5 Relationships We Need To Build With Time

The other day I was talking to a few old friends from school and while we were all enjoying ourselves, some of them remarked how rare it was for us even to have time to have little meetup sessions. The conversation then shifted to complaints about how they hardly have time for themselves. Work took a huge chunk, family sometimes have to take a back seat and personal time was close to non-existent.
I realized that the bulk of their concerns was around their workload and the time it took to complete their tasks. I do hope they forgave me for zoning out, but embracing the problem solver in me, I was mentally making notes of strategies we could all use to maximize our work time.
After I left the session, I quickly pen down my thoughts and here are five ways we can manage our time better. And the truth is, as much as they are strategies, they are also reflective of our relationship with time.

#1. Track Time

Time, as you and I know, can be perceived very differently. While each of us has a fixed rate of calculating it, when we’re in the midst of a task, we often lose track of it. That also explains why when we are having fun, time passed by faster. Conversely, recall a really boring lecture you had to sit through, and you'll realize that at that instant, time looked like it stood still!
To be more effective with our time management, we have to start tracking it. Take note of how long it takes to complete a task and after a few timing, you will know what is the standard time to complete it. You will also realize that what you thought would take a long time to complete, like drafting a memo, can be done under a few minutes. Again, the illusion of time!
Once we are clearer on the time it actually takes to complete certain tasks, we will be able to plan our schedule better.
Quick tip: if you are managing a group of staff, start getting them to track their time as well. Psychologically, when doing it as a team, there will be lesser distractions, and the peer pressure will ensure they do their best.

#2. Limit Time

We talked briefly about Parkinson’s Law in the previous article and because it’s such an important concept, I felt the need to mention it here again. Basically, what the law states is this:
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
In other words, if you set a task to be completed in three hours, it WILL take three hours.
Building on the strategy #1 (tracking time), this step requires you to use that knowledge and limit your time when assigning tasks to yourself, or your team. It is ok to allow a buffer for 20-30% of time, but do know that the law will stand true and you and your team may end up using that extra allocated time, even when you could have completed the task sooner.
Having mini-deadlines and time limits will also help everyone focus on the most important tasks first and actively look for ways to speed the process up. This opens up to opportunities to find new ways of doing things, or even shaving off unnecessary procedures.

#3. Optimise Time

I read about an interesting research a while back, done at The University of Florida State. Researchers discovered that elite performers (athletes, chess players, musicians, etc.) who work in intervals of no more than 90 minutes are more productive than those who work 90 minutes-plus.
And since then, I have tested it myself, first in my extended studies and also with my children. Together with them, I would sit down and block off 90 minutes for the task and found that indeed that was a sweet spot for us. My children wouldn’t complain it is too long a time and by limiting the time, they were more focused too.
As curious as I naturally am, I began testing it on work-related matters and even recommended it to my clients. And the results were synonymous with the research.
However, there is a caveat. I realized that when it comes to work that requires you to get into a creative flow, like art, narrative/creative writing, or designing, the 90-minute rule may not always apply, as it impedes the natural creative process.
Bonus tip: Tony Buzan, the creator of Mind Mapping, broke it down to smaller chunks. Instead of 90 minutes, his recommendation was 25 minute of study, and 5 minutes of break. His rationale was simple: when it comes to retaining information, it’s easier to recall the first and last parts of the information block. By reducing the time of the blocks, data retention should increase. Of course, these work well for those who are studying for MBA or additional papers, but when it comes to tasks, unless the work can be broken down to blocks of 25 minutes, it will be hard to manage. Feel free to try it out though.

#4. Break Time

Now, if you think step 1, 2 and 3 are going to be hard on you and your team, here’s where the breather comes in. Between tasks, schedule breaks and when I say break, I mean it. You have to dissociate from it, shake it off, change the environment. As long as you are still thinking of work, it’s not considered break time yet.
The mind works like a rubber band, and if you stretch it for too long, it will snap (in real life cases, that often result in psychological disorders). That’s why letting it loose is essential.
Of course, you ought to have discipline as well and time those breaks. Allocating a 1:5 break time to work time ration is a good start. What it means is for the 90-minute block, have a break time of between 15 to 20 minutes. It has to be a sweet spot where you won't end up procrastinating or not feel the effects of the pause.

#5. Sleep Time

I can’t stress the importance of sleep. While researchers say that 6 to 8 hours of sleep is sufficient, the truth is, it’s always the quality of the sleep that matters.
After some testing of my own (and with my friends and family), I found these tips help in improving sleep:
  • 30 minutes before sleep, eyes off any electronic devices.
  • Sleep in cycles of 90 minutes, i.e. 3 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours. Because our brain goes through different sleep cycles, this will ensure you wake up in a proper delta state (deep sleep), instead of alpha (dreaming/active). If you had slept for long hours and still wake up groggy, you have just woken up in the middle of an active state.
  • Forget the snooze button. Just wake up at the time you have set for yourself.
  • Take power naps during the day, and nap for no more than 30 minutes at a time. If after you take a 30 minute nap and still feel tired, sleep for another 30. This is also to optimise my power naps to the proper sleep cycles.
  • Bonus tip: If you find that you always overslept (can’t recall ever hitting the off button for the alarm), try this nifty trick that I learned from Paul Dunn, 3-time TEDx speaker and co-founder of B1G1 - set your alarm at an odd time. For example, instead of 7 am or a 30 minutes timer, set instead at 7.07am, or 27-minute power naps. Because it is something out of the ordinary, it sticks better in the mind (conscious and unconscious).


I sent a copy of these five strategies to my friends, and they were extremely grateful. Some even started applying it, although one was more like experimenting with his kids. Most of them came back and told me that they had wished we all learn these during school. Truth is, times have changed and distractions and challenges were different back then and now. That is why we have to do constant research, try out new methods and adapt to change. That’s how we make sure we don’t lose out, get left behind and always stay ready for whatever the future holds.