The Time Thief

The Time Thief - image for article by Greg Alder

What grand plans have you made in your life?

What big ideas have you had?

Where are they now? Did you act on them? Did you implement them?

A few of you will answer yes. Most of us won’t.

There are all sorts of reasons that our big ideas don’t see the light of day. Lack of money, lack of necessary skills and fear of trying something new are common ones.

The number one reason we don’t turn our grand ideas into grand successes is time. Specifically, lack of it.

In workshop after workshop, I ask business owners if they reckon innovation is important to their success. Virtually every person says yes. I ask if they have ever had what they thought was a big idea. Virtually every person says yes. I ask if they have implemented their big idea. Virtually every person says no. When I dig down to the reasons, time is a common one.

Most of us are too busy taking care of business to dream of big ideas, seek the money to develop our big ideas or find the partners we need to develop our big ideas.

We say things to ourselves. Things like, “If I get some spare time, I’ll work on that project.”

“If I can get a reliable manager for my business, I’ll have more time.”

“If I can find a buyer for my business, I’ll have more time.”

“I’ll get around to that when I retire.”

Time’s a funny thing. It’s finite, but it’s elastic. We can’t alter the seconds in a minute, minutes in an hour, hours in a day or days in a year.

We can’t buy time. We can’t sell it. But we can make it.

And making time is what we need to do if we’re going to realise our big ideas.

Workshop participants say that they believe innovation is important. But when I ask how many of them devote time to creative thinking, virtually none of them does.

They all believe it. None practises it.

I tell them that the first thing they need to do is set aside time for creative thinking – even if they’re already working 7 days a week. We need this discipline. We need to make an hour or two every Monday, say, and stick to it no matter what.

Without setting aside time for creative thinking, big ideas will come to us by pure chance. Maybe once or twice in our lives.

By making time, big ideas will become more frequent. With practice, they’ll become second nature.

By making time to evaluate and prioritise our big ideas, we’ll start the process of turning them into valuable innovations.

By making time to create the best project team – and making sure the project team makes time – we give our innovations the best chance of success.

Here’s the funny thing about applying discipline to creative thinking time. Even though we had no spare time, we still manage to get done all our other chores. We have added a couple of hours to our work schedule, but we haven’t lost it elsewhere.

Why? We steal time from ourselves every day.

We allow ourselves to get distracted. We actually welcome interruptions. (On average, we’re interrupted every 3 minutes at work. Researchers calculate we lose over 2 hours a day to interruptions.)

We jump from task to task before we’ve completed any of them. We kill time on frivolous tasks, counting down the time to lunch perhaps.

One of the documented benefits of dedicated creative thinking time is that we become more productive. Our sharper minds find solutions to tasks more readily. We get more done – and enjoy it more as we do it.

Can you really afford to wait to retirement to turn your big idea loose on the world? Will the world still want it in 20 years time? Will you have the energy when you have the time?

If you’re not stealing your own time, you’re at least allowing it to be stolen from you. Steal some back – just a couple of hours a week. Make those two hours sacred. Go somewhere no one will interrupt you. Go somewhere inspiring. Learn a creative thinking technique (they’re easy and fun).

There’s no time like the present. Start now.

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