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Last year I was a guest speaker at a conference where I spoke about time management. In the Q&A session towards the end as I answered various questions, I had a spark of realisation, or, as Oprah would call it, “an aha moment”.

I am passionate about time management and giving people tips and tricks to better manage the way they utilise their time. As a personal concierge, we are all about providing our clients with a service that helps them to maximise the 24 hours in each day and we enjoy being a crucial part of their time management process. However, during this Q&A session, it became quite apparent that a lot of the attendees who had been writing down all my tips and tricks didn’t so much have a time management problem as an ‘expectation’ problem.

I’d like you to stop and think about this for a moment – do you have an expectation problem?

Take the example of a bubbly, brown haired, blue-eyed Executive Assistant (aka the office fairy and her magic wand). This Executive Assistant prides herself on her efficiency and getting things done before others have even thought about them. She loves knowing that she can always be relied to have everything organised well in advance and all her jobs completed in a timely manner. When it comes to the Board Minutes, this amazing Executive Assistant ensures that the  minutes are emailed, with no typing errors and all facts correct, within 24 hours of the board meeting, but usually (of course) well before this. The sense of achievement she has when she pushes that send button (waves her magic wand) would be quite invigorating, except that she can’t dilly-dally as she has 50 other things on her list that must be addressed immediately. However, as she continues to work her way through her list, she occasionally smiles to herself, imagining the amazement of the board members when they see the minutes arrive in their inbox (as if by magic) and picturing how pleased they are that they can get on to reading them and addressing their action items so promptly.

Or are they?

Perhaps the board members are actually avidly waiting for the imminent arrival of the board minutes. Perhaps they are planning to action their items immediately, but would have been unable to do so without such a prompt delivery of the minutes. But perhaps they aren’t. Has the bubbly, brown haired, blue-eyed Executive Assistant ever asked the board members when they like to receive the minutes? Is the Executive Assistant arriving at work at 7:30am the morning after the board meeting to attend to the minutes and ensure they are sent out by lunch time unnecessarily? Is it perhaps more than likely that the board members don’t even really notice the arrival of the minutes in their inbox, as they are addressing other more pressing issues? Has the Executive Assistant set up expectations for herself that put her under pressure for no other reason that her own sense of self?

Time management is all about getting done all the things you have on your to do list within a certain period of time. However, after my ‘aha moment’ I have realised that a lot of the items on our list don’t need to be there and, perhaps more importantly, the time frames we have around them don’t need to be quite so tight.

What expectations have you set up for yourself which means you a constantly struggling to manage your time?

  • Do the board minutes really need to be delivered within 24 hours, or would 48 hours do?
  • Do you really need to send a hard copy, individually addressed invitation to an upcoming event, or would a professionally designed group email PDF suffice?
  • Do your children have to have a fully spread breakfast table laid out for them each morning or are they of an age where they can take responsibility for their own breakfast?
  • Is it vital that you are on three school and two sporting committees, or could you reduce it down to just one or two?
  • Could another sibling or family member take responsibility for deciding on the location for Christmas and who will cook what?
  • Do you have to attend the launch of your friend’s, sister’s, friend’s exhibition or is this perhaps one social engagement your could reasonably say no to?

I know that I often find myself in the ‘should’ trap or the ‘have to’ trap, having set up expectations for myself as a business owner, a wife, a daughter, a friend. Often times the expectations I have set up for myself really have no bearing on the expectations of me from others. Sometimes I find I need to pull myself up (or someone else will) and realise that instead of trying to time manage a way to fit everything in, that I could either eliminate these things from my list, or consider if the time frames have been set by myself or others and if they are realistic or even necessary.

Changing the expectations you have set up may happen easily, or they may be something you have to slowly alter or disengage from. However, it is important to regularly analyse all those items on your to do list to find out what expectations you have hidden amongst them that are causing you unnecessary time management issues.

Do you have a time management problem or an expectation problem?