Jo is a lawyer. She’s in her mid-30s, married with two kids, a rising star in her firm with partnership in her future. Jo is a busy, busy woman. I was dealing with Jo a while ago with relation to a minor issue in her workplace and it came up that she was feeling that she was being pulled in too many directions. We talked at length about how busy she was and how she never seemed to have any time to herself.

I asked:

“How do you like to relax? What’s a real, self-indulgent treat for you?”
She thought for a moment. “A long bath, aromatic oils, a trashy magazine and a chilled glass of wine.”
“And when was the last time you did that?”
“I can’t remember.”
“How about setting aside a couple of hours, say Tuesday nights, for that? Could you do that? Could you arrange that with Denis?”
“I’m sure I could.”

Three weeks later, I’m having a quick lunchtime meeting with Jo over a sandwich and I ask her how the Tuesday night ritual is going.

“It hasn’t really happened yet.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“Well, the first one, I had to work very late and I just fell into bed. Last week, Denis wasn’t able to keep my son out of the bathroom. He kept getting out of bed and coming in and disturbing me, so I ended up reading him stories to get him to sleep. Last night, Denis had the kids in bed early and I was just stepping into the bath when my mother rang. She’d had a huge fight with Aunt Terry and I spent almost two hours listening to her.”
“Hmmmm,” I said. “Well, better luck next week.”

After lunch, I rang Denis (also a client in the past) and asked him to arrange an evening out for himself and Jo for the following evening.

“Organise your mother to handle the children. Book massages for 5.30 near Jo’s office, grab a really nice early-bird dinner, head on to the theatre or cinema; have a few drinks afterwards and get a taxi home. Sound good?”
“Big time.”

I got a call from Jo on Friday morning:

“What a lovely idea Rowan! Thank you so much for suggesting it to Denis. We had a lovely, lovely evening together.”
“Good, delighted to hear it. Jo, tell me – if your mother had rung you at 5.15 to tell you all about Auntie Nellie’s dying cat, what would you have done?”
“I’d have told her I couldn’t talk to her and that I’d get back to her today.”
“Because we had all that stuff booked – the meal and the massage and the show …”
“So, just because you have something booked means it’s way more important than say … luxuriating in a bath?”
Long silence.

Time management is all about assigning value to the time you set aside for certain tasks, activities or luxuries and sticking to that time, because it’s valuable. To you. All too often we give away our lunch time, we stay 90 minutes after work, we take a call that eats into the evening. Now, if you can charge by the hour and you stick a premium on evening or weekend work, fine and dandy. But if you get paid for a 40-hour week and somehow you feel subtly pressured into staying for 50 hours a week, ask yourself how valuable those 10 hours are?

What if you set up a sideline business teaching Yoga to groups of stressed executives? Ten executives per class at 50 bucks a pop? Class starts at 6.00pm sharp. Now if your boss is subtly implying that you have to stay and finish the Yadda-Yadda report, it’s costing you 500 bucks an hour. That’s called an opportunity cost and when presented with that dilemma, the response is a no-brainer.

So the next time you are settling into a piping hot bath with scented candles and a chilled Sancerre, turn off the phone …