Time management, you might have heard, tends to totally backfire.
In explaining why attempting to slice and dice your time more effectively just leads to feeling even busier, psychologist Tony Crabbe invokes the mythological monster known as the Hydra: "In Greek mythology, when you cut off one of Hydra's heads, two would grow back. Like with the Hydra, when we complete more tasks, all that happens is more appear to take their place--send more emails, get more replies. In essence, if we do more as a result of better managing our time, we don't get it all done--we just become busier."
So if squeezing every moment for all the productivity it's worth isn't the recipe for business effectiveness, what is? Forget focusing on the quantity of time you have available, suggests Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson in a thought-provoking recent post on Signal v. Noise. Instead, put all your energy into maximizing the quality of your time.
"An hour haunted by stress, interruption, sleep deprivation, or frazzle is not worth the 60 minutes it's allotted. It's a low-quality hour. You'd be foolish to expect that you can turn such dirty input into clear accomplishments. Garbage in, garbage out," he insists. "You need to actively work on increasing the purity and quality of your hours."
How do you do that? The post is well worth a read in full for complete details but, in essence, Heinemeier Hansson offers four simple questions to help you whittle down your tasks and create more quality time.
1. Do I really need to be involved in this?
Curiosity is great, except when it lures you into participating in all manner of discussions and tasks to which your expertise doesn't really contribute all that much. "The value of just skimming that email, turning down that meeting invitation, not depositing your two cents in that chat seems abstract in the moment. But diligently refraining from chiming in and collaborating is what gives room for making more important progress on fewer things," he reminds readers.
2. Could this wait?
"Most problems and opportunities are just as valuably addressed a day or a week or a month from now," claims this counterintuitive section of the post. (Procrastinators, you can thank me later for quoting this next sentence). "The longer you delay solving a problem, the more you'll know about it. Lots of pains just go away by adding idle time."
3. Can I bail on this?
Just as procrastinating isn't always bad, neither is quitting. Giving up might be much maligned, but it's a great response to discovering that solving a problem is going to be more effort than it's worth. "The road to a day wasted is paved with heroic attempts of throwing good hours after bad," claims Heinemeier Hansson.
4. Am I ready for this?
Why waste energy fighting your natural impulses? "Swimming with the tide instead of against it is just so much easier," notes the post. So if you feel like writing, write. If you feel like coding, code.