Time management is a trap. Unless you're Beyoncé or someone with comparable delegation, it's difficult to split your time consistently within 24-hour chunks. As I shared in time guru Laura Vanderkam's book Off the Clock, being productive is less about the time available and more about having your priorities in order. And Adam Grant, one of the most prolific modern minds, said the same thing -- but much more articulately.

Here's why Grant, Wharton's top-ranked professor, a best-selling author, and a popular TED speaker, says you should stop worrying about time.

Time management doesn't matter as much as you think

In a recent podcast, Grant lays it out plainly:

I'm bad with time management but great with attention management. If I'm choosing people and projects that matter to me, then it doesn't matter how long they take.

This is so worth unpacking, especially for those of us struggling with leading our startups, raising our families, and managing our personal health and needs.

Stop worrying about the time you have

Grant has three best-selling books, a two-season podcast with TED, and given multiple TED Talks on the main stage; he's a professor, and has shared posts almost daily on LinkedIn. Calling him prolific would be an understatement.

The key here is that, as he acknowledges, all these acts took time. As I learned, TED Talks take an extraordinary amount of time to prep for. Books often take years. Teaching is quite literally a full-time job itself. Look at the list, and figuring out how you would do it all today would exhaust you.

But what if you didn't worry about how long it took? I call it stretching the timeline.

Your frustration may not be in whether or not you can do it, but if you can do it within your ideal timeline.

Once you remove the timeline, then you can just concentrate on one thing: the process. You keep showing up, and the work will complete itself -- no matter how long or short of a time it takes.

Figure out where you should focus

Grant calls it "attention management." It's a lovely term that implies an important action: You have to know what is important to effectively manage your attention. Multitasking won't get you there. Saying "Everything is a priority" won't cut it.

The late Stephen Covey had an excellent way of showing how important priorities are to one's life:

Your life has big rocks and little rocks. Pour the little rocks in first and you can get them all in the jar, but you won't be able to fit the big rocks in. Put the big rocks in first, though, and then the little rocks will naturally fall into the remaining space allotted. You can fit nearly everything in, if you take care of the most important stuff first.

As a founder, I knew my big rock was my infant. I was ambitious, but I knew that my main goal was to be primary caretaker to my son. Attention, not time, was my main metric, and that allowed my two startups to flourish within the time I had available within my personal life.

You may never have enough time to comfortably do everything that needs to be done. The best way to master time is to decide what actually deserves to be done.

Published on: Feb 28, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.