I should have said no to speaking about time management and mindfulness at a leadership conference. Clearly the organisers don’t understand what mindfulness is, or I’ve agreed to something I can’t possibly deliver. Probably both…

I assume they want me to come up with a list of quick fixes, tricks and tools for winning the time management game, and to put a ‘mindfulness’ spin on it. Surely someone knows how to push productivity through the roof, make stress magically disappear, and to transform to-do lists to to-done?

But when it comes to time management, there is no magic silver bullet. Time is relative. It can expand in the dentist’s chair or stand still when you’re in love. We’re constantly deciding how we use our time (whether we’re aware of it or not) by deciding what gets done, and what gets bumped? You either make time, or you don’t. Saying you don’t have time, is really saying ‘I don’t want to’.

The best way to manage your time is to manage your mind, because your mind is the only thing you have any control over.

Think about it. You can choose what you focus on, but only if you know where your attention is in the first place, and you can learn to deal with distractions, but only if you see them as such.

According to research most adults spend about half their ‘time’ lost in the unconscious churn of mind wandering (not present) and repeating old unconscious behaviours. We habitually manage our time poorly and then feel overwhelmed because we can’t get everything done. I mean, how many of us waste time opening and responding to email first thing daily, instead of attacking priorities at work?

I once had a boss who would remind me (if ever I was feeling overwhelmed) that I just needed to work smarter, not harder. This infuriated me at the time, but he had a point.

To manage your time better you must manage yourself better, and the only way to do that is to become more aware of what you’re giving your time and attention to and why, because then you have a choice.

Mindfulness brings you face to face with yourself. It works by training you to be more present and aware by encouraging you to repeatedly re-focus your attention when you notice your mind has wandered. Over time (it’s not a quick fix) you can rewire your brain for better attention control, and then you have more choice over how you manage your time.

Knowing where your mind is, means you can unhook it from where you don’t want it to be.

Noticing you’re distracted, when you’re distracted, means you can bring your attention back. If you don’t notice you’re distracted, you’ll be constantly tugged around by your own incessant mind chatter, and everyone else’s priorities will take precedent.

Mindfulness helps you see through the clutter, to make better choices and dissolve imaginary boundaries. A relaxed clear, open mind cuts through competing priorities so you can make better decisions. Plus, with increased self-awareness you get to say no to the constant ‘noise’ (internally and externally) and yes to what really matters.

My father was fond of saying “time, they’re not making any more of it.” I never knew what he meant, or who ‘they’ were. All I know is, when you change your relationship with time (by being more present) time expands and you feel like you have more of it.

Ultimately it’s not about managing time; it’s about you managing your own mind.

Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers programmes across New Zealand and Australia to produce unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being.

Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) used to align values with behaviours and transform workplace culture. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.