Make like a Benedictine nun…

I am constantly asked how I can do so much stuff – and not just random stuff, that’s proper project-led, take-my-business-forward stuff.  I do 2.5 full time jobs a week in my organisation, plus I keep fit which is 10 plus hours, plus I write this here blog, plus I work on other projects and maintain a social life albeit only at weekends which includes my kids and family – plus I read a book a week.  Oh and due to where my home is located I commute 3 hours a day, 4 days a week.

Now I don’t tell you this to impress you – I tell you to inform you of the one secret I have found that means I can do all of this, and I found out last weekend it’s what the Benedictine nuns do too.  Who’d have thought you’d make a nun out of me, eh?

It’s all about the bell. A Benedictine novice Justine Chittister recalls a time when she was asked “Why do we pray?” by an older nun. Apparently she began to regale the Sister with tales of why they praise God, but the older nun answered no.  It’s ‘because the bell rings’ – the bell rings and they pray. It’s all about structure.   ‘Because the bell rings’ – a pretty succinct summary to the approach to time expressed in the Rule of St Benedict – a sixth century document which divided the monastic day into dedicated periods – prayers, communal worship, work, recreation, sleep – with the boundary between signaled by the bell. There’s no difference of importance of each task – when the bell rings you change to what you need to be doing in the next allocated period.

I commend to you the secret of the nuns that I use too. Set a regular start time and finish time to EVERYTHING you do. Set an audible alarm so that when it goes off you HAVE to change to the next task, end the meeting, and move on to your next project.  And do not be frightened of this kind of regimentation.  I can reassure you it’s not constraining – it’s liberating. It’s like having your own time personal trainer – you don’t have to think.

Even if you have a period of your day where you have to be available to take incoming calls or just be, schedule that slot so it doesn’t become infinite – add a finish time too.

The mechanism I use for this is my mighty iPhone.  I set alarms for Monday through to Friday – and the schedule is the same week in week out. It’s a pragmatic way of giving order and making time for important projects I know will take my business forward.

I work to a timer, which means each task is allocated time in a day with a beginning and an end time.  Now this means I start my day with an alarm as many of us do – then my first quick 90 minute burst which I use for my writing.  I then have another 90 minute burst for my exercise – which I have recently switched to first thing in the day – I then have 30 mins for breakfast and getting ready for work, then 90 minutes drive which I maximize by listening to news, making calls and listening.  I get into work now for 1030 where I have 90 mins for project led work, and then various tasks per hour until 1830 where I head home for a reverse 90 mins commute where I chill out for an hour, make calls and wind down to good music.  I get home, put dinner on, squeeze in 30 minutes of yoga whist a simple dinner cooks, and even get an hour of TV a day before I go to bed to read and now get my close to 8 hours sleep.

And my office and house sounds like a factory – with alarms going off at indicated times to remind me when I have to start something and most importantly when I have to finish. Because we know surfing Facebook can consume hours right? And and that project you thought would take a day, or that job for a client 3 hours and then all of a sudden it takes 12 whilst you fanny about with it.  Then you precious time is lost forever and you can’t get it back.

And the stuff I was dropping of course wasn’t my precious work – oh no – I made sure I got all that work stuff done – the bit that was suffering was MY PERSONAL TIME to do the OTHER THINGS that are just as important to me. Like sleep. Like exercise. Like eating. Like seeing my friends.  So I needed to get more organized.

In time management the most difficult part of it is the guestimate of how much time it is going to take to do a task – so accrue data over a period to start getting broad outline of what time slots you need to allocate. Leave a little longer in the initial stages (and if that leaves you with spare time – then happy days you can tackle that B list that I never get round to!)

And I won’t lie – adding a finish time with audible alarm does somewhat focus the mind.  I can now knock out a 900 word article in 60 minutes.  We have totally changed our management meet so we now get full weekly management meet and TRAINING done in 60 minutes a week.  I film these blogs in only 2 hours a month.  That’s all pretty efficient and it’s all down to the bell.

So I commend to you the time management secrets of the Benedictine order. Try it and feedback your results at  Have a productive month!