Time management is often tied to efficiency, productivity, emergencies, and preventing crises or losses. However, time management is much more than that; as it can help generate ideas, innovate, and attract personal and business gains. Time management in this context is not managing the limited time we all seemingly have every waking moment of the day, which often makes us scamper around the to-do list that never gets completely checked. Neither is it to prioritize urgent tasks over important ones, which sometimes makes us panic. Today’s article will reveal the unsung side of time management as an effective tool to maximize the time we all have to achieve more by prioritizing at least one important but not urgent task over the urgent ones. For this purpose, I will use Alex Edman’s time management experience before, during, and after writing his bestselling book Grow The Pie as a case study.

As a professor of finance at the London Business School, Alex Edmans decided to write a book, Grow The Pie, as an important personal goal he set to achieve within a stipulated time. Knowing how tight his schedule was already, the lofty idea may probably span several years if he didn’t put a rein on it. So, he chose to prioritize writing each chapter of the book at a stipulated time regardless of any urgent task that may come up. Because he was quite conversant with his peak productive hours, he committed to the daily writing of his book within this period. He also ensured that his job did not suffer, as he often took advantage of external pressure, such as deadlines and leeway, to meet up on the day’s work until he finished the book.

Contrary to what we’ve always known to be the best, he prioritized what was important to him over what was routinely urgent. Overcoming the urge to pick the low-hanging fruits first required some serious discipline. Falling into the trap of getting easier tasks done first would have prevented him from getting to the bigger one due to exhaustion, low creativity period, or sheer disinterest.

The most interesting part of this experience emerged after the book launch. The book – Grow The Pie, which he or anyone else may have thought wasn’t urgent, did not only become a bestseller but also received several awards. It has also been translated into several languages and has earned many accolades, partnerships, and rewards. His testament proved one major shortcoming of all the time management theories we’ve known, such as factoring human nature, self-drive, and the need for growth and development. The book’s success was partly due to its timely delivery. Had it been that he was not disciplined enough to start, finish, and launch at that time, he wouldn’t have realized how urgent and important the task of writing the book was.

Suppose you wonder how this time management experience can benefit a business or organization. My response will be through research and development, which means always looking for problems to solve. Little wonder, a university would call up a meeting with all its vibrant professors in the early morning hours to brainstorm what problems to solve. Today’s world powers rank and remain at the top because of their vested interest in data and continuous research. Organizations need not wait for problems to knock on the door before finding ways to solve them, nor wait till a competitor makes a move to follow. Over the years, Apple has been able to prove this to us time and time again. Organizations that constantly devote time to researching, envisaging, finding, and solving problems aside from their regular day-to-day operations can never stop finding new ways to grow the pie rather than getting stuck in the rut of the idea that the pie is static, hence the need to fight for bigger slice with competition or even stakeholders.

Paraphrasing a sage, “Problems are the new natural resources to generate wealth. Africa is full of them; foreigners are aware of it, and that’s why they are coming into the continent in droves”. Recalling how he was on a particular flight to an African country from Europe when he noticed the aircraft was sixty percent filled with Asians. “Has anyone wondered why”? he asked. So, when I see organizations still playing just marketing and on-demand games (which are great), I wonder what the future holds. Regardless of the industry, every organization should have a research and development team. I carefully used the word “team” because it need not be a main unit or department, but a group of passionate employees drafted to look out for what is trending and what the future holds. Team leaders can easily identify those creative ones in the office, while HR can also pay attention to candidates who yearn for more during the hiring process. Those new intakes who may find settling for just the status quo somewhat boring may be the ones to unlock your company’s hidden potential.

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Even without being a professor of time management, we all can unanimously agree we are in the creative era where we breathe, eat, and drink ideas day in and day out. Some of these ideas stem from problems we or others encounter with which technology and innovation can easily bring to life. However, one of the reasons Africa is still ridden with so many issues yet to be solved is that employees are chasing money doing their 9-5 without prioritizing. Every employee needs to deliberately allot time for that important personal growth task even if there are no consequences for not doing so or obvious reward for prioritizing it. This individual growth task should not be learning but using what you’ve learned or experienced to find and solve a problem. Another reason Africa has become a cash cow due to the new gold – problems, is that organizations are just moving with the flow of customer demands. Although all these are necessary, always prioritizing what is urgent and on-demand will not lead to new growth and opportunities. It will also not solve existing problems as far and fast as it should, hence hampering the rate at which the continent needs to catch up with the rest of the world.

Therefore, organizations must have an ideation lab where not only internal problems with people and processes are solved but where employees deliberately generate and source new ideas to solve existing or foreseen problems within their locality and the world at large. If Samsung, which was a grocery store, could become a tech giant today; if Nintendo, a playing card company, could evolve into a prominent player in the video game industry; if Lufthansa could become one of the world’s largest airlines today, having started as an operating partner to a postal service; if Sharp could outgrow making pencils and buckles to becomes electronic giant, then nothing should stop your organization from getting two or more pies through a refocused time management system.

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How would you repurpose or refocus your to-do list to allow for personal and business growth in the coming year? I found Frances Frei’s rough #solvefortrust schedule very useful. If you need a guide, please send an email to [email protected]

Opaleye, wellbeing specialist and corporate wellness strategist, writes from Lagos