5 Things to Get Clear On for Great Time Management
Despite all the books, seminars, speeches, courses and consultants that promise to teach us how to manage our time, the truth is that it’s impossible! No human effort can add to the 1,440 minutes that every person in the world has every day. Every morning when you get out of bed, you have the same amount of time to work in that you had every other morning. Time cannot be “managed.”
Self-management is the art, discipline and science of faithfully engaging in activities that move us most quickly and efficiently toward our goals, while rejecting low-value, non-productive activities.
There are hundreds of books about “time management” (actually “self-management) available today, but there are only 5 themes that run through all of them as a common thread. Managing yourself to success toward any goal is a simple, but not easy, matter of having clarity in these 5 areas.
It’s impossible to talk about time(self) management unless you can also talk about what you want to accomplish. This is a meaningless concept if you are not able to describe what you want to be different within a certain timeframe. Whether it is the completion of a project, a promotion, achievement of some major milestone or breaking into a career, unless you can describe what that preferable future looks like in some detail, there is nothing to manage yourself for. Time(self) management presupposes a clear vision of how the future will be different from the present in some way. Time(self) management begins with forming that vision, and cannot proceed without it.
Successful time(self) management determines the behaviors that are required in order to bring about the vision we have for the future. Whether that vision or goals are short-term or long-term does not matter, the principle is the same. If the vision is simply to be prepared for the party you are having Friday night, then good self-management dictates the tasks that must be accomplished to make that happen. They involve cleaning, shopping, food preparation, etc. If the vision is to earn a college degree, the same principle applies, just more consistently and persistently.
These first two points about vision and strategy are intuitive and self-evident. The 3 to follow are where the areas in which most time(self) management books, seminars and programs kick in.
The “Pareto Principle,” or “80/20 Rule” describes what we observe in nearly every part of our lives. In short, 20% or our activities account for 80% of our productivity. Of the tasks we put on our daily “To-Do” list, a certain 20% of those tasks delivers 80% of the progress we desire for the day. Successful self-management is able to identify those productive activities and make them priorities. The most productive people on earth know exactly what tasks are among those 20%, and refuse to work on anything in the bottom 80% as long as any of those 20% tasks are unfinished. When I was in graduate school, a very wise man once told me, “Good things are the worst enemies of the best thing,” and it has stuck with me. Those tasks in your bottom 80% are good things, but they take energy away from the 20% of tasks that really move us toward our goals.
Clear Coping Style
If you have a vision of a preferable future, then you open yourself to stress. People driven by their objectives are faced each day with challenges, obstacles, the frustration of unfinished tasks, distractions and setbacks. Everybody has a coping style as a patterned response to stress. There are two kinds of coping styles: Active and Avoidant. Those with an active coping style study carefully the problems that cause their stress, form a plan of attack, execute their plan, evaluate the results, tweak their strategy and start again. Those with an avoidant coping style focus on relieving the stress caused by the problem, usually through procrastination, and take false comfort in substituting activity for productivity. Successful people have learned the difference between relieving their tension and achieving their goals, and aren’t so entrenched in their comfort zone that they refuse to move outside of it.
The ultimate key to time(self) management is the underlying assumption that human beings are self-determining. The circumstances of our lives, including the attitudes we hold, are matters of our choices, not other peoples’, and not forces beyond our control. This underpins every attitude, thought and decision. This is called “locus of control,” and all successful people have an internal locus of control…they believe their lives are products of the processes and decisions that originate within them. The opposite of that, an external locus of control, believes that fate, chance, birth, genetics, government, things outside of themselves, etc. are the determining factors in what their lives are like. These are the folks who lay down and just let life roll over them. For those who believe this, self-management is beyond their grasp.
There is no such thing as time management.
But good news…there is something you CAN do, and it’s far more powerful: Self-Management!
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