The Time Management Secret Nobody Talks About
How to make disruptions work for you
So, you’ve mastered the art of time management. You still face a serious challenge.
You can plan your day down to the minute. You can be as disciplined as a well-trained soldier. Sorry, it won’t make you a productivity superstar. Making the best use of your time is not about sticking to your schedule.
Effective time management comes down to making the best use of your time when life disrupts your meticulously planned schedule.
And life always disrupts your schedule.
The experts who sell their productivity tips, routine-based systems, and time management techniques rarely talk about strategies to deal with disruptions. It’s too easy to say “just stick to your plan.” Of course, life does not work that way. You not only need to work around these disruptions, but you also need to use them to your benefit.
This might be the most crucial Time Management question you’ve never asked yourself.
How do you get stuff done when life interferes with your plans?
Here’s how I handled it today.
When I arrived at the airport this morning, I learned my flight had been delayed by three hours.
I kicked and screamed like everyone else, but instead of arguing with the desk agents or making frantic calls to anyone who would listen, I sat down at the gate and began to write.
Little by little, other passengers tricked into the gate area, remarking that they gave it the old college try. They formed an impromptu pity party, lamenting their missed plans, blown meetings, and loss of productive time.
Yeah, I get it. Some folks have real emergencies. Maybe some of those passengers had been away from their families and desperately wanted to go home.
But most people just hate having their plans altered. They fret over sitting in an airport or waiting room. And so they complain, argue and commiserate.
Sometimes you need to feel like you’re doing something to fix the problem, even when no realistic solution exists.
We waste too much time by fighting reality and complaining about the unfairness of things we cannot control.
Fight your instinct
It’s human nature to get emotional when someone or something interferes with your life. You had plans, goals, a to-do list, whatever. You need to take out your frustration on someone or something. I get it. It feels good, but it serves no purpose.
Once you get over the shock, these moments of inconvenience can be a boon to your productivity.
Take a step back from the emotional rollercoaster and assess your situation logically instead of emotionally.
This simple checklist allows you wrestle control away from your kneejerk emotional reaction and make more thoughtful decisions.
Is this out of your control?
The answer is almost always no. When shit happens, it’s almost always beyond your control. That’s what makes it so frustrating.
We don’t always recognize this in the thick of the situation. Acknowledging the fact can help calm you and allow you to assess without emotional swings affecting your judgment.
Is there anything you can do about it?
Sometimes you can mitigate the effects of interruptions to your schedule.
Maybe you can find another flight, reschedule that meeting or ask someone to help you out.
Some folks confuse complaining, brooding or sulking with concrete actions that reduce the negative impacts. You might gain emotional satisfaction from that kind of behavior, but it does nothing to better your situation.
If you conclude that you can do something about it, move onto the next question. If you cannot do anything about your situation, skip the next question and proceed to the following one.
Is it worth doing something about it?
Now you do a bit of cost-benefit analysis. Is the price of mitigating your disruption worth it? This analysis is usually subjective, but it’s still worth doing as a sanity check.
Let’s use a delayed flight as an example.
Is it worth flying on standby, rushing through the terminal and dealing with the stress to get home an hour earlier? That’s something you need to decide for yourself depending on the circumstances.
Too often, we take mitigation steps out of a desire to do something, anything to fix the perceived injustice. Accepting reality and finding ways to use it to your advantage will often serve you better.
What would be a better use of your time?
Why not just start here? Why go through the preamble of the earlier questions? If that works for you, go right ahead. I find that I need to go through the previous questions first; it helps me reach an emotional state where I can accept the answers I discover in this phase.
When my flight was delayed, I decided not to complain. I decided against flying standby for an earlier flight. I wanted to use the gift of time to accomplish something important to me. I needed complete focus to use that time productively.
Expand your horizon while you consider the question of what would be a better use of your time. Do not limit yourself to something work-related. Perhaps you can spend time on personal development, reading, practicing a skill, promotional work. The only rule is that you choose something that matters to you.
Now that you’ve assessed your situation and your available options, you can make a reasoned decision.
It takes only a few minutes to go through this process. Life disruptions happen how you manage the unexpected matters just as much as your meticulous planning.