Forget Time Management

If you’re stressed out and overwhelmed with too much work and getting home late all the time, if you’re worrying about work life balance, or if you’re always running around scattered because of so much to do–stop!  Don’t run out and start implementing time management systems.  Forget about time management….for a moment.

Instead rethink what you’re really trying to accomplish.  Instead of framing this primarily as a time management issue, look at your situation as a creative problem solving situation around your main goals (overall or for the day or week).  Instead of cutting out 5 minutes here and there so you can get home 15 minutes earlier so you can run off to do something else–figure out what you really want your life to look likeThen look at what changes need to be made to start moving you in that direction. Only THEN can you meaningfully start looking at what needs cutting and what doesn’t.

In fact, sometimes making things faster and avoiding interruptions may be a big mistake as it can increase the sense of being always on the go.  It can eliminate time to be creative and fully engaged.  It can eliminate the best social elements of work (which are always important even if not part of anyone’s job description).

In other words, don’t start by trying to save time every which way or writing down your to do list in a computer program or iPhone app.  Start by deciding what you’d really like.

For example, if one thing you’d really like is an hour a day more with your kids, start solving that challenge.  That may lead to dropping less important tasks or it may involve rearranging a schedule or even batching errands together more efficiently.  The point is to know that this is a priority and you’ll do whatever works best for making sure that gets done.  It may mean slowing down rather than speeding up so you can be relaxed enough to really enjoy time with your kids.

Step one then is to come up with all your goals about work and personal life and prioritizing them.  Even better is to start with your dreams rather than the more rational idea of goals.  A great way to do this that I use all the time with clients is to journal a few days in your ideal life as you’d imagine it.  That makes it concrete, real and detailed.

If you start this way you are motivated by your passions.  But if you start trying to save time with a sense of getting more done, you may get more done but then you will likely wind up with so much more stuffed into your schedule, you are wind up back where you were, feeling as stressed and overwhelmed as ever.

Here’s a start to this approach:

  1. Dream up a vision of what your day would look like if things were as you really wanted–at work and beyond
  2. Based on that, come up with key priorities or goals you can start working on now in each of your key life areas–personal, family, work, etc.
  3. Take the top priorities and start using a variety of creative problem solving techniques (not just time saving ones) to help you achieve your goal.

I know that isn’t always easy.  But I also know if you start with reading another book (or seeing another talk on) time management and don’t do these 3 steps first or something like them, you may become more efficient and technically more productive (if you’re lucky), but not happier–and isn’t that your real goal?

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