We are defined by where we spend our time

businesswoman drawing cloc

It is Fall.  How do I know this?  The multitudes of pumpkin flavored product advertisements, of course.  Where did the summer go?  Can I call a do-over and get back out my flip-flops?  I know I did a lot of stuff this summer.  Perhaps it was just not the right stuff.

Time is an elusive concept.  It is said that time heals all, that time flies, that time is money, that time is what we want most, and that time waits for no one.  It is the most valuable thing we have, yet the most frequently wasted.

 Where did the time go?

We all have the same amount of time.  24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and 8,760 hours in a year (leap year aside) to be exact.  But how we use our time is very different.

How often do you say or think “I just don’t have the time”?  I call BS.  More accurate would be: “I choose to spend my time on other things”.  And that’s okay.  As long as it aligns with your priorities.

The first step is to define your priorities

My first two priorities – helping others and learning new things – have held constant through my life.  How I define them has significantly broadened.  The third priority – health – was added once I figured out health wasn’t guaranteed and was necessary to accomplish the first two. #lifelessons

  1. Helping others means spending the time to be a good friend or spouse. It means making the concerted effort to be a good boss and manager.  It means freely teaching what I know.  It means volunteering my time and energy.  It even means helping a company grow shareholder value.
  2. Learning new things means seeking out new experiences, people and places. It means considering every new situation and person I meet as an opportunity to learn something.  Taking classes, reading books, tackling new goals.  Not becoming stagnant.
  3. Taking care of my health means making time to go on walks, eating healthy and having some quiet time each week to think and reflect.  Plus the endless quest to consume less caffeine and sugar.

What meeting do you cancel first?

Let’s take it back to corporate America.  As a leader and manager, where you spend your time sends a big signal to those around you.  When time gets tight, what meeting do you cancel first?

Are your team member 1:1s the first to go?  Probably not if you are a leader who values servant-based leadership.

Are your cross-functional meetings the first to go?  Probably not if you are a leader who values collaboration.

Are your performance/results meetings the first to go? Probably not if you are a leader who values a performance-driven culture.

There is no one right answer.  The point is to be thoughtful in ensuring your actions match your personal and leadership values.  Because people do notice and authenticity is important.

I love a color-coded calendar

Let’s be honest.  I love a color-coded anything.  Color-coding my work calendar is one of the tactics that I have found most useful in ensuring I spend my time in the right place.  Or at a minimum, I am aware of the trade-offs I am making.  Orange=strategy/planning, Red=important meeting that requires prep work, Yellow=team.  Yellows are the last to be moved as it aligns with my values of helping others and servant-based leadership.

Give and take

Life happens. You have a new family member at home.  You have a health issue.  Work happens.  You have a big project at work.  You have a team member who leaves.  You will not be able to perfectly align your values to where you spend your time on a daily, monthly, or even quarterly basis.  But keep the big picture in mind and pay attention to overall alignment.

Some parting tips on time management

  • Understand your values and time priorities.  Make a list.  Evaluate it on an annual basis as things may change.
  • Do an informal time study.  This is where color-coded calendars come into play!  After a month or two, figure out what proportion of time you are spending on key buckets of activities.
  • Identity gaps and develop a plan.  See how well your priorities align with where you are actually spending your time.  If there are gaps, come up with tactics to address.  Have someone hold you accountable.
  • Grade yourself every quarter.  Honestly assess how you did.  Celebrate your wins.  Forgive yourself if you got off track.  Figure out how you will do better next quarter.


And now for the obligatory Powerpoint:

The elusive concept of time

4 Replies to “We are defined by where we spend our time”

  1. Color coding. Yep! Nice reflections. I’m reminded somewhat of Julie Morgenstern’s weekly time map- treating time in a sort of spatial way…like a closet to organize. I agree with BS on not enough time, though I say it all the time. Also like Essentialism in that regard. Wise things that are hard to accept.

    1. Alissa Montbriand says:

      I hadn’t heard of Julie Morgenstern’s concept – will definitely check it out! And agreed that it is much easier said than done.

  2. Jeff Boudro says:

    Helpful post Alissa. I read your sister’s Huff post on happiness which resulted in discovering this site. I like the concept of a color coded calendar too. Do you recommend a specific calendar tool or are you just using outlook?

    1. Alissa Montbriand says:

      Hi Jeff. Thanks for reading and I hope everything is well in Boston. It looks like you recently took on a new role/adventure! I am a big fan of Google’s calendar functionality. At work, I am still in Outlook 🙂

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