Don’t Fret the small stuff

Time Management

Have you Timed-Out?

A common message you will see if you take too long to book flights or concert tickets on the internet: “Sorry, your session has timed out, please return to the Homepage and try again” or something to that effect.

How do we feel about it when that happens? We have to do it all over again, either straight away if we are not too miffed, or later when we have stopped being mad at ourselves for missing that 30 second time slot. So how well did we manage that time allocated to buying those concert or airline tickets?

Bear in mind that we were very aware of the time constraints provided and we missed the opportunity. I ask myself WHY? And I answer that simply – Time waits for no Man.

Time Management

That brings me to the point: Time Management is a myth!

Yes, Time Management is a myth. We simply cannot manage time, in fact we have no control over the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. The best we can hope for is to manage ourselves better with the time that we have available to us. You may have heard the term “work smarter, not harder”.

This concept deals with using time better rather than just simply doing more or working harder. If we can manage ourselves better, we streamline our processing power and come up with faster or more effective ways of getting tasks done. This, when broken down into the simplicity of planning your use of time into segments of time. A segment of time depends on you – it may be 3 mins at a time, or two hours at a time.

The Mayonnaise Jar

I would like to share a story (origin unknown) with you:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, ” I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things in life. Your God, your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favourite passions: things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car.

The sand is everything else: the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Take care  of the golf balls first; the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

This story puts into perspective what should be important to us – to do the important things first, the rest will follow. Look after the important people in your life and don’t fret the small stuff – it’s just stuff after all!

Self Management

Coming back to my point about Time Management, this is relevant whether you are a home carer or a professional running your own business. Ask yourself what are your time wasters:

  • Unnecessary meetings? Excess phone calls from drama-loving friends?
  • Incompetent employees? Overly-needy family member or dependent?
  • Needy customers? Needy friends?
  • Excessive e-mails? Excessive Internet Browsing?

The suggestions could go on. But you know best what is wasting your time or taking more time than is necessary.

Can I make a suggestion?

Think of your time/generosity as a Bank Account:
A friend rings you up for advice or a friendly ear…for the tenth time this week. When was the last time they listened to your woes, and gave you the audience you needed?  Was it last week? Last month? Last Year? Never?

If the latter two – it may just be time to reconsider how you perceive “friendship”.
If they don’t have consideration for you and your thoughts, then how does that define your friendship?

Similarly with business: Does your customer require 80% of your time and rewards 20% of your turnover? Time to turnover that customer – to someone else. Customer relations is a two-way process, you provide a great service – they accept and reward it gracefully, and not pick at every little detail in the contract one month after the job has been done, and time to “pay-up”.

“To do two things at once is to do neither”. – Publius Syrus

So how do we best self-manage?

Here are my proven tips on how best to manage yourself:

  • Realise that Time Management is a myth
  • Find out where you’re wasting time
  • Create and set goals
  • Implement a plan
  • Prioritise ruthlessly
  • Learn to delegate and/or outsource
  • Learn to say “NO!”
  • Establish routines
  • Set time limits for tasks
  • Don’t waste time waiting whilst travelling
  • Ask for help – say “YES!”

8 thoughts on “Don’t Fret the small stuff

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  • August 11, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    I really like this post Elaine. The metaphor about what is important in life is a great one. Terrific stuff

    • August 13, 2009 at 3:23 am

      Thanks Beverley,
      It was written very spontaneously, so ended up being quite long-winded but I was meaning to tell the Mayo Jar story for a long time and it just came out in this way 🙂


  • August 11, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Great post! I have read this story about the mayonnaise jar and it’s good to be reminded again of what really matters in life.

    • August 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm

      Thank you Tim,
      It’s always good to be reminded about the golf balls (or rocks) of life. We can get so caught up in the details and just not see the wood for the trees. Time for all of us to stand back and get a better or different perspective.

  • August 11, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Great post Elaine, thankyou. I like the jar analogy, have seen it before too but can’t remember where from either :). The biggest challenge that most people have is the ability to understand what is important and what is not. Personal or business. Once this is sorted, life really does become much simpler as one can focus on the right things all of the time and not just some of it!

    • August 11, 2009 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you Barney, both comments came through 🙂
      To find out what is really important to us, it helps to make out a life plan, rather than just one for the week or month ahead. Then just simply check in with what we are doing right now to move us closer to achieving this plan. If what we are doing now is not moving us closer to achieving our life goals, then something needs to change to get us back on track. Either the goals need to be reviewed, or our actions questioned and possibly redirected to be in line with the right path.
      I find self-reflection and meditation or simply being at one with oneself helps to gain clarity. Alternatively, I would go see my Coach if feeling overwhelmed by the order (or disorder) of my thoughts.
      As long as we focus on the right things, like you say, and not all things, we are closer to living a less stressful life.
      Thank you,

  • August 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Nice post Elaine. I like the jar symbology – its so true. I think the biggest challenge for people will be to really sort out what’s important and what’s not. This takes time, most people are in the trap of thinking that everything is a no.1 priority! Doesn’t matter whether it’s personal or business.

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