How to become the Master of your time

My father in law is trying to turn on the lamp above the stove. When he finally sees the switch, he sees it's broken. We haven't turned on the lamp for weeks.
He turns to my husband and exclaims:
Maar, dat kun je zo doen - het is en klusje van niks!
You can fix that easily - it is a mini task!
My husband and I look at each other.  We are sitting at the kitchen table with our three kids running around the house, playing. We both work full time and live in a house that is more than 100 years old. A house that needs some tender love and care. My husband turns to his father as he wearily says:
Dat weet ik. Het problem is dat er zijn honderden klusjes van niks. 
I know, the problem is that there are hundreds of mini tasks. 

I am sure you have them too. The small tasks that need to be done. Fix that broken lamp, sew that button that fell off, glue the toy your kid just broke, exchange the battery in the watch, put that framed photo on the wall...

Hundreds of mini tasks that take no time at all to do. Or at least, that's what we think. Until we start fixing the lamp and notice that we need tools to take off the lamp shade. And since we have not used these tools for some time we need to go and find them. And then we notice that we do not have a spare bulb of that type at home. And when we go shopping we forget to buy one. And then we forget it again. The third time we remember to buy a bulb and it turns out to be the wrong kind.
Suddenly the mini task is no longer mini.

Our first way of managing the hundred mini tasks, was by creating a "klusjes van niks list". In the beginning this helped us. Instead of remembering all these small things we wanted to fix, we had them on the list. Whenever we fixed one or two of them we would tick them off and be happy about it.

But after a while we saw that even if we ticked things off, new entries came into the list all the time. It was growing rather than shrinking.

So we decided to make another change. We introduced "klusjes van niks dagen". Days when we fix all these small little things. During these fixing days, we take care of all small things at once. Putting up 3 framed photos on the wall in one go, goes a lot faster than doing them one by one. The same goes for repairing clothes or lamps and most other things. And now that we have a system in place, we never feel the pressure of having a lot of things "we should fix". We know that we will fix whatever needs fixing, within a month.

So - did I just give you the secret to mastering your time? Doing things in batches and plan time do do them?

Sorry, it takes more than that to be a Master of your time.

Some things are great to do in batches.
Some are not.

Some things are great to do daily, others are better to do weekly.
Some things are well suited to be done monthly, others quarterly.

And a whole lot of things should simply be done NOW.

So how do you know which is the best way for what task?

By trying it out.

Experimenting, failing, learning and doing it again. Until you find your way. 

That's how you become a Master of your time.


It's almost never now or never

Elvis was my first idol. He was from my parents' generation rather than my own, but the music got a hold of me from the start. And his looks!

You have most likely heard him sing: 

It's now or never,
Come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
Be mine tonight

Romantic, isn't it?

Now or never can also be dramatic. Just listen to sports commentators.
 It's now or never, if she doesn't score now the team will be out of the tournament!
If he misses this penalty he will regret it for the rest of his life, it is now or never! 

And of course.


In marketing the pressure to act immediately is used all the time:
This is your last chance, the offer ends today!
It works. We react. We get stressed and take actions and decisions without spending much time thinking about alternatives or consequences.

Hans Rosling describes this well in his book Factfulness. 

"I Nacala 1981 ägnade jag flera dagar åt att noggrant undersöka sjukdomen, men mindre än en minut att fundera över konsekvenserna av att spärra av vägen. [...] I brådskan att "göra någonting" gjorde jag något förfärligt."

My translation:

"In Nacala 1981 I spent several days carefully examining the disease, but less than a minute to think about the consequences of closing the road. [...] In the rush to "do something" I did something terrible."

Do you do things, because you are in a hurry and believe "doing anything" is better than thinking a while before taking action? 
If you do, you are not alone. Do you recognize any of these scenarios?
The project is late, we should order overtime for everyone starting now!
Our costs keep going up. We must outsource X and Y to low cost countries! 
Such actions are just "paper actions". They look good on paper but more often than not they cause more damage than the problem they are meant to solve.

In the book Factfulness, Hans Rosling calls this rushed behaviour Akutinstinkten, the emergency instinct. This instinct was very important many generations back. The ones who stopped to think when the sabertoothed tiger came running, did not become our ancestors. They became tiger food. Our ancestors reacted fast and got out of the way. So yes, once upon a time our ability to react quickly, saved our lives. Nowadays the same behaviour gets us in trouble.
The problems we face today are often less urgent but more complex. They are better handled by thinking before acting. 
This does not mean we should over-analyze. Often it is enough to stop and think just a short while before we take action. Making sure we have understood what problem we are solving, before we choose the solution.

Resist the urge to act before you think.
There is enough time to think before acting. As you take time to think, you will notice that you end up with more time since your actions will be more efficient. 
Or, as Wallace D Wattles  put it in the book The science of getting rich:
Go as fast as you can, but never hurry.


Turn off the auto pilot and start living

"I'm sorry, I'm just so tired."
In Anna Gavalda's lovely book: Ensemble c'est tout (In English Hunting and Gathering, in Swedish Tillsammans är man mindre ensam), "I'm tired" is one of Frank Lestafier's most common lines. He is angry and snaps at people, using "I am tired" as an excuse for his behaviour.

Why is he so tired and angry?

He blames work. Working long days / nights as a chef is demanding, especially since Franck always buys more than he can afford (motorcycles, I can relate to that) so he works extra to pay the loans.

As readers we soon find out the reason for his tiredness sits much deeper. It has to do with his relationships - or the lack of them - with people dear to him.

Camilla Fauque also works hard. For her, the mindless work as a femme de menage (a cleaning lady) gives her an excuse not to think, not to live.

The love story is fantastic, as are the stories about friendship in the book. And as always with really good books there are things we can learn.

Franck needs to deal with his relationships before he can turn off the auto pilot and get out of the trap of work - spending money without it giving him joy - anger - work again.

Camille needs to get back to her passion - drawing - before she can turn off her auto pilot and start loving and living again.

Are you in auto pilot mode, scared to turn it off since it may change your life too drastically? Do it anyway. The alternative; turning into a robotic version of yourself, is worse.

Take care of your relationships, your passions and turn off the auto pilot. The world is waiting for you to come back into it and enjoy all it has to offer.


You decide when it's time

What do you think about, when you think about Time Management?

  • To do lists
  • Planning
  • Doing two things at the same time, like listening to a pod cast or learn another language while you go for a jog?

With these types of tools you can manage your time. But to master your time you need more. 

When you are a Master of your time, you live your life the way you want to. 

I recently read the book Gezien de feiten (a translation could be: Given the circumstances) by the Belgian author Griet Op de Beek. It is a good reminder of the importance of living our lives the way we want to.

Olivia is 71 years old when her husband, Ludo, dies. And she is relieved. The relief makes her feel guilty. She should not feel that way, she must not feel that way. 
Olivia hides her feelings as much as she can, but we all know that does not work. Feelings always seep through. Her daughter Roos wants her mother to grieve, to feel as bad as she does. So when Olivia goes to a poor country as a volunteer Roos does what she can to make her mother feel bad. She wants her to feel guilty. Roos gets even more upset when Olivia leaves anyway and meets the widower Daniel. 

When Olivia is away, she skypes with her daughter. Daniel happily waves to Roos when he sees her on the screen, carelessly kisses Olivia's neck and explains to Roos that all the children adore her mother. 
Roos is not happy, not happy at all and Olivia feels bad. 

After the call Daniel talks to Olivia (The book mixes Dutch and English, since Daniel does not speak Dutch).

"You don't look too happy."
"My daughter wasn't too happy."
"Why?" Zijn stem ging de hoogte in van verwondering.
"She doesn't like it when men kiss me who aren't me husband."
"Your husband?" Hij keek verbaasd. "Who died?"
Olivia haalder haar schouders op. 
"And she called that a kiss?"


Then Daniel says: 
"Maybe it's time to have the courage to believe that your life is yours"

Do you have the courage to to believe and act as if life is yours? 
Even if it means doing things others may consider wrong? 
Even if you decide it is time to stop grieving and start loving again, a lot sooner than others think you should? 

A little later in the book, Olivia is back in Belgium and she is skypeing with Daniel who is still in his home country. She explains how she is trying to forget Daniel, trying to let him go. He is hurt, he asks her why and she refers to her dead husband.  Daniel interrupts her: 
"Reminds us that life is short, no?"

Life is short. And long. But above all, it is yours. Yours to live. 

The book almost ends well. Except for the last paragraph. So I did what I often do: I decided what the end of the book was to me. That is one of the reasons I like writing stories. I get to decide what happens.

You get to decide what happens in your life. 

Master your time - Master your life.  Let me know if you want my support in that.