Bennis Inc. | Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?
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Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?

Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time ManagementWe devote so much time and energy to improving our time management. There are websites, blogs, educational programs and entire shelves in bookstores dedicated to this very topic. After all, time management is the “holy grail” of happiness and success, right? We think it’s what allows us to do it all and do it well, take on more projects, get that raise and provide for our family. But what I’ve recently come to find is that the entire concept of time management is one big lie.

Controlling time, by any means, is simply not possible. There are things we do to make ourselves feel like we are in control. These things, like waking up early, working faster, skipping lunch breaks and staying up late may insulate our happy little bubble of managed time, but there are no more hours in our day and everything comes at the sacrifice of something else.

Technology has only aggravated this problem by making us feel like we can be ever more efficient with our time by being hyper-connected and multitasking every hour of the day. We think that if we can get more done today, that tomorrow will be less hectic, that tomorrow we will have time for our hobbies, that tomorrow we will be less stressed and more happy. But tomorrow is a moving target and every day is just as busy as the one before because we simply aren’t able to manage time.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few of life’s truths that have helped me to recognize the deadly traps of time management:

We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time.

As I said before, time management is a lie. We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time. We aren’t in control of time, but we are in control of our actions. How we choose to use the time we’ve been given every day is the most critical decision we have to make with our lives.

Rather than missing the forest for the trees by worrying about how we can answer more emails in a day, worry about why we even want to be answering so many emails in a day. Look at the bigger picture of your life and begin to prioritize what will matter most in the grand meaning of your existence.

You don’t “have” to do anything.

Another one of time management’s deadly traps is overwhelming ourselves with everything we “have” to do in a day. When I looked back at my Google calendar from a year ago, it’s interesting to see everything I packed into my schedule and marked with a star as a “must do” task.

What would have happened if I simply didn’t get to it that day, that week, ever? Minor consequences, if any. I have to constantly resist creating additional and unnecessary pressure in my life. We all do. If you feel like there is so much you “have” to get done today that you can’t meet a friend for lunch or take off an hour early to see your son’s soccer game, closely evaluate these tasks again and you’ll be surprised as to how this new mindset will show you how things can – and will – wait.

You will never have more time.

No one is able to “make time,” they must prioritize. We all have the same number of seconds every day so when someone says they’ll try and make time for that tomorrow, you know that it’s simply not a priority.

Another trap is saying you will take on a task when you have more time. You will never have more time. You must either do less or do it faster to make room for something else in your life. Again, it comes down to priorities.

It will never take just a minute…half hour…hour.

This time management trap is one of the most subtle and therefore extremely sneaky. It’s being unrealistic with how long it will take you to complete a task. We begin our busy day with a task list orchestrated by the minute only to find that we are constantly falling behind and chronically late. Does this sound familiar? It’s likely because you think a task will take half the time that it actually requires and so you overbook your day and scramble to get back on track. This is a frustrating and stressful life to live.

Start tracking the time it takes you to do common tasks to gain a better sense for how much time they require. This will help you to manage yourself regarding time.

Only in very rare instances does something have to be done “now.”

This final time management trap is the one that really gets under my skin because it’s the result of someone else trying to manage your time for you. Your boss, co-worker or spouse asks you to do something and insists it has to be done right now. Does this sound familiar? We all know that person who feels like everything they have going on is urgent and you should drop everything you’re doing to make it a priority. Yet, once we do complete the task, they don’t even touch it until the next day, or week, or at all.

Don’t get caught up in someone else’s urgent trivialities. It’s a power game and their effort to control you since they likely feel out of control with other aspects of their life. Directly question if it truly is something urgent; make them justify it. Then, push back. Let them know you have other things going on and matter of factly state that it cannot be completed until next week. I always say that if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Learn to identify those people who “cry wolf” with your time.

In the end…

What’s the moral of this life lesson? It’s that the time given to us each day and the number of days we’re given in our life is completely out of our control. We can continue to waste these precious moments trying to find time hacks and ways to cram even more into our days. Or we can stop living the lie of “time management” and starting actually living.

So how should we manage our time? We should take more naps, longer lunch breaks, a long walk and turn off work after reasonable business hours have passed. Yes, there will be tasks left to do, but there will always be tasks left to do. Even if you worked 24 hours a day, there would be something more to fill your time – or you would invent it. You are the only person who can and should prioritize your life. If you don’t work to find a balance, you will simply work and work and work until that becomes the only meaning in your life. And that is a very sad day, indeed.

So, have you fallen into the deadly trap of time management – working longer and harder in hopes that it will make tomorrow less hectic…but it never does? Share your own struggles and triumphs by commenting below!

Stephanie Shirley

stephanie@bennisinc.com