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The first paragraph of TimePower by Charles R. Hobbs (Harper and Row, 1987) reads thus:

How often do you have the kind of day when you feel like you hold the world on a string? It’s the kind of feeling you would probably like to enjoy more often. The moment when you feel this way is the moment when you are most in control of the events in your life: most in control of what you are doing, most in control of your relationships with others. As your ability to control events increases, those exalted moments become more frequent.”

The counter philosophy to that paragraph must therefore be that you are most stressed when the opposite is true – when you feel least in control or, worse, when you feel completely out of control in terms of the events in your life and your relationship with others.

Note the use of the word ‘feel’ in both of these paragraphs. I spotted it for the first time when I read the paragraph last night. Then I realised:

To be content with your control of your time and relationships, you don’t necessarily have to be in control.

You just need to feel that you’re control.

Quite profound.

I had a supervisor, once. We called him a shit magnet. (Sorry.) When he came into work, it was as if all the robbers, rapists and murderers had been waiting for him before acting. Oh, and all the wanted persons in Wales got arrested, too. All at the same time, but hundreds of miles apart.

He never skipped a beat. He would quietly look at what was happening around him, decide what needed to be done, and then quietly delegate or act with an appropriate level of urgency. For those around him, his calm was catching. And part of his process was to think with a pen and a book in his hands.

Despite the fact that there was no way he could be in complete control of what was going on, he took enough action to feel as if he had it all managed. Maybe more than enough. But he felt in control, and his calm attitude and approach manifested itself in the rest of his team feeling as though they were in control, too. We didn’t feel stressed, either.

The only truly effective way to ‘feel’ this way is to have a complete, systematic approach to ‘stuff’ that means you can prioritise what needs to be done, dump what need not be done, and fit anything else around those decisions.

What this lesson says to me is that, to a certain extent, time management as most people would understand the term is a key technique for emotional- and stress-management. One which few counsellors, coaches and managers seem to realise, promote and/or teach.

Traumatic incidents aside, stress is frequently the result of a build-up if unaddressed issues. It’s not the pile of paper that needs dealing with – it’s the way you feel about that. It’s not that appointment you won’t manage to keep, or which you aren’t prepared for – it’s the way you feel about being late or unprepared. It’s not that conversation you need to have but the way you feel about what happens if it doesn’t go well when you finally manage to have it.

And all of those feelings can be controlled by taking the ‘time management’ actions people like Hobbs, Covey and Smith promote. Deciding what needs to be done, making a plan that helps you act on that decision, and then executing that plan. Once you have that level of appropriate control, your feelings about those events change for the positive.

Go learn time management.