Time is illusive, for it is hard to define, capture, or imagine. Just like the weather, we talk about it but cannot comprehend it or affect its passage. We complain about how quickly time passes, how modern life puts us into a permanent state of urgency, and how we cannot find time for such (usually indefinitely) postponed activities as reading a particular book, spending quality time with our family members, building new social or business relationships, or starting an exercise program. Yet nobody seems to be able to stop or even slow down time. Will better self-management lead to better time-management? Is managing time even important? What exactly is time? The General Conference of Weights and Measures defines one second of time as the interval needed for 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the Cesium atom.1 A minute is 60 times that, and an hour is 60 times the latter. Thus we know what time is … or do we? Such definitions give no insight into time’s true nature. And there are further, more complex questions: Why do we seem to be unable to go back in time? What does it mean for one event to happen after another event? What do present and future mean?
Time-Management Is Really Self-Management
Even though we do not have a precise definition for time, we still try to manage it. Bookstores and libraries are full of books on time-management, and time-management seminars enjoy wide popularity within the business community. After becoming familiar with the field, one fact stands out: The subject being discussed is actually self-management with respect to time. To be more precise, we can manage ourselves only with respect to what we are doing as the rest of the universe continues to move.2
A successful self-management regimen requires a series of practical techniques, principles, approaches, methods, steps, tools, and strategies arranged in a way designed to construct a realistic framework. Erecting such a structure allows us to understand exactly what our goals are, how they will be reached, and how to begin internalizing the entire system. To make this a long-term program, we need to bring this new outlook from our forebrains to our hindbrains, thereby transforming them from abstract concepts into actual reflexs and habits.
A holistic approach to self-management with respect to time can help us accomplish this goal, for it is built around each person’s self. Incorporating the self’s physical, psychological, and sociological aspects allows a complete and coherent framework to emerge. And, moreover, it reflects the integrity of our existence because it is based on all of the various aspects of our existence.
The holistic approach to self-management is distinguished by its emphasis on self-knowledge. After all, both logic and common sense dictate that only that which is understood can be managed and led. If a business manager knew nothing about human psychology, behavior, or sociology, would it be logical to assume that he or she could manage a department successfully? Of course not. Using the same analogy, how can a person manage and lead his or her self without understanding its underlying dynamics and structure?
Both Western and Eastern schools of thought have developed definitions for “I,” the term we commonly use to distinguish ourselves from all others. They have many points in common.
For example, both state that each person has:
A physical aspect to his or her existence (the body), as well as features in common with animals and others that are unique to him or her.
Various non-physiological aspects, such as a soul, mind, consciousness, conscience, ego, willpower, sixth sense, and so on. These indicate the existence of a non-material existence tightly connected to our physical existence. Sufism teaches us about constituents of our spiritual existence: the carnal self, the ego, the soul, the heart, the divine receiver, the evil receiver, and the mind, among others.3
Other people in his or her life with whom he or she has some kind of relationship.
The holistic approach to self-management requires that we understand the physiological, psychological and spiritual, and sociological aspects of our existence.
The Physiology Front. The logical place to start is learning how our body functions. One important aspect of this is familiarizing ourselves with its many rhythms, which can last anywhere from an hour to several weeks, as well as its timed release of the hormones secreted in our bodies.4 A realistic scheduling of our daily activities depends upon knowing which periods are conducive to what activities. For instance, it makes sense to schedule mentally taxing and difficult problems during the early morning, as that is a period of active energy hormones and mental clarity. On the other hand, afternoons are ideal for socializing and building relationships and long-term memory.
We experience mental lows during the day. Usually, we attribute these to the food we have consumed, a lack of sufficient sleep, or other external factors. While such assumptions might be correct, there is a more fundamental cause: our body’s circadian rhythm. This biorhythm, lasting for approximately 90 minutes, is the body’s way of asking for a short break. The most common manifestations of this are yawning, daydreaming, or loosing concentration. Listening to and honoring these signals allows our body to re-energize and achieve a peak during the next hour. Eliminating these signals with caffeine or other stimulants may bring a temporary rise in mental alertness, but also makes it impossible for us to obtain a natural mental peak. This need for a break does not go away; it either returns more strongly in the next period or causes us to experience stress during the rest of the day.
The type and amount of food we consume also affects our self-management. Just consider how much time we spend preparing, consuming, and digesting food, not to mention the time we spend in the restroom and what we do after the meal is finished. Furthermore, certain foods may energize or slow down our mental functions,5 and can even affect our sleep patterns. Another important element of our physiological life is regular exercise, for this helps us maintain good health. Certain exercises help reduce stress and increase energy levels throughout the day.
Establishing a suitable program of self-management with respect to time requires that we understand our body and treat it accordingly.
The Psychological Front. A correct understanding of those metaphysical inner faculties that affect our behavior helps us control that behavior. The self consists of such inner faculties as the carnal self, the intellect, and the heart. Each of these have different roles and tendencies in affecting our behavior. For example, the carnal self has the vital role of preserving our physical existence. If it is not disciplined, it can lead us to gluttony and other harmful habits that ultimately destroy our self-control and self-esteem. The key to controlling it is to exercise our willpower when experiencing moments of weakness or temptation.
Turning desirable behaviors into habits also allows us to take advantage of the resulting benefits. For instance, if we make it a habit to wake up early and do lightweight exercises or meditate, we reap the benefits of early morning energy hormones. Even if we cannot achieve all of our targets for that day, at least we will have the satisfaction of accomplishing one of our daily goals: spending time on self-improvement and spiritual advancement.
Another essential human trait is our need for simplicity. The best way to achieve this is to use only one planner and concentrate on one task at a time, thereby eliminating lost notes, misplaced contact information, and missed meetings. Concentrating on one task at a time and minimizing interruptions allows the brain to use less time when beginning to concentrate on a difficult task (start-up time). An interruption of only a couple of minutes can have a negative impact upon this start-up time. Most experts agree that the best way to overcome this is to establish, and then inform your co-workers and friends of, a personal “interrupt-free period.” Other methods are changing your location, turning off your telephone and cell phone, and posting “do not disturb” signs.
Such time robbers as procrastination can be overcome by determining their root causes. For example, procrastination is often caused by a fear of failure. But this is a self-defeating behavior, for procrastination does not make the task go away; it only makes it harder to deal with and causes us to miss an opportunity. One easy way to beat it is to break the task into smaller segments and begin working on it segment by segment. Such an approach takes away our fear of failure, because we can see how success in one segment leads to success in the next. Other root causes of procrastination, such as a fear of success, negative associations, perfectionism, and disorganization, can be overcome in the same way.
As we are by nature visual beings, most of our mental capability is devoted to visual processing. About 80 percent of all input to our brains arrives through our eyes. Our visual memory is also far superior to our auditory and tactile memories. Thus, as time is invisible, we find it hard to imagine and fit it into our overall plan. One way to deal with this difficulty is to make time visible through a time map (also known as a time budget or a time policy). For example, using a calendar as our sole scheduling tool allows us to map every piece of time we have for the next several months. Writing down our activities, tasks, appointments, and other commitments makes time visible. Drawing borders, as well as putting signs, cushion periods, and other visible indicators, allows us to budget our time effectively. It becomes just like a blueprint to our house.
The Sociological Front. Finally, we have to acquire an understanding of how other people think and behave, how they respond to our actions, and why they need to communicate with us, for such things have to be factored into our time-management policy. Since our relationships with others can affect our emotional state, and hence our ability to manage ourselves with respect to time, we need to learn how others may help or hinder our efforts to reach our goals. We need to learn how to support our willpower by cooperating with others, to delegate effectively so that other people can help us achieve our goals as well as their own, to set up and run meetings, and to communicate effectively in order to minimize potential misunderstandings.
Some tools designed to help us manage our time are now on the market: MSProject, day planners, cell phones, and a whole host of computer-related gadgets and software packages. Choosing and then using them wisely and efficiently can make or break our time-management program.6
In summary, time-management is really self-management and deciding what to do and when to do it. Success requires self-discipline and self-management. Therefore time-management is actually self-management with respect to a schedule. Effective self-management is predicated upon a correct understanding of the self’s physiological, psychological and spiritual, and sociological aspects. The better we know ourselves, the easier it is to manage and control ourselves. The absence of such control invites failure.
The comprehensive approach envisaged by a holistic self-management program makes successful and effective self-management possible by showing us how to manage the different aspects of our existence effectively and efficiently
1 “International System of Units (SI).” Online at: www3.sk.sympatico.ca/gregtami/si-base.html; also see www.bipm.fr/enus/2_Committees/cgpm.html. 2 Harold L. Taylor, Making Time Work for You (Ontario, Canada: Harold Taylor Time Consultants Inc., 1998). 3 M. Fethullah Gulen, General Concepts in the Practice of Sufism (Fairfax, VA: The Fountain, 1999). 4 Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lamberg, Body Clock Guide to Better Health (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001). 5 Michael D. Chafetz, Smart for Life (New York: Penguin Books, 1992). 6 Jan Jasper, Take Back Your Time (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999).