The Great Time Management Myth

June 8, 2015 Chris Pearse

If you’ve got Time Management issues, the problem isn’t Time Management.

Years ago I went on a Time Management course and came away rather perplexed and demoralised by all the things I had to do to use my time effectively. I started to implement them regardless, keeping time logs, prioritising tasks, setting and keeping to deadlines, not multi-tasking – I’m sure you could add to the list…

The result: STRESS

All the wonderful Time Management theory that promised an end to the problems that I was experiencing, just ended up creating a whole lot more:

I would miss a time log input and beat myself up. I would focus on a single task to the detriment of other important stuff. I would think about Time Management instead of the task at hand. But worst of all, I would feel bad about what I was doing and how I was doing it, because it didn’t conform to the received wisdom.

Years later, I know why this happened:

  • We’re all different – what works for one person won’t work for everyone. Just because you find it helpful to account for your time in 10 minute lumps, doesn’t mean that I do. Your idea of how to manage time may be quite wrong for me.
  • Time is Non-Linear – ever noticed how some days are way more productive than others? You get so much more done in the same time that it’s like time has expanded. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s not down to Time Management.
  • Multi-tasking is a fact of life – there’s lots of people out there at the moment telling us not to multi-task because our brains are not wired for it. I beg to differ: I can’t see how we can function as human-beings without a degree of M-T. Driving and talking, listening and taking notes, any form of creativity. Clearly, there’s a limit beyond which you get very inefficient, but M-T is inherent in everything we do.
  • Creativity is Chaotic – we all have to be creative some of the time. Solving a problem can be creative. If you observe creative processes, they do not run smoothly. They cannot be rationalised, measured or managed. Creativity does not flourish in restrictive, structured environments. Time Management can kill creativity.
  • Serendipity or Synchronicity can’t be scheduled – a lawyer I met recently has a catch-phrase to sum up a life-changing moment: Eat more Oysters. Instead of going to join his colleagues to talk business at a conference, he went back to the buffet to grab some more oysters. He ended up meeting someone that subsequently offered him a huge business opportunity. Doing what’s expected of you and using your time accordingly can shut you off from other possibilities.

So there we have it: Time Management doesn’t work (in my experience). In fact it can be counter-productive and rather than reducing stress, can create even more.

The question remains, if Time Management doesn’t work… what does?

Firstly I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that many people experience serious issues around Time. They are inefficient, overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed-out, unproductive, and in great need of support. Some get sick.

To provide some insight into the Time Management issues that they experience, I’m going to invoke non other than Albert Einstein:

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it

So what, then, are the real causes for Time Management issues? Bearing in mind we’re all different, here are some that I’ve come across in myself and others:

  • You’re in the wrong job – deep down, you’re not fulfilled by what you do. It’s not meeting your aspirations or your needs. Because it’s not right for you, no amount of Time Management is going make you stress-free, happy and productive.
  • You say ‘Yes’ to everything – you believe that to be a good person, to be appreciated and respected, you have to take on everything that’s thrown at you. You accept every request and take on too much to in order to maintain your identity.
  • You’re a Control Freak – you believe that you must be in charge of every waking moment. You have to assign a purpose to every second and deliver on it. You believe that sleep is a complete waste of time.
  • You’re addicted to Doing – you cannot stop the activity. You cannot sit still for long and don’t like being by yourself with nothing to do. Boredom is torture.
  • You’re running away from something – you are using activity to displace the need to fulfil another responsibility that you really don’t want to meet. And you’re not being honest with yourself.

Many of the problems I see that we associate with Time Management originate from deeply held beliefs around who we are and what is left when you temporarily remove all the activity that we are involved in. Once we begin to see these dynamics operating within ourselves, the need to create more management around the use of our time begins to evaporate allowing time itself to flow in its own way.

So if you have Time Management issues, before you enrol on that Time Management course, just consider the possibility that the solution might lay elsewhere.