A co-worker came to me once in frustration saying, “I don’t have the time to do everything asked of me,” to which I responded, “Sounds like you have a time management issue.”

Trying to suppress some justifiable anger, my co-worker said, “I don’t think it’s fair of you to characterize how I’m managing my time.” Then I asked: “Who is in control of your time? You or your job and everyone else?”

It took my co-worker about 30 seconds of contemplation before tensions eased and we had a meaningful discussion.

When we are not in control of our own schedules, someone or something else controls us.

At some point within the past three years, I decided I didn’t want my everyday work experience controlled by calendar events created by someone else for 30, 60, or even 90-minute blocks. Now I have a handful of weekly meetings that I attend because I want to and they are meaningful.

A few years earlier I decided I wouldn’t click “Accept” on a meeting invite unless I decided it was a good use of my time or I had verbally agreed to it beforehand. If someone really needed me, they’d text me or something and I’d join the meeting. Usually, it became a good use of my time.

This strategy probably makes me sound pretentious or like a jerk co-worker, but I think of myself as protective of my schedule. My company pays me to spend my time well and to maximize the use of my skills.

I would far rather help people make good decisions through mentorship than spend 30 minutes as a watchdog over the decision-making process. It’s good to delegate and good for people to experience freedom and responsibility on their own without my oversight.

These time management strategies have carried into my personal life as well. When someone suggests I watch a season of TV on Netflix, I think of it this way, “Would I rather spend my nights doing what fulfills me or watch a couple dozen 42-minute shows?”

I know myself well enough after 34 years to know that I always feel better doing something creative with my evenings than watching a TV show. So, I opt to keep my 17 hours of fulfilling creativity instead of giving those hours to Netflix.

It stinks to feel like I’m letting someone else down by not complying with a personal recommendation, but I’d rather make myself feel good about living my life than allowing someone else to spend my evening hours. No one has ever chastised me for it, either.

When my kids go to bed, my wife and I will usually spend some time cleaning, talking, and then doing our own things. We’re both creatively-motivated introverts who enjoy accomplishments. It works for us. Other people prefer watching the show. It’s totally cool either way.

The important thing to me is to own my time and to live in alignment with my values by taking ownership of my time and saying “no” to non-essential things that take me off my path.

Author of “Clueless at The Work” and founder of Make Weird Music. I write about management, music, and technology. Mesa, AZ, USA.

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