The Myth of Time Management

We can't really manage time
We can’t really manage time

We can’t and don’t manage time.  The first time I read that from David Allen I had to put the book down and have a think:

  • you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six;
  • you don’t manage information overload – otherwise…the first time you connected to the Web…you’d blow up; and
  • you don’t manage priorities, you have them.

What we manage is our focus (HOW we spend our time) and energy

So with this in mind, I present to you the three books on “time management” that make the most sense to me. These are not books on how to use Microsoft Outlook to be more efficient. Frankly I feel like those kinds of courses that often end up teaching people to do useless work faster are more of the “blaming the victim” mentality.

These are books on getting the right things done and still having a life.

I do them all a disservice by skimming only one or two ideas from each, but that’s enough for now. If you want more, go read them yourself. I suggest you read them in order presented here (going from simplest to sophisticated), but that’s up to you.

“Eat That Frog!” – Brian Tracy

Big Idea: Do the most important, hardest, least pleasant, or most procrastinated task first. Getting that done gives you energy and motivation for the rest of the day

This is based on the Mark Twain quote “Eat a live toad first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. It doesn’t sound very appetizing. But by doing so you release stress, gain momentum, and are free to do what you want for the rest of the day. And actually do the stuff you need to get done. If you have more than one frog, eat the biggest ugliest one first. If you can’t decide which that is, pick the one you’ve been putting off the longest.

“Getting Things Done”  – David Allen

Big Idea: Keep all your commitments in one place, review them regularly. If a task would take less than two minutes to do, just do it right now.

As you scan everything that’s coming at you, decide if you’re going to file it (for reference), give it to somebody else (delegate it), forget (trash) it, or do it. If  it’s going to take less than two minutes then just do it now. The effort of tracking it is going to take more than two minutes of your time anyway. Otherwise put it on your calendar (because it has a deadline) or on your to-do list (because it doesn’t matter when you do it).

Here’s the secret sauce: keep your system up-to-date. Having a system is useless if you don’t use it on a regular basis. This is the stress many of us feel when we’re overwhelmed – your brain trying to remind you of all the things you’re supposed to keep track of. And it’s not very good at it. So it makes your life miserable.

If everything’s in one place, in a trusted system (you review it regularly) your brain can shut up about what it thinks it’s forgotten. Now you can focus on actually getting things done.

“The Effective Executive” – Peter Drucker

Big Idea: Put your ladder against the right wall.

You can be the fastest ladder-climber in the world, but if your ladder is leaned against the wrong wall, then your ability to climb ladders is wasted. Likewise all that frog eating and getting things done. Think about your strategy and consequently what you’re going to spend your time on, and you’ll be an effective executive.

There’s so much more in this book, of course. It’s one of the most practical books by the most influential management theorist and practitioner of the last century. I learn something new on every page every time I read it. Some other topics he covers:

  • effective executives know where their time goes
  • they focus on contributions and results
  • they build on strengths instead of trying to fix weaknesses
  • they do first things first (and second things second if at all)
  • they make effective decisions (and he describes in great detail what that looks like)

So, here are your undergrad, graduate, and post-graduate courses in time management and effectiveness. Have fun.

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