“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend,” said ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, a sentiment that still rings true today, more than two millennia since. Time marches inexorably forward, and once passed, you can’t get it back. Today it feels like the demands on our time are never ending. From email to notifications, work deadlines to family commitments, many of us feel busy and overwhelmed.
But some people have figured out how to command their time and spend it wisely. They are the Time Lords, and they use time to their advantage and reach their fullest potential as a result. What they believe is laid out in the “Time Lords Manifesto.” They are mindful of their time and how it’s used, they aggressively protect it, and account for every moment. They build powerful routines, automate the mundane, and calm the flow of events around them.
For those of us who struggle to manage our time, the feats of the Time Lords may seem like wizardry. But rather than magic, the Time Lords achieve mastery through effort and consideration. Becoming a Time Lord takes commitment and continual improvement, but if you’re willing to invest the effort you can do it. Here’s how you can set yourself down the Time Lord path.
You can never truly know where you’re going until you know where you come from. Start your Time Lord journey by measuring how you spend your current time for at least a week. You can do that by using a simple pen and paper notebook to record what you do each day and for how long, or you can use specialized software to track your time. Use a time tracking app like Toggl to record every activity, or to get a more accurate accounting of your computer time, try an automated tracking program like RescueTime or DeskTime.
The big benefit of the automated programs is that they’ll help you in the next step (analyzation) by automatically grouping certain types of time usage and creating nice, easy-to-read charts of your data. They may not be able to as accurately reflect your time spent away from the computer, though.
And whatever system you use remember to do two things: be honest and be precise about tasks. For example, rather than just say “working my inbox” you might say “replying to colleagues (12 minutes), reaching out to candidates (6 minutes), scheduling meetings (9 minutes). That kind of granularity will help you in the next phase.
Analyze the data
Once you have data on how your spend your days, you need to understand where your time is going. Many people are shocked to see how little of their time is actually spent on productive work, and how much is spent on repeated, menial tasks (like managing their calendar) or on diversions (like social media). Look closely at your data to find patterns and identify the places where you’re leaking time.
Look for the tasks that are scattered and can be grouped. Are you constantly dipping into your email every few minutes throughout the day? Maybe you could combine those checks to a handful of specific, scheduled email blocks a few times each day and reclaim all those minutes in between. Look also for the tasks that can be streamlined or made routine. How much time do you spend each morning picking out clothes or making breakfast? Ask yourself: could these things be routinized so you can avoid the time suck of choice overload? Perhaps you could wear a “work uniform” or create a daily meal schedule.
You’ll find there are a surprising number of opportunities for optimization in your day. Rank all areas where you’re leaking time. Identify how much time you’re losing and how much mental energy you’re expending on each issue.
Find a fix
Now that you know where your time is leaking, choose a leak to address. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the most egregious—in fact, it is often best to start with something you think you can change easily because you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Don’t try making huge, disruptive changes to your routine on day one. Instead, pick a change small enough that it won’t be an impossible burden to stick to, but large enough that you’ll actually feel a sense of accomplishment when you do it. Remember, becoming a Time Lord is a continual process, and small wins can snowball.
Start by developing a hypothesis about how to fix your lead and how much time you’ll save. Think about how you can spend the reclaimed time, and use the same measurement techniques you used to find your time leaks to assess the success of your fix.
Did your results match your hypothesis? Were you able to follow through and stay with it?
Optimize and habitualize
Successful Time Lords are driven by habits and building new habits takes commitment. Almost everything you do to become a Time Lord, from measuring your time to optimizing your processes to creating headspace, should be codified into habits that become second nature with practice.
Turn your fix into a habit by improving and repeating. Keep tweaking your fix until you’ve extracted as much time from it as possible, and keep doing it until it becomes an ingrained habit, something you do without thinking. Building new habits and routines, disrupting old, ingrained approaches, and taking control of your time requires discipline, consistency, and perseverance. Keep with it, even if you falter.
(Want a more detailed primer on how to build new habits that stick? This post from James Clear is a great place to start.)
Becoming a Time Lord is an exercise in incremental change. It requires that you evaluate your relationship with time and find ways to improve upon it. One way to do that is by generally applying the Japanese philosophy of “kaizen,” or continual improvement, to your life.
As a business philosophy, kaizen is a technique that helps eliminate waste and incrementally improves processes through planning, action, analysis, and adjustment. Similarly, Time Lords are always finding ways they can change their approach to time for the better.
Now that you know how the process works, and you’ve successfully patched a time leak, it’s time to build on that success. Go back to your list of time leaks, and pick another to fix, form a hypothesis, implement your solution, test and tweak.
This process will allow you to continually optimize your life and, ultimately, command your time. Keep measuring your time, identifying leaks, and developing new solutions. Then measure the success of those fixes and optimize them to extract more time. You’re on your way to becoming a Time Lord!
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