Time Management is a Myth

Time can’t be managed. It ticks inexorably forward, second by second. The phrase “time management” is really just a catch-all to describe how we get things done. The sum of all we get done is our productivity. Thus, we’re talking about productivity, and, in this case, individual productivity.

Productivity – getting things done – is driven by how much focus we can apply to any one task. The greater the focus, the greater the productivity. Oh, and the net result of increased productivity is not just getting more done, but also the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it. Feeling accomplished is a fundamental component of satisfaction. Thus, getting more done equals feeling better about what we do!

The World in Which We Work

Today’s work environments are fast-paced, noise-filled places where focus is hard to attain and virtually impossible to maintain. Establishing and maintaining a command environment with respect to our workload is the best way to increase our focus and get things done in the most effective and efficient manner. If we allow ourselves to become enslaved by our workload, we will find ourselves constantly reacting to the latest emergency, which is an inefficient way to manage our responsibilities.

Establishing and Maintaining a Command Environment

There is no silver bullet solution to establishing and maintaining a command work environment. It is both a series of disciplined behaviors and a mindset that keeps us in charge of what we need to do. However, there is one simple exercise we can do each day to start us down the right path.

I call this exercise Regularly Surveying All You Command. That is, at least twice, if not three times per day stop what you’re doing and survey all that’s coming at you in addition to what’s already on your plate. In terms of the “when,” I recommend you do this first thing in the morning, at mid-day, and at the end of the day before going home. The purpose of this exercise is to take stock of your workload in terms of what needs doing and what’s likely to get done.

The process itself is simple.

Morning Review:

  1. Enter your workspace.
  2. Review everything already on your to-do list and calendar first. (Do NOT look at the e-mail that came in overnight first.)
  3. Once you’ve reviewed what’s already on your plate, look at the new e-mail, factoring it into your existing priorities. (Note, most people do this in the opposite order – which causes them to be reactionary to both the stuff that’s already on their list, as well as to those things that have most recently arrived.)
  4. Get to work on your first effort of the day now that you’ve organized everything in your world based on highest priority instead of most recently received.

Mid-day Review:

Repeat this exercise at mid-day. With the day one-half over, you have a good idea of what will get done today and what will most likely get sent into the future. Make sure to communicate any of these shifts to others to keep them up to speed on your efforts.

Day’s End Review:

At the end of the day, a final review is in order to reprioritize everything left on your to-do list based on what you know of your calendar for the next few days. Again, this is a good time to circle the wagons and communicate any changes to others. Once you’ve put everything to bed, you can leave the office knowing you’re in command!

(Note, I am not suggesting that you only check your e-mail three times each day. You need to do that as often as your duties require. What I am suggesting is that you engage in this prioritization exercise several times each day to remain on top what you need to get done).

Commanding Your Work Makes You Effective and Efficient

If you can train yourself to review and prioritize your work two to three times each day, and communicate changes in deadlines to others, you will find that you feel more in charge of your workload. Moreover, you will likely address priorities in a better fashion, demonstrating to others your command. You’ll not only feel better, you’ll be performing at a higher level!

5 thoughts on “Time Management is a Myth

  • Great post!. My first reaction was to think that the mid-day review wasn’t neccessay. Then I started to think about all the times I’ve been side tracked by a new item that I thought would be a quick win but was much more complicated. They often took the rest of the day and pushed back the original priorities for the day.

    I’m gong to work on incorporating the mid- day review in my day.

  • Thanks for your note Natalie. It’s always a pleasure. As you point out, the mid-day review is a centering device. It forces you back on the tracks based on priorities versus perceived exigencies. I find that once you get the thrice daily behavior in place, you can move it to the every-other-hour habit which really keeps you nailed down!

  • Amen! Time cannot be managed! I wrote a book about it–YOU CAN’T MANAGE TIME (Alder Business Publishing, 2006)which you might enjoy, since it’s in alignment with much of what you say here. You’re right: It’s all about productivity.

  • Susan: I just put You Can’t Manage Time (Alder Business Publishing, 2006) on my readig list! Oh, and check back later today for the post I’m currently writing – Productivity Saboteurs: Identifying and Managing Them!

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