Time as a Commodity: How You Can Reclaim Yours

What if you could get 2-3 hours back in your work day? That is the amount of time the average person wastes per day and it’s not due to laziness. Instead today’s workforce is victim to distraction, messy desks, breaks in concentration and an influx of meetings.  

Americans often fail to view time as a commodity. Dr. Randy Pausch, famous for his lectures on time management, would often remind his audiences that while you can always make money later, you can never get back time. He also challenged listeners to answer a question:

What is your time worth?

The answer is more complex than you might expect and has inspired a new way to think about the concept of time management. In her breakout session, Working Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Carson Tate took this thought one step further.

If time is a commodity, then an investment statement would look like your calendar. Pull out your calendar or planner – is it in line with your goals? Career? Family? Friends? Are you making time for what’s important or are you still convinced that there isn’t enough time in a day?

Below is a brief activity that you can complete alone or in discussion with a partner or group to help you take back your time.

ACTIVITY: What do you need to stop doing to improve your personal Return on Investment (ROI)? Jot down your thoughts.

Below are some of the ideas the women in the breakout session shared to get you started:

  • Stop thinking I can do everything
  • Refrain from checking email constantly
  • Plan and organize more effectively
  • Putting the phone down

Now that you have identified areas where you can improve, take it one step further. Think about how you can cut-down time wasting activities and make your days more efficient.

The Time Famine is the notion of having too much to do and not enough time to accomplish everything. This idea probably sounds familiar, but what can you do to replenish the time drought? To solve the equation, you must find a long term solution and focus on the fundamentals.  You can only change a plan that you have in the first place.

Where do the tasks on your to-do list fall on the Time Management Matrix?

The first thing you want to think about are your plans and goals. Why are you doing the task at hand? What would happen if you eliminated it from your to-do list? Is it truly necessary?

A helpful tool to use is The Time Management Matrix that Stephen R. Covey shares in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. TM Matrix

Naturally you are going to prioritize tasks that are both urgent and important, and push unimportant non-urgent items to the bottom of the list, but what about the remaining items? This is where most people get it wrong.

While most of you will want to move to the bottom-left quadrant (not-important urgent) after completing your first category of tasks, instead move on to the items that are important but not urgent. These are the items you need to spend more time on. Focusing on them now will allow you to prepare for your next deadline rather than waiting until they reach the first quadrant becoming a pressing matter.

Technology can be your worst enemy or your best friend – the key is using it to your advantage.

Phone calls throughout the day can become disruptive of other work and often take longer than expected. See if you can identify a routine time of the day when you can make all (or the majority) of your calls at once. Dr. Pausch found that he was able to multi-task and began scheduling calls during his daily bike rides.

Sometimes more not less technology is the answer. To increase efficiency, you may want to try adding an extra monitor to your collection. With the amount of data sheets, documents, email and other windows you may have open simultaneously one small screen probably isn’t cutting it. Monitors are relatively inexpensive and can be connected to your original computer easily for big results.

These are just a few suggestions focused on foundational tasks that everybody deals with on a daily basis. Begin thinking about time as a commodity, and you will find that refining the basics will open a lot of time in your schedule.

Think back to the activity you completed a few moments ago and as you begin working your way through the list – continue to ask yourself, “what else can I do to improve my personal time ROI?”