But there’s a lot more sage advice packed into the highly readable offering by HBR Press.
Saunders’s basic premise is a simple but compelling one: “You need to learn the skills to invest your time like money.” She elaborates:
When you invest your time as if it were money, you look at the reality of how much time you have available and the truth of activities’ time cost. You then make decisions that allow you to get out of time debt. And with this balanced budget in hand, you can then set up the structure to consistently invest your time in what’s most important.
Five chapters and an inspiring epilogue help the reader to consider how to best use her or his time in the service of identified values and priorities:
1. Take Control of Your Time and Your Life
2. Identify Your Time Debt
3. Create a Base Schedule
4. Set Up Automatic Time Investment
5. Maximize Your Time ROI
Epilogue: Remember What You’re Working For
I’ve read enough time management books to nearly expect the kind of introductory statement in the first chapter: “Most time management methodologies fail….” However, Saunders really does offer a unique angle on time management, writing, “Time, like money, must be invested to work for you now and support your ideal future.” This is what sets Saunders’s book apart from other task management writing. She boldly begins: “What will need to change is you.”
She helps the reader address psychological “barriers to success,” such as accepting the role of victim of other people’s expectations, playing the rescuer (and therefore taking on other people’s tasks), or even somehow thinking “a sane and sustainable schedule with (gasp!) free time” is an undeserved luxury.
I can imagine a hurried executive reading, “Accept the past and forgive yourself” and balking at an emotions-based approach, but I think Saunders is right on the money. We can’t fix how we manage our time without taking a careful, hard look at what’s behind our time-spending (and time-wasting habits).
So only after a full chapter devoted to examining the ways we undermine our effectiveness–and suggesting practical ways to combat this–does Saunders write:
Now you’re mentally and emotionally primed to authentically evaluate your time investment. So, it’s time to take a serious look at whether you’re in time debt and, if so, how you can move toward a balanced budget.
For the rest of the book, Saunders serves as the temporal equivalent of a financial advisor. What turned me on to the book in the first place is an excerpt HBR posted, where Saunders suggests a “formula to stop you from overcommitting your time.”
Chapters 2 through 5 then walk the reader through setting both a daily and weekly “time budget” and schedule. Saunders suggests how to help the actual match the envisioned. (One juicy nugget, via Arianna Huffington: “You can complete a project by dropping it.”) There is a difference, Saunders notes, between, “Do I have to do this?” and, “Do I have to do this now?”
Even as the author deftly guides the reader through the nuts and bolts of scheduling, she continues to keep an eye on some of the deep-down causes that prevent us from spending time well:
[Y]ou need to uncover what’s at the bottom of your emotional resistance so that you can let go of it and make time investment decisions that serve your greatest and highest good.
Each chapter ends with a really helpful summary checklist, making it easy to translate ideas into actionable progress.
One thing that seems to be missing in this book is more specific advice on how to tally how much time various tasks will take. After all, part of the issue is that we often underestimate how long it will take to complete a task. Saunders does give advice here (a section called, “Improve Your Estimation of Time Costs”), though it is largely of the just estimate via trial-and-error variety.
That said, there may simply not be much else to do but to follow her sound advice to track one’s time to be able to “look back at the totals for similar past projects for data on realistic estimates.”
Even in book form Saunders is interpersonally and psychologically sensitive and insightful. And she so often calls the reader back–in an inspiring way–to the big picture:
In the end, getting the best return on your investment is not about whether you got the most tasks done but about whether you put time and effort into what’s most important to you.
By all means, go download this book right now. Schedule five 20-minute blocks to read it (this is what I did, and it worked great). And then schedule some more time to sit down with your calendar and put into practice all that Saunders recommends.