If you Think BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT is the Solution, You’re Probably Wrong
by Gregg Krech
Millions of “time management” books have been sold and many of us have come to believe that the big problem is a problem with managing our time. If we could just manage our time well, we wouldn’t procrastinate and we could do everything we need to do, when we need to do it.
Since we are human, we can always do a better job of how we use our time. But I don’t think time management is the root cause of our problem. I would suggest that the primary reasons people don’t do what they need to do are:
- Feeling-centeredness. We approach our lives and responsibilities from a feeling centered perspective. That means if we feel like doing what we need to do, we do it.But in many cases we have unpleasant feelings about the task, so we avoid doing it. It’s not a time management issue. It’s a Feelings/Purpose/Action issue. We anticipate that the task or work will stimulate unpleasant feeling states (we may be right about that) and so we choose to avoid discomfort.Of course we usually experience discomfort when we realize that we are avoiding doing what we should be doing, so the end result is that the task remains undone AND we feel distress because we haven’t done it.
- Lack of Clarity about Priorities. When we choose to put time, energy and attention into doing something, we are agreeing to neglect everything else there is to do. We try to compensate for this by “multitasking”, but every study suggests that just makes things worse.So we resist committing to a hierarchy of priorities in which we have to choose whether planning a vacation is more important than balancing our checkbook or having a phone call with a friend. We make vertical lists, but we treat the things we need to do as if it is a horizontal menu – everything is of equal importance.Since we don’t decide what is most important, how do we choose what to do? Our default strategy is to choose things we like to do, things that are easy (minimal energy required) and things that we can do quickly, so we can check them off the list (which makes us feel good).
- Confusion about What Specifically Needs to be Done and How to Do It. We are consistently faced with problems that need to be addressed, but we’re not exactly sure what we need to do or how to do it. Repairs of anything (lawn mowers, websites, relationships) are often like this. We may first have to spend time diagnosing the exact problem, before we can go about addressing it, without knowing how long the process might take or if we can even resolve it.But if there are dirty dishes in the sink, we know just what to do and we know we’ll end with a clean and shiny sink. Why not just wash those dishes instead? (See #1 and #2 above)
Time management literature rarely makes mention of attentional skills (mindfulness), gratitude and compassionate action – all of which, I believe, are important themes connected to getting things done in one’s life.
So if you want to do the really important things in your life – the things that you will remember at the end of the year or the end of your life — you might not want to focus on improving your time management skills.
Instead, you might practice doing things that you don’t feel like doing – when you aren’t motivated and the idea of the task stimulates anxiety and aversion. You don’t have to be perfect at this (I’m certainly not) but if you can become a bit more skillful, it’s a truly empowering way to move forward on the things that can give meaning to your life.