Managing time well is more than filling your diary – it is about how you think about time, the language you use, how you juggle the hours you have, your energy and your priorities, says personal and business development coach Shirley Anne Fortina AFAIM.

Ms Fortina is Director and Principal of POD Consultancy and was speaking at an AIM WA sundowner called Protect Your Future Diary. “Why is it that when we look at our diaries in advance we think: we’ve got so much time,” she asked.

“But then when we look to next week, it looks diabolical and we think: how on earth did I accept all of that into my diary?”

Protecting your future diary is about protecting yourself from an unrealistic or unfruitful schedule.

Quoting an unknown author, Ms Fortina said every day presents everyone with a time credit of 86,400 seconds. Whatever is left at the end of the day is deleted.

“If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours,” she said.

“Each of us has the opportunity to open up this bank account every single day, and we need to make the most of it because time, as they say, waits for no one.”

Ms Fortina said the relationship between language and time was often distorted, and that the words ‘important’, ‘urgent’ and ‘ASAP’ meant different things to different people.

“We need to think about what our relationship is with that language and ask ourselves, is it clear to everyone we’re working with so we’re all on the same page?” she said.

When you consider the Eisenhower matrix (urgent vs important) one of the ways to manage your diary is to delegate effectively. “Don’t say to the person you delegate to, ‘I need this back ASAP’. Say instead ‘I need this back in two days’ time’,” she said.

“Make sure you double the time that you think it will take you to do something - this creates a buffer should unforeseen circumstances occur for you to then build your way around it.

“This way you don’t over promise and underdeliver.”

Ms Fortina explored the value of time through ‘time audits’, which she said could be used to find out how long was spent on activities at home – such as food preparation and grooming, travelling to and from work and sleeping – and at work. The sums are then deducted from the 24-hour total.

“How much time do you spend when you first get into the office getting sucked into what I call the sand?” Ms Fortina asked.

To illustrate her point, Ms Fortina presented an analogy involving a professor and a philosophy class – rocks were put into a glass jar and the professor asked the class if the jar was full. Pebbles and sand went in next, with the students insisting at each stage the jar was full.

“No matter how full your life may seem, no matter what’s going on in your life, you need to take care of the rocks first – important things – your health, your happiness, your loved ones,” she said.

Not sweating the small stuff and keeping an eye on the most important aspects of life were integral for efficient functioning within the workplace.

“Think about when you get into work every day in the context of the rocks, the pebbles and the sand. If you get into work and you jump into the sand are you going to have the capacity to then get to the important stuff?”

The image of juggling glass balls and rubber balls was used to convey the importance of priorities – the glass balls represent the rocks – the important things you want to keep in the air, and the rubber balls bounce back should they fall.

“A lot of us try to keep the rubber balls in the air at the same time as the glass balls because we haven’t taken time to think about our priorities,” Ms Fortina said.

“A lot of people will say things like I don’t have time. 

“How about we replace that with ‘it’s not a priority right now’?"

When it came to taking time for ourselves, Ms Fortina advised being generous with the amount of time a task was expected to take. 

“Why don’t we lock in expectations that give us the right amount of time to work on it?” she asked. “Then if we finish beforehand, we’ve got a credit back in.”

The importance of strategically managing one’s energy levels was also discussed, with particular reference made to the four energies originally devised by worldrenowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization Founder Verne Harnish in his article Resilient Executive: A Better Way to Work.  

The first layer of energy is how much sleep you are getting, the second is physical activity, the third is what you are fuelling your body with and the fourth is time spent relaxing.

Compromising on these energies could be detrimental, Ms Fortina said, adding that assessing energy levels could be the key to working more effectively.

She advocated using the time of day where energy levels are the highest to tackle the most challenging or difficult tasks and leaving those activities that you really enjoy for when they are at their lowest.

“It’s about thinking about your own rhythm and cadence and looking at how you manage your day,” she said.

Greta Andrews-Taylor is a Journalist at The West Australia and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.