The ability to make the most of your personal productivity has been an issue as long as I’ve been working with managers and leaders at all levels. The context and nature of work have changed over 25 years, faxes and phone calls replaced by texts and IM’s, but the issue of staying focused and achieving a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day seems to be as elusive as ever.
What can get in the way is how you go about thinking about time management. Here are the most common “myths” we hear about “time management”.
Myth #1 “If I just had more time.” This is probably the most common. I don’t think people really believe they can “find” or “make” more time. What they are really talking about is using their time and energy in a more effective way. When I’ve spent time with people that have said this, I’ve consistently seen that they aren’t aware of the impact of things that they do that limit how they can use their time and energy. You can’t spend more time with your family and spend all night chatting with friends on Facebook. Translated: a need to have more time is a need to make different choices.
Myth #2 “I just haven’t found what works for me.” We’ve heard people use this one as an obstacle to planning and personal organization. They jump from one system to the next, trying to find that Goldilocks solution, “just right.” What they don’t realize is that if they used a system that worked 70% effectively for them, they’d learn it over time and their usage and its effectiveness would increase. The relearning of new systems frequently, set them back. When people ask me what piece of home exercise equipment is best, I tell them it’s the one they exercise on, as opposed to using as a towel rack. Strive for progress, not perfection.
Myth #3 “I work better under pressure.” In truth, you don’t necessarily work better, you just work faster. Zig Ziglar used to ask his audiences what the most productive day of the year was. The answer he’d give was, the day before you go on vacation. At that point, you are focused and moving faster than any other day of the year. You can create that level of focus any day, by being clear on the benefits of getting the job done. The other downside of working good under pressure is that you have no opportunity to check your work, to revisit your thinking and take it to the next level. Make your personal goals and work-life balance as important as the day before you go on vacation.
Myth #4 “I’m great at multitasking.” Research over time and recent studies continue to debunk this myth. You cannot do multiple mental tasks at the same time and be effective. The studies show that you decrease your effectiveness in each. Called serial tasking, it creates an unfocused orientation in which you just jump from one thing to another. Although you can effectively complete some mental tasks at the same time as some physical tasks, think listening to an audiobook and driving, this isn’t the same as two mental tasks. If you’re required to add another mental task, like navigating, while you’re driving and listening, you’ll probably your exit.
Myth #5 “I’m just not a disciplined person.” If this were true, then you wouldn’t be reading this article or be concerned about time management at all. If you’re considering how you could be more productive, you must be interested in something. You most likely are frustrated because your tasks are getting in the way of what’s truly important to you. If you consider the concept of discipline to devotion, I think you’d agree that you have things you are devoted to, that matter to you. That’s the same thing as discipline. When I hear people say they aren’t disciplined, I think what they are really saying is that they are not a regimented person. It’s important to realize there’s a significant difference between being regimented and disciplined. Regimentation usually refers to a strict structure or highly specific sequence of events. However, you can have tasks that you are fully committed to without having to do them the same way every time. Instead of believing you need to be regimented, realize you can practice unregimented discipline. I might close out my day before I leave for home, or the next day before work, based on my schedule and other priorities. I’m disciplined to the process of closing out my day, just not regimented to when it must be done.
To be more effective, you need to break through the myths of time management and focus on the truth of accomplishing more of what matters to you most.