Manage time? A former ‘zombie woman’ living a have-it-all lie shows how

How to manage time? Kate Christie on the need to rethink it as ‘time investment’

time

Kate Christie’s a time management expert who is not fond of discussing ‘time management’.

She prefers to think about ‘time investment’ – because we can’t change the fact that time is a limited resource. And she’s gotten particularly good at the best strategies possible for maximising the return on what you invest.  

Kate’s the author of a number of books on the topic, an international speaker and coach, and has advised some of Australia’s biggest corporates on the subject of time. Her job, she says, is to find people time. Lots of time. Time to do the things they actually want to do.

It’s a career that came about from Kate’s own experiences as a working mum (and later as a single parent), a lawyer who was part of the generation of women who were told they could “have it all”.

What a fool, she says of herself for believing the spin. And what a fool, she jokes, for having three babies in three and a half years

“I had this really simple mantra for success which was, a heap of hard work, a lot of drive and a little bit of talent, and I could have anything that I wanted. And it worked really well for me through school, university, into my career and then I was just flying up the corporate ladder.”

Life was wonderful, she says. And then the “wheels fell off when I had kids.”

It was five years of being pregnant and breastfeeding, all logistically organised around a demanding corporate career. Sleep deprived and in a constant and unpredictable environment of unknowns, she became a “zombie woman” who was trying to maintain the big career. She recalls the moment she realised she was the only member of the executive leadership team who didn’t have a full-time wife.

“I felt like I’d been lied to, that you can have it all. I thought, that’s bullshit.”

Kate gave up the corporate career, because she thought she couldn’t have both. It’s something she says was the wrong decision, given how much satisfaction and self worth she received from her work.

But she did take the life shift as an opportunity to reflect and reconsider how she invests her time and could use it differently. And eventually, to teach others how to do the same – particularly now for the mothers who’re ridiculously busy, and consequently stressed and guilt ridden. In her latest book Me First, she advocates for prioritising yourself and finding your “lost time” (and potentially lost self) in the process.

A shift to time investment is not an individual’s responsibility alone – as Kate says from her experience working while juggling babies and small kids around 20 years ago – employers need to also overhaul how they support staff in investing their time and remove once-and-for-all the stigma around flexible work: it’s hindering career development, limiting opportunities and ultimately holding women back.

Kate wants the conversation to move away from whether you work flexibly or not, flexibility should be a given. “I don’t want to work flexibly, I want to work productively,” Kate says. “And if I work most productively at home because it allows me to have access and be around my kids, well that’s not flexible working, that’s productive working.”

Time investment starts with understanding your costs

If you’re going to start rethinking your time investment strategy, you need to get comfortable with the question: Is this the best way I can be spending my time?

And making that happen requires understanding the costs involved, and acquiring the data you need to learn how you’re already investing your time and what kind of return it’s actually delivering.

On costs, consider how much a portion of time that you’re spending (such as an hour)  is actually costing you across different areas, starting with the simple one: the financial cost. Give yourself an hourly rate so you can put a direct figure on it – and even calculate it out across a year to see how much that one hour a day you’re spending on admin is actually costing you annually (it will be a lot).

The next cost is opportunity cost. If you invest your time on one thing, you’re trading that one thing for something else. Are you losing the opportunity for business development or something else that could make a significant difference?

Then there’s the emotional cost, where you should consider how you feel about the time you’re investing.

And finally, there’s a physical cost. How much is the investment costing your body? Are you missing the opportunity to move and exercise because you’re so focused on the ‘opportunity’ of business development? Then something may be off.

Ok costs done: How do your structure your work time for maximum investment?

First, Kate recommends planning out your week.

One approach is to write a long laundry list of everything that needs to be done that week. Then choose the two most important high-value tasks, and lock them into your calendar for Monday morning, so they’re done.

But on a daily basis, she recommends putting in blocks of time for work but taking short breaks in between – acknowledging that a workday is a series of short sprints, not a marathon.

If you understand when and how you work best throughout the day, then you’ll be able to schedule the right tasks for the right point of time accordingly in order to maximise your return.

And the best way to figure out when and how you work best? Data.

Kate says the first step to maximising time investment is to understand how you’re currently spending it.

Take a few days to fill in a time diary, noting the tasks you do when and for how long. You’ll see the patterns in what you’re potentially wasting time on, and when you’re most productive with different types of tasks.

“It’s about understanding when you’re at your best, when you’re absolutely firing and can do your hard strategic type tasks,” she says. “Then you can flip it around and do your softer, process driven tasks.” With those out of the way, you can then aim to invest time in the things that are important to you.

“Ultimately it’s about living a value-driven day,” says Kate. “So, if you understand what your values are and what’s most important to you, then that’s what you need to then structure throughout your day.”

With that powerful time data, you’ll also see the opportunity to break out the must-dos from the need-to-dos, along with the things that can be delegated and those that actually don’t need doing at all.

Kate’s latest book is Me First, published by Wiley and available at Amazon and anywhere you buy good books.

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