I have yet to meet the professional who has declared, "Time management? I've got that handled." (And if that's you, please send me a DM on Twitter so I can interview you for a future article).
Most busy professionals struggle with assessing how much time certain tasks will take, managing multiple priorities, saying no, and many more challenges. All of these cost profitability, productivity, and personal freedom.
Recent research has highlighted two contributing factors to these challenges. First, according to Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, time management is an emotion management problem. We don't like feeling bored, frustrated, or uncomfortable, so when we face tasks that make us feel bad, we don't do them.
Second, Wharton professor Adam Grant writes that time management is an attention-management problem. When we fail to prioritize the people and projects that matter most, everything takes longer to get done.
For many of my clients, there's an additional challenge to getting things done: Because they're comfortable doing things the old way. We are often more committed to our well-worn, old-time management habits--even when they're not working--than to shaking things up and likely getting more done.
Well, in case your old ways are really getting in the way of getting all your new tasks handled, here are three ways to shake up your time management behaviors:
1. Have an "Opposite Day."
Brainstorming the same old ideas--from "how do I become more productive" to "how do I have more 'me' time"--can get old fast. As Albert Einstein famously remarked, "You cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them."
So instead of doing a typical brainstorm, do an opposite brainstorm. Ask yourself how to achieve the opposite goal of what you really want, as in, "How can I guarantee I'll be less productive?" or "How can I make sure I never have time for myself?" It will not only be fun, it will give you a useful list of what not to do, and some helpful insight into what you're already doing that's actually thwarting your goals.
2. Plan for the unexpected.
Much of our productivity is negatively impacted by constant interruptions. While we don't want to seem rude or unresponsive, dealing with interruptions as they come means that we have to shift back and forth between tasks, which studies show decreases our effectiveness.
Of course, there are some interruptions that truly require us now (like a kid who is throwing up or a co-worker in crisis), but other interruptions should be dealt with on our own terms and timing.
Each day, schedule a block of 15- to 30-minutes to deal with all non-emergency interruptions, and plan to let people in your office know that you've done this. Practice saying, "I wish I could deal with this right away, but I am in the middle of something important. I can get back to you at 3 o'clock" (or whenever your interruption zone is scheduled for). Say it and stick to it. It will boost your productivity by keeping you focused, and by letting other people know that you respect your own time boundaries around interruptions.
3. Diagnose your roadblocks and create a personal plan.
There are three things that get in the way of our productivity:
- Lack of skill (we don't know how to do it)
- Lack of will (we don't want to do it)
- Lack of opportunity (we haven't scheduled the time to get it done)
To get more done, go through your to-do list task by task, and diagnose for each task what you have (skill, will, and/or opportunity) and what you don't (same list). Then, make a plan to learn what you need to, where skill is the issue; find motivation, if that's the gap; and create a space in your schedule for the opportunity to get it done.
As Charles Darwin noted, he or she "who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life."