Is there anything more important than time management these days?
Think about it. Time is a finite resource. You can’t manufacture it. If you want to be happy, time is what you need to pursue (as opposed to money or material items).
Seeing as how time is important, it stands to reason that time management is important.
Problem is, we don’t do time management very well — and we especially don’t do it too well around work. Consider:
- Your time at work often isn’t really your own
- Even when it is, very few people are good at understanding the day-by-day flows of a work week
- In short, many people use their time pretty poorly
This leaves us in a pickle. How did we get here with regards to time management? What do we do? Let’s try to tackle both of those right now.
The time management era: How we got here
There’s a bouncing ball to follow here. Let’s endeavor to follow it.
The first step is that most managers in most companies are not, in fact, good at their job. By some measure, 82 percent of managers are the wrong hire. This emerges from a lot of other factors, notably ‘how we define managers’ and ‘how we train managers.’ I’ve written about that stuff before, but I’ll spare you the links right now.
The second step is that a bad manager — 8 in 10! — also probably works for an organization with unclear priorities. Most orgs have one priority: make money. Because they feel they can’t come out and say that, they couch it in all these other things. Add silos to that and there’s confusion everywhere. Most people spend the bulk of their work life doing unnecessary shallow tasks, but someone somewhere (a manager) told them it was important.
The third step is relevance. We all want to be seen as relevant at work. To get there, we want to come off as invaluable. It’s easier to be seen as invaluable if it looks like you’re constantly busy. That’s why we focus so much on the quantity of work we do, as opposed to the quality.
The fourth step goes back to bad managers and unclear priorities. In that context, everything now has a “sense of urgency.” We’re always rushing from task to task.
The fifth and final step is meetings and calls. Those take up most of your week. They take up even more when you make more money. Meetings and calls are often a waste, and no one ever shows up prepared.
Add up those five and your time is squeezed majorly every workday. This makes time management a challenge.
The time management era: So, what now?
The first step of the time management era is considering Essentialism, or the idea of doing what matters and is important — and that’s about it. This is a hard approach if you have a boss, because oftentimes your boss gets to say what’s important. We’re not quite at the point where self-management can be taken to scale.
The second step goes back to priority management. You need to figure out what your priorities really are and how to achieve them. Here’s one three-step model for doing that.
The third step is having some kind of system for each day. A lot of people use to-do lists, although those aren’t actually very effective. This isn’t a question you can hull hog take from a ‘thought leader.’ You need to figure out what works for you.
And fourth, because fun visuals are fun, there’s this:
Time management is all about a balance between what’s important and what’s urgent. Our brains are pre-wired to focus on urgency, when in fact we should focus on import. This is why most people are tethered to their e-mail.
The time management era and doing more with less
Here’s a good post from Josh Bersin called “The Art of Doing Less.” He speaks to a bunch of business leaders in Silicon Valley and they say things to him like:
“The most important resource our people have is their time,” said one of the HR leaders from a well known media and technology company. “So what I’ve learned after nearly 20 years in HR, is that we need to do away with almost 75% of the things we do.”
This is a very deep, nuanced issue. It’s hard to fully address in a blog post. However, it goes back to some of the themes discussed above. Because of a priority vacuum and unclear middle management, many employees are simply working on invented deliverables all day. This also happens at high-growth companies. It’s pervasive.
There’s a crucial distinction here, though. “Doing more with less” is what a manager says within the “We’re so understaffed” myth. It’s a managerial trick 6 times out of 10.
“The art of doing less” is closer to essentialism and priority management. That’s where you want to get in terms of time management.
The time management era and the professional boundaries era
I wrote another blog post a couple of weeks ago calling this “The Era of Professional Boundaries.” That ties into time management. You have to be comfortable saying no to some things, even if you think it’s the next $50B idea. You can’t always be chasing low-context frisbees for clients or other teams in your office. That all sucks your energy and destroys any sense of time management.
So that’s one of the final pieces of this puzzle. To operate effectively in the era of time management, you need to also embrace the era of professional boundaries.
The time management era cannot be covered in a simple blog post
These are heady issues. They revolve around human productivity, effective time management, and issues of what work even is. I’m a moderately smart person and I just spent 1,000 words on it. I barely scraped the surface of how to ‘hack’ or ‘master’ time management. You can go read a 300-page book on the topic and still barely scrape the surface. It’s complicated, multi-faceted contextual stuff.
What do you think has made our time management spiral so far out of orbit? And what’s the best way to bring it back?
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.