5 Unbelievable Lies About Time Management


I’m busy researching a series of posts about how to manage stress which I’ll be publishing soon.

It's going to be a 31 Day Challenge aimed at helping you reduce the stress in your life. I'll be posting one article each day for a month containing some teaching and a challenge.

Doing all this research reminds me that having too many things to do and not enough time to do them is a leading cause of stress.

This is one of the reasons why I think effective time management is so important.

The more research I’ve done however, the more I’m convinced that some of the material published about time management on-line is nonsense misguided.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that I think some of it is probably untrue.

Here are 5 unbelievable lies about time management that made me stop and think.

1. Start Your Day Earlier

This is an insidious little porky. [footnote] For the non-Londoners among you: From the Cockney rhyming slang ‘lie’ = ‘pie’ thus ‘pork-pie’ and then ‘porky’ [/footnote]

It’s not that starting your day earlier won’t help some people. It will.

It’s the tone of voice used when offering this advice that I have a problem with. There’s an implication underlying it that unless you’re up and at it by 5.00AM, you’re wimping out.

The other problem I have with starting your day earlier is that for a lot of people including myself, first thing in the morning is the least productive part of my day.

I’m not a morning person. In fact I’m not sure I’m even human at 5.00AM.

Making your day longer than it already is, combined with dragging your half-dead self to the office before you’re ready is only going to lead to one result.

And it’s not improved productivity.

2. Technology Is the Answer

Here’s something else you’ll hear people suggest.

You just need to get the right technology to organise your day better.

Technology can help for sure, if you like and enjoy using it. If you don’t, then paper systems can work just as well. For many people, the physical act of writing things down is a far more effective way of unloading thoughts than tapping them into a computer.

My alternative suggestion is to use the tools that you enjoy.

If you love your Moleskine journal and Mountblanc pen, carry on using them. You can design a system to manage everything and enjoy the process of the pen, the paper and the weight of the book in your hand all at the same time.

Many do use technology, including me. That’s what I enjoy using.

No system’s going to work if it feels like you’re trying to push water uphill with technology you don’t like.

3. My (Fill in the Blank) System Is the Answer

Here’s another one.

There are some people who think they’ve got it all figured out.

They’ve designed a system to manage all their tasks, given it a name and now they want you to use it.

Let’s be clear: there are some good time management and productivity systems around. Notice however that it’s the plural — ‘systems’.

We all think differently. We work differently too. Some people are naturally ‘list’ people. Others like to plan ahead. Some are happiest when mind-mapping or brain-storming. Other like to doodle.

They’re just different approaches.

I think it’s a good idea to prick up your ears anytime you or any body else says ’should’. In most cases a better choice of word would be ‘could’ or in some situations ‘must.’

A 'should' is someone else’s suggestion (including that little voice in your head). It’s not a must — you’re not breaking any rules by ignoring it.

A 'should' is also loaded — I think you’re probably not OK if you don’t do it — in a way ‘could’ is not.

I think it’s sensible to look at the various systems people have designed. Then modify them in any way you like. Mash them together or just do some of it.

You’ll then have designed something that works for you.

4 Learn How To Multitask More Effectively

This one makes me laugh.

The evidence about multitasking is totally clear.

That’s scientific research by the way.

You know the kind of thing — properly constructed experiments which use fMRI and other kinds of imaging (and other technologies) to measure what’s happening in your brain when you try to multitask.

I sum up what this evidence in my post Why Multitasking Is Bad for You (And What to Do About It).

To cut to the chase:

  • It is actually impossible to multitask — what you do instead is rapid task-switching.
  • Task switching is inefficient on two counts. First there’s a lag time between switches and second it runs down your brain’s glycogen (energy) so your decision-making gets impaired.
  • Multitasking leads to inattentional blindness. This is why you should never try and drive your car and operate you cell phone. 48,000 families are grieving each year as a consequence of this behaviour in the U.S. alone.

I could go on.

Really, don’t multitask and don’t try to get better at it. It's impossible.

A far better tactic is to batch similar kinds of tasks together. Then you really will improve your productivity.

5 Productivity Is About Getting Things Done

Lastly, I worry that the objective of so much of the writing on productivity and time management is to encourage and support you to get more done.

My challenge back is this: What if the things you’re getting done, don’t matter?

Or maybe they matter a bit, but not as much as some other more important (to you) things.

The aim of improved productivity and better use of your time isn’t to create a larger pile of completed tasks.

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It’s about focusing your attention on what matters most to you.

You could have a very productive morning doing absolutely nothing. Allowing some time for your mind to wander is how gravity was discovered.

In Conclusion

OK, that's my list of 5 unbelievable lies about time management.

I’ve probably been a bit harsh — but I wanted to be a bit provocative in this post. 

I get a bit uneasy when I’m around people who are certain of everything.

I think leaving a bit of room for doubt or an alternative is the healthier way to go.

What do you think? Join the debate and make a comment.