We see and hear the words “time management” everywhere we go. But time management is a misnomer. To be blunt, it’s total B.S.
Time management would tell us that our productivity is measured by the results we get in a given time period. But if that’s true, how is it that a salesperson, for example, can make the same exact number of sales on two different days (the same amount of results in the same amount of time), yet feel extremely productive one day and totally unproductive the next?
The answer is only found when we stop believing the lie of so-called “time management.”
What exactly is the lie of time management? The lie is that we can increase our productivity by shortening the time it takes to produce a specific result. There are two flaws in this logic.
First, time is not a variable in the equation of productivity. You can choose to do something in a way that takes less clock time than the alternative, but time did not change; your choice changed. You chose a different process, and the duration of that process was less.
If you’re not quite understanding this important distinction, then think of a clock like a ruler. You can cut an object shorter in length, but the ruler did not change. Those whose job it is to make things smaller don’t focus on “ruler management,” do they? Choice, not time, is the relevant variable.
Second, this traditional objective understanding of productivity, though useful in evaluating the efficiency of assembly lines, doesn’t address your subjective feeling of productivity.
Validate this from your own experience: Think of a specific time when you were very busy and felt frustrated because you “didn’t have the time” to focus on what you really wanted to do. All of the results of that busy-ness didn’t make you feel productive, did they? Now think back to a time when you finally followed through on something important that you’d wanted to do for several weeks or even months. That one result made you feel very productive, didn’t it?
How is that possible? Many results = not productive. One result = productive. That doesn’t make sense in the traditional paradigm of “time management.”
In my experience helping people with their productivity challenges, I’ve never found the time-centered concept of productivity to describe accurately anyone’s actual experience of productivity. When a concept does not fit actual experience, it’s time for a new concept. So let’s redefine productivity to make it more meaningful and useful to us.
PRODUCTIVITY: The feeling you get from making progress on the things that are most important to you
Results by themselves never create a feeling of productivity. It’s your relationship to those results—how important they are to you—that determines how productive you feel. When you feel unproductive, it’s not that you didn’t produce results, it’s that you didn’t produce the results that were most important to you.
This begs a question that many people under the spell of “time management” forget to ask themselves: “What’s important to me?”
You may be thinking, “Of course I know what’s important to me.” But do you? Do you really know what’s most important to you? Do you know why it’s so important? And maybe most sobering of all, can you explain—if it is indeed so important to you—why you so often choose to focus on things that are less important?
Anytime you feel busy, but not productive, you’re neglecting what’s most important to you and focusing on what isn’t. This all too common “busy, not productive” feeling is a natural consequence of focusing on how much you can do and how fast you can do it.
So instead of trying to “manage time,” focus on making more effective choices:
- Identify what’s most important to you, and then…
- Choose as often as possible to focus on what’s most important to you, while you…
- Work to understand and overcome the obstacles that prevent or distract you from focusing on what’s most important to you.
Each of these steps can be challenging; they are skills that must be developed. But the good news is, they are just skills—learnable skills that you can master.
And yes, on a balance sheet or annual report, objective results matter. But in your personal experience of life, your relationship to the results you produce, not simply the results themselves, determines how productive you feel. When you understand that difference, and you learn to view productivity as a feeling, you open yourself to real and lasting solutions to your so-called “time management” problems.
(Adapted from Peaceful Productivity Now by Curtis G. Schmitt.)
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