Americans are obsessed with the idea of time. We crave extra time and look to others for their Eureka moments about time management. Yet, no matter how airtight the advice, we still only manage to fritter away our own time. Why isn’t time management working for you?
You’re running on no fuel
Ever put diesel fuel into an unleaded engine? Don’t expect it to run. Even if you use all the right time management strategies, your body needs the right ingredients to function.
A full night’s rest, a nutritious diet, and an ample amount of regular exercise are needed to keep your brain alert and on-task. The number one mistake that most people make as they try to manage their time is not fulfilling these basic needs.
The drive to multitask prevails in our society. For all but the truly abnormal person, multitasking is an illusion. A French study showed that your brain can at most handle two tasks at once: one for the left lobe and one for the right lobe.
Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University goes as far as saying in an interview with NPR that “people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits.” Those deficits include your brain dropping tasks midstride, lacking focus, and being prone to making mistakes. Yet even with these facts people obstinately claim the contrary.
What trips up most people is the delusion that they’re the exception to the rule. They say, “I can practice good time management and multitask, too. I’m above average.”
Supertaskers do exist, but, as David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, found, they are “single digits among thousands” or under 2 percent of the population. Test yourself if you want, but more than likely, you just have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t multitask.
Now, even though your focus will be narrowed down to one task, that doesn’t mean you should just muscle through projects until you finish. Divide that task into smaller goals and take a break every 25 to 30 minutes. Emails, texts, and idle web browsing are out of the question until you reach the set time for them.
You’re setting yourself up for failure
Good time management isn’t like flipping a switch. It takes work, which is something that the “easy time management tips” neglect to tell you.
For example, some self-help gurus suggest that all tasks are elastic and can fit the timeframe you’ve given yourself. The ultimate goal is to keep your focus, motivation, and energy at peak levels in a condensed window. This approach can maximize productivity, but what most practitioners fail to mention is the steep learning curve.
Your first time around, you’re more prone to fall victim to the planning fallacy. It’s a tendency to underestimate the time, cost, and effort needed to achieve a certain goal, diminishing the chances of a successful project. Do this enough, and you might just regress to your old ways.
At the early stage of time management, finding a realistic timeframe is going to be a trial and error process. Don’t rush, and don’t sweat any stumbling blocks as you learn to better manage your time in a way that works for you.
Your “priorities” don’t matter to you
Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?” To paraphrase the poet, are you keeping yourself busy with the right priorities?
Time management is more than just making time for menial tasks and unfulfilling responsibilities. When you make a list of daily, weekly, or monthly priorities, you need to strike a balance between responsibilities and things that matter to you.
Too much time spent toeing the line can be stifling, but too much time spent following trivial whims can lead you down the wrong path. According to Celestine Chua of Lifehack, one good way to eliminate unimportant tasks is to ask yourself, “Will doing this make a difference in the next 6 months?” If your answer is anything but an assured yes, shelf that task for later.
A final note
These common mistakes aren’t the only you’ll face. Anyone who has tried to better manage their time will tell you that new problems crop up all the time. The key is to remain levelheaded and keep your eye on the prize. Solutions will come if you’re patient and proactive.
by James Walsh