working dad and husband.

Television

It’s really easy to slump in front of the TV and start watching. There’s a good reason for this, a lot of very clever people have made some very engaging, entertaining and informative programmes. Once you get into a programme, stopping to go away and do something else is really hard.

  1. Don’t start watching it in the first place. You can’t get engaged by a programme if you are not watching it. If you do watch a programme, choose to watch a specific programme, not just anything.
  2. Make TV time a virtue, watch your favourite programmes whilst on the treadmill or an exercise bike or doing the ironing.
  3. Put the TV in a separate room out of the main living area of the house (if this is possible). If you then want to watch it you have to go into the television room. It thus becomes a conscious decision to watch.

Social media

Keeping in contact with friends is great and social media is a wonderful tool for this. Tracking it all can become an addiction that both eats up time and reduces the quality of our thinking by reducing our focus on the task at hand.

  1. Give yourself a few time slots in the day when you do check social media. Turn off the alerts.
  2. Reduce the number of platforms you track – a bit more of a challenge as some people like some platforms better than others. But the more platforms the more time it takes.
  3. Create some rules for yourself about your own posts – what would make them really engaging for other people? Help other people by making sure that if you do post something it is well worth the read, such that people look forward to hearing from you.

Internet

Those clever people who sit behind the search engines we use and the pages we browse, know how to target us with specific information likely to draw us into exploring more and more pages of content. The major challenge of the internet is curating content into usable, useful formats that provide the information we need. The rest is distracting noise that just gets in the way.

  1. When opening your favourite browser, with your mug of coffee ready to be entertained, ask yourself “What question am I seeking to answer?” It might not seem much of a thing to do but it will force you to think about what is it you want to know – Are you exploring holiday options, If so, what aspect? Recommendations? Reviews? Flights? Be clear about what you are doing and it will help focus both your time and enable you make better choices of which sites to explore.
  2. Decide on your time limit for browsing. I.e. allow yourself ten minutes, or half an hour and decide what you are going to do afterwards before you start browsing so you know why you need to move on.
  3. Subscribe only to the number of sites / feeds you can realistically follow and read. There is nothing to stop you changing your subscriptions as your needs change. If you are seeking advice or insight, make sure the credentials of those providing it are adequate – do they really know what they are talking about or is it just a lot of vacuous opinion?

Smartphones

What a brilliant tool a smartphone is. It can do so much stuff, and as a result can be so distracting.

  1. Turn off the alerts except on critical apps. Emails, by definition rarely require an instant response, whereas a text can sometimes be a little more urgent. Consider keeping the alerts on for critical people and off for everyone else.
  2. Turn off all alerts at night. Sleep is so important to performance that it is not worth squandering on browsing.
  3. Put it somewhere where it is just a bit inconvenient to use. If in bed, leave the phone in another room. If out and about, put it in your bag or pocket. If in the car, stick it in the glove compartment.If you really want to be good at something, stop complaining you don’t have the time and take a good long hard look at the things you currently spend your time doing. Are they helping or hindering you in achieving your ambitions? From my experience, changing your habits around these five activities can liberate 10 to 20 hours a week. Just think what you could do with that time.

Author: Dominic Irvine

As well as his consultancy business, Dominic is a keen ultra-distance cyclist – he actually holds the current record for non-stop cycling on a tandem from Land’s End to John O’Groats and regularly takes part in ultra-distance challenges.

Dominic’s consultancy focuses on leadership, performance and innovation. With his colleagues, he has grown the business from developing executives using coaching, to the design and facilitation of international conferences, culture change and leadership development for multinational blue-chip companies across the globe. He also regularly produces blogs that explore key leadership and people development issues.