How To Fight Your Way Through a Jungle of Priorities
Time is something we only have a finite amount of. As much as time is a human construct and as elastic as it is (according to the physicists), it limits how much we can do in a day. And as much as we’d like to, we can’t make time, can we?
A Little Story About My Personal Grievance with Time Management
I worked in the retail (grocery) industry for 26 years. Over that illustrious career, I worked with and for some of the best people I’ve ever met—manager’s that would bend over backward to help you out, make you laugh, or just feel respected.
I’ve also worked for some toolbags that shouldn’t have ever been elevated to a managerial position. Period. Selfish, arrogant, dweebs who come in to work with a coffee in their hand, telling “locker room” jokes, sit in an office all day, and do anything they can to get out of actually doing work. (I wish I had known these tricks for spotting and dealing with difficult people back then!)
One such disaster—a man who shall remain nameless here—said the one thing to me that has pissed me off more than any other remark a boss ever laid upon me in those 26 years.
A Little Context . . .
At the time, I was running a dairy department single-handedly. My daily routine went something like this:
- Wake up at 3:30 to be at work by 4 AM
- Pull all the outdated stuff from the entire department
- Order tomorrow’s load
- Put up 300-450 cases of dairy product
- Fill 7 milk racks floor-to-ceiling
- Fill three doors of eggs
- Order the next day’s milk deliveries (from three vendors by phone!)
- Take care of all the damaged items
- Clean up the cooler and get it organized for the next load coming in that night
If I had any time leftover, I’d pretty up the department, straightening shelves and such.
The company had set metrics that applied to all associates to see how effectively they were working with expectancies about how many cases you should be able to stock in an hour, how long it should take you to do an order, etc. I was hitting 130%-150% effective every day without fail—doing the work of one-and-a-half employees and providing 12 hours of billable labor in an 8-hour shift.
One thing I was constantly failing to do, however, was check the dates on the drinkable yogurt the company thought it was a good idea to merchandise in with the sodas at the register coolers. When the boss called me into the office to talk about it, I explained exactly how much work I was doing (with the company metrics provided).
Instead of thanking me for the effort, looking for ways to leverage more help in my department, or even offering a solution to our outdated yogurt drinks, he simply told me that I had to “make time.”
He wanted me to do even more work in the same eight-hour shift! I was pissed beyond belief.
How the hell do you “make time?”
I held that conversation in my mind for the next 15 years—bringing it up in gripe sessions with my fellow employees—and it still irked me up until a few months ago. What changed? I read something that forced me to shift my entire perspective on how I viewed time.
Time Is a Human Construct—It Doesn’t Really Exist!
I picked up a copy of Jen Sincero’s You’re a Badass at Making Money a while back. It was in that book that she reiterated something I’d heard time and time again but had never really understood until those bold words were before me on a page.
Time is a human concept. We created it so we could segment our days and wrap our monkey brains around our perceived realities.
Sincero went so far as to mention a tribe of First Peoples here in The United States have no concept of time. For them, all of time—the past, the present, the future—are all happening at once!
Before we get too far out into the weeds and start talking about how Marty McFly zipped back to 1955 to save his own parent’s marriage by rocking Johnny B. Goode on a high school stage three years before Chuck Barry recorded it—let’s get practical.
In an interview with Zibby Owens, Jen Sincero cleared up her perception of time as it applies to our daily lives nicely. She said bluntly that if something is important to us, we have to “make time” for it.
“Time really is, as Einstein — was he the one who said that it’s a concept? It really is a concept. You can’t wait for time. You have to make time. Make it happen for yourself because it is there if it’s important. It really is”Jen Sincero
This skewed my whole bent on this decade-plus long grudge I’d held against an old manager. I still think he’s a jerk, didn’t handle any situation well, and should have done a lot differently, but maybe I was wrong too. Because if something is important to me, I do “make time” for it.
I carve out hours a day to play video games. I lop minutes off my life droning in front of Twitter or Tik Tok. I mindlessly watch TV to unwind after a stressful day. I make time for all these activities even when they fail to add value to my life or get me any closer to my professional goals.
Realigning Your Priorities—Take Time to Make Time
Suddenly, it dawned on me—I was repeatedly failing to make the things I held as important actually important.
I was prioritizing leisure activities over productivity. I was swapping mindless entertainment for self-enriching learning. I was letting honest-to-goodness money-making time slip through my fingers while I chuckled at dogs riding skateboards and people getting hit in the genitals by various objects.
So how do you “make time?” You take back your life from all the little routines you’ve slipped into that don’t add value. Identify them. Eliminate them. Be ruthless.
And just like that, you’ll find yourself making time.
That doesn’t mean that occasionally droning in front of social media or playing video games or watching TV should be completely excised from your life—relaxation and mentally checking out have a quantifiable value too! However, the majority of that time should be given to the activities or goals that you repeatedly tell yourself are important in your life.
Making more money, improving your interpersonal relationship, realigning your career path for a more rewarding experience, investing in a hobby you’ve always secretly thought frivolous, even finding the time to figure out what really is important to you—all of these are made possible through making time for them.
Your assignment is to look critically at your life.
- Write down the things you’ve always considered important but never seem to have enough time for.
- Track your time daily. Use a phone app or a notebook and jot down how much time you spend doing anything.
- At the end of the day or the week take stock. Identify those time-wasting activities that consume your day.
- Actively eliminate or reduce those unnecessary time-wasters.
- Reprioritize those things you identified as actually important and start spending that newly-minted time wisely!