What Time is It?

pocket-watch-3156771_640What if you could do away with deadlines, appointments, and alarms? What if you could do what you want, when you want to do it? Would you be more productive since you’d be able to focus energy on the truly important things? Or would your output plummet, giving way to procrastination?

That’s the question facing the 350 residents of Sommaroy. The Norwegian island, located within the Arctic Circle experiences constant daylight between May 18th and July 26th. Locals have petitioned for the abolishment of time during this period – and it looks like the local parliament may actually go for it.

The campaign’s leader, Kjell Ove Hveding feels a resolution would only formalize what most of the islanders already practice. They work when they want, and rest as needed. If the sun is out at 4 am and the grass needs to be cut, why wait? “All over the world,” he said “people are characterized by stress and depression. In many cases this can be linked to the feeling of being trapped by the clock.”

While throwing away our clocks and watches may seem like a beautiful dream, it’s one most of us can ill afford. We live in a society ruled by deadlines – most of them externally imposed. The work we engage in at any given moment is determined by someone else’s priorities. That may be our boss, a customer, or even a coworker who is dependent on receiving something from us before their own work can be completed.

We’re engaged in a constant struggle between the work that should get done and the work that must get done. We keep to-do lists that only seem to get longer and work extra hours in an attempt to keep our heads above water. We promise ourselves that “tomorrow” we’ll get organized and figure out how to get everything done without losing our sanity. In the meantime, we turn away from more desirable and more meaningful projects because we “don’t have time.”

The thing is, we do have time. That is, we all have the same amount of time. No one has more than 24 hours in a day, so how is it that some people seem to get so much more accomplished? How can a coworker, someone who logs the same number of hours in the office, manage to get so much more done?

That’s the question time management gurus have been trying to answer for years. There’s no end to the number of calendars and apps and methodologies that profess to tell you how best to manage your time. In the end though, cracking the time management code is pretty easy. It comes down to two basic decisions: what to work on, and how best to get it done.

How you prioritize your workload is a function of urgency and impact. The more urgent a task, as a result of a deadline or demand from a superior, the sooner it must be attended to. The greater the impact, on performance, reputation, or the bottom line, the sooner it should be attended to.

How the work is performed then becomes the issue. Do you delegate the task? Do you outsource it? Or do you tackle it yourself? Leaders understand that it’s impossible to be effective and handle everything on their own. They seek a balance; handing off what can effectively be done by others while keeping only what they must carry.

Prioritization and delegation: two of the most important tools in a leader’s toolkit. Eliminating the clock is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Maybe it’s time we learned to master it.