The concept of time management is often misunderstood and generally fails to minimize overload and stress. While the focus on efficiency is admirable, the real overload is self-defeating and futile.
Initiate clear time guidelines to select the types of activities you won’t do and develop processes like setting a day when managers hold no meetings. There is a zen in taming time, not in facing it.
The lingering feeling that there is never enough time causes a lot of stress. We must learn time management to tame and manage our time. Our goal is to convert hour-long sessions into half-hour sprints or plan more minor activities to reduce wasted time.
But we want to use time management as a stress reducer – not an anxiety producer. As we improve our efficiency, we can add more tasks and start to feel more pressure. Tackle the root causes of mundane stressors: the amount of work, choices, and distractions.
But time management should be used to reduce stress by freeing up time for self-care. Maybe go to the gym, go for a walk, or get a massage. Think of time management for freedom – not time management as a whip.
The time management trap
The transition to remote work after the Covid-19 outbreak has created a fascinating natural experiment illustrating the problem of time management. Working from home saves time (home-work travel) and around half of remote employees say they are more productive.
A study by Atlassian found that self-reported time savings and productivity gains are ineffective. The average workday has increased by 30 minutes worldwide, the reverse of the results obtained by individuals who spend their time more efficiently. To complicate matters, the extra 30 minutes of work mostly came at the cost of evening leisure.
Time management ensures that we can easily perform all our tasks by being more efficient. But, like digging a hole at the beach, time management requires a lot of water to fill it. An hour on your schedule is like a flare proclaiming your ability to take on another project or position. So keep thinking about your ability to claim the freedom to take care of yourself now.
Time management has never been wasted—productivity issues. But in a society plagued by burnout, we need techniques to reduce anxiety producers rather than coping with volume.
You’ll want all three of these options to escape the trap.
1. Reduce the volume of tasks
“I’ll take care of the budget update for next week’s meeting”, “I’ll have something for supper when I get home”, etc.
As soon as you agree to take on an additional task, the pressure to deliver begins. Any agreement to break or renegotiate adds stress and guilt to the situation. How you hold the line depends on how your to-do list grows from assigned tasks. Or does it grow things you choose to do?
Prioritize tasks over time. When a supervisor asks you to get something done, responding with “I don’t have time for that” may seem too abrupt. Instead, ask, “Where should I prioritize this task relative to x, y, and z?” Responding in this way achieves two goals. First – it gives your boss insight into what you’re working on – and sometimes gets you out of trouble. However, they are the ones who set the priority, not you.
2. Reframe the dialogue from a binary option to a collaborative debate
If you want to add tasks, start by blocking the calendar. We usually overestimate our abilities, which leads to overwork. Our calendars are showing a bit of daylight, so we’re thinking, “I can definitely do it by Friday.”
Then comes Friday, and we have to renegotiate.
Best advice – put your personal care actions and family obligations on your calendar first. If other people are synced to your calendar and you don’t want them to see your plans, phrase the verbiage differently.
My weekly massage appointment says, “One-time meeting with Sarah H.” I combine massage time with my lunch hour and smash a boiled egg on the ride. The point is that we don’t try to get out of our intense, overloaded and stressful work – we come back refreshed and work harder and faster. By making time for yourself, you won’t regret the half hour, hour or more you stay after work.
The problem is that your calendar usually only shows synchronous work (tasks that you are competing against others simultaneously). Then you include meetings, phone calls, etc. Your tasks are a list of agreements with others for asynchronous work (tasks you do alone, not in real time with others).
The answer? Merge your calendar and to-do list by scheduling time for each task. Getting a full picture of your obligations (and self-care) allows you to assess your abilities before taking on more.
3. Decide on the principles
We have spent the past two years making decisions: Do I send my children to school? Can I visit them? Is it safe to go to work? Constantly being faced with difficult decisions with limited information can lead to cognitive overload. Overthinking and the unknowns of cognitive overload are where the demands of mental work exceed our ability to adapt. Cognitive overload increases the risk of errors and leads to a feeling of overwhelm.
You could start by replacing choices with absolutes. For example, the science of weight loss management teaches us that “I won’t eat after 7 p.m.” is more successful than “I won’t snack after 7 p.m.”
Can I have this cup of yogurt? How about some fruit?
The ultimate directive not to eat after 7 p.m. closes the door. Choices disappear – the result is less overhead.
Author and podcaster Tim Ferriss calls the overload scenario “finding the one option that eliminates 100 decisions.” Ferriss set a goal of not reading new books in 2020 — he would finish the ones he started. Since writers and their publicists bombarded him with dozens of new or upcoming books every week, this general principle relieved him of hundreds of book-by-book choices.
Steve Jobs wore the same thing (a black t-shirt and jeans) every day to avoid morning dress selection weariness. Jon Mackey is the CEO of a Canadian company. He built his establishment with “No meetings on Fridays”. After failing to set aside time for serious work by choosing which meetings to accept or decline, Jon Mackey dreamed up a weekly focus day.
4. Minimize Entertainment with structure does not want
Diversions prevent us from completing activities and making critical judgments. Interruptions contribute to crushing by preventing us from feeling like we are moving forward against the causes of the pressure.
Trying to bravely ignore digital platforms puts you up against an army of the brightest minds of our generation. These brightest minds are focused on exploiting what Facebook founder Sean Parker calls “vulnerabilities in human psychology” to get your attention. When it comes to distraction, structure always wins.
Many business executives set aside time throughout the day to turn off their laptop Wi-Fi in order to concentrate. Others have scheduled 30-minute meetings for their staff to ask questions and get advice. Then, fewer people ask, “Can I take you five minutes?” »
Cathy Engelbert, former CEO of Deloitte, banned back-to-back conferences. So instead it was a 10 minute break for SMORs or tiny minutes for reflection. This quick recovery break meant she wasn’t distracted by the next meeting or putting off the agenda from the previous meeting.
The answer is not to become more efficient and simply accept more work, choices and distractions. Instead, reduce your workload, make principled choices, and create structure to avoid distractions.
May your new mantra be, Simplifyand make your time management choices reflect a renewed commitment to taking care of yourself, your loved ones, and your life.
Image Credit: Chris F; pexels; Thank you!