Time management is a misnomer. We feel the pressure of time and deadlines not because our time has been poorly managed, but because our inner activities have.
Resource Analysis & Scheduling: The Backward-Plan
The development of a plan is answering the question What are the necessary steps to achieve the goal? As mentioned above, the actions required to achieve the set goal constitute our obligations1. The process of determining obligations, resources, and the schedule of work is backward-planning. Clearly set the end goal, i.e. the final state to be achieved, as well as its completion date. Knowing the end-state, we then clearly visualize the state immediately prior, and link the two states via action. The process continues until the present moment is reached.
Practical tip: For each change in state, highlight and collate categories of resource & expertise required (E.g. Financial, legal, marketing, transport, etc.)
In developing a plan, we must distinguish between goals, strategies, and tactics. The goal has been defined as the end result of the action. A strategy describes the general general course of one’s actions. It states a causal relationships between the start and end points. Tactics are the specific actions employed to advance the strategy and realize the goal. Consider an example.
My goal is to gain an appointment to a more valuable career position. For this, I adopt two broad strategies: endear myself to those making the decision, making myself likeable to them; and make my competitors unattractive to them. For the first strategy I adopt four basic tactics: offer material gifts, give compliments, laugh at their jokes, agree with their opinions. For the second strategy, I adopt three basic tactics: highlight competitors’ negative qualities; undermine their positive qualities; offer competitors bad advice so that they make social faux pas.
Each of the tactics can also be considered a strategy, for which a set of tactics can be further developed. Thus the overall plan of action can become as granular as required.
Executing the Plan
In executing the backward-plan created, three important aspects need to be taken into consideration: cooperation; qualities of time; quality control.
Cooperation is often thought of as two or more people acting towards common interests. While this is true, it is more instructive to look at cooperation not as a certain quality or type of action, but rather the internal attitude that promotes it.
Cooperation is the intellect’s correct understanding that nothing in life is achieved solely by oneself. The spirit of cooperation is destroyed by egocentric feelings of doership or ownership over work and results. Even an ostensibly solitary endeavor such as writing a best-seller could never have taken place were it not for an inconceivable multitude of actions: the conception and production of the word processor, dictionary, and other writing resources; the countless published works giving context and purpose to one’s own work; the editing and review processes, the legal and financial technicalities of deals and publishing, the marketing and selling of the book. And so on.
When we recognize our dependence upon others and the countless actions of which we are the beneficiary, our egocentric notions of doership naturally dissolve. And the spirit of cooperation remains. By recognizing our dependence upon others’ actions, we become naturally inclined to offer our own in the service of others, helping them realize their goals. Thus the spirit of cooperation is a natural effect of knowledge.
The spirit of cooperation naturally tends to engender reciprocity. Consider an example. In your workplace are two colleagues. One works solely for her own projects, does no more than is required to get her monthly paycheck, never volunteers to help others, and never goes beyond contractual necessity. Another is gregarious and concerned with others’ work outcomes, shares her resources to help others meet deadlines, does more than she is contractually bound to. Now, when they need support in completing a task, how would you react to each one’s request for help? The natural response to the former is refusal, while the latter will have more offers of help than she needs. Cooperation is reciprocal. Develop it within, it returns.
However, it is important to recognize that if we try to develop cooperation in order to get it from others, then we have not developed it within. Inherent in the spirit of cooperation is the natural feeling of wanting to share, give. If we merely act cooperatively in order to get others’ help, we lack a fundamental quality that defines cooperation: selflessness. More than that, any insincerity on our part is easily detected by others, which is off-putting and counterproductive.
Practical tip: Develop a daily gratitude practice. This reminds us of the benefits we enjoy, and supports the understanding of our interdependence.
Qualities of Time
Not all time is of equal quality. That is to say, there are daily rhythms to our psychological and physical energies and qualities. Indian philosophical literature describes three qualities of mind, three different thought-textures that constitute human nature. They are tamas, rajas, sattva.
The lowest state of mind is tamas. Tamas is inertia. It is characterized by laziness, procrastination, resistance to activity. It engenders an intellectual, emotional, and physical unresponsiveness to the world around. Pure tamas is deep-sleep.
Fanaticism of all stripes is a tamasic state. One’s ideological beliefs are blindly and unthinkingly held, rendering them impervious to outside influence. Just as an object’s inertia is the tendency to continue on in the same direction, inert thinking continues on in the same direction, resisting change, even in the face of logic and evidence.
Higher than tamas is rajas. Rajas is the state of desire-ridden action, of frenzied activity. The rajasic person is very active, and craving for future results. Because the mind’s desires initiate and propel action, it is characterized by hyperactivity coupled with worry & anxiety, mental agitation, psychological and physical fatigue. Burnout is an effect of a rajasic mode of functioning. It is not activity that creates burnout, but the unhealthy mental attitude therein. Further, the presence of such agitations contribute to a state of confusion and doubt.
The highest thought-texture is sattva. Sattva is a trans-active state. It is the state of psychological maturity and balance. Thinking is more contemplative, reflective. Emotions are more selfless. The individual engages in dynamic action to fulfill his obligations, but the activity is coupled with intellectual clarity and mental poise.
The three states of mind naturally predominate at various times of the day. Tamas between 6pm-4am. Sattva between 4am-6am. Rajas between 6am-6pm. By understanding this natural cycle, we can take advantage of the qualities of our nature to perform various types of obligations at the most appropriate time.
In the early morning, the mind is naturally more calm, the intellect more alert. It is therefore the most conducive time for intellect-based activities such as reflection, thinking, planning, strategizing.
During the daylight hours, the entire world flourishes into activity. It is the time for putting into effect the plans that we have developed. We engage in our busiest and most collaborative activities.
As the workday comes to an end, so do our physical and psychological energies naturally wane. The hours after 6pm are those best dedicated to preparing the body and mind for sleep. If we continue to act feverishly into the evening, the mind’s momentum keeps us from slipping easily into a natural, healthy sleep. Unless we collapse due to sheer exhaustion, we may find that fatigue and restlessness co-exist, promoting a seemingly endless cycle of tiredness, stimulants, and soporifics.
By harmonizing our activities with the functioning of our own nature, the body-mind-intellect is put to best use and our time is most efficiently employed.
Practical tip: Fit regular tasks into set schedule. When we develop a regular routine, the mind-intellect is prepared in advance for what it needs to do, making work-flow more efficient.
Quality control consists of occasionally revisiting the goals, strategies, and tactics that we have decided upon, and checking our overall progress. This allows us to identify missed opportunities, inefficiencies and distractions, new courses of action, etc. We should not allow complacency (a tamasic quality) to blind us to the need to occasionally make subtle changes to all aspects of the plan, as and when circumstances dictate.
However, QC checking is not simply a matter of reviewing and amending plans, schedules, and outcomes. More importantly it provides the opportunity to re-evaluate the basis on which the entire activity is being performed. We question the goals and activities we are engaging with, and confirm that it still an endeavor that is worthy of our time and efforts.
Practical tip: Develop the life-habit of asking:
“What am I doing? Why am I doing it?”
Time management is therefore a great deal more than simply getting things done on time. It is a self-reflective evaluation of our life’s values and pursuits, ensuring that outward goals are in harmony with our inner temperament. It is also the implementation of a healthy and productive internal discipline, a practice in retaining composure and direction in the face of internal distractions and external challenges. Work properly executed thus develops character, and becomes a source of personal growth.
1^ Obligations also arise from the relationships we have entered into. E.g, as road users we are in relationship with other road users, and thus have obligations to maintain: safe driving, a well-maintained vehicle, etc. Spouses have obligations at the various levels of the relationship: financial, physical, emotional, etc. Obligations are therefore not externally-imposed codes of conduct. They are those actions that fulfill our roles and achieve our goals.