Teaching Time Management Is A Waste Of Time But…

We are desperate to become more effective. The clarion call for effectiveness and efficiency is wherever we look: do more, be more, see more, earn more, enjoy more, love more. Everything we are told is about giving, taking and doing more. This is partly as a consequence of, and also caused by, the personal effectiveness and personal development industry; people making money from telling people to how to live better lives.

The conundrum is obvious to anyone who spends time helping executives to be more effective. 50% of execs are pretty good at running their lives and their diaries. And even if they are not productivity ninjas then they have been on more silver-bullet courses than they care to mention and/or they are stuck in their ways and not about to try yet another five-step process as used by business celebrities and business school stars.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bottom 25%, are people who have never and probably never will ‘get’ how to prioritise, run a diary and consistently turn up to meetings and deadlines on time. These have also been on numerous time management courses and prided themselves on arriving late and having no sense of how they get things done.

This leaves what I would approximate as about 25% of the workforce who could, theoretically, benefit from some kind of help in managing their time and productivity better. I am not convinced that the HR department sending someone on a course is the right answer. I have never responded well to being sent on a course. It just doesn’t set up the right environment to make you want to learn and understand and apply what you are shown. When I sign up of my own accord, however, my commitment and enthusiasm is entirely different.

So, there’s the problem for the ambitious HR or Learning Development manager or director. They want their people to become more effective yet most don’t respond well to being put on such a program. So, how do they resolve this issue: carrot or stick?

Clearly, when the motivation comes from the individual then there is a greater likelihood of the teaching sticking. Maybe it needs to be encouraged or nudged by the organisation. Or maybe an environment and culture of self-improvement will do the trick. But I am still not convinced that the compulsory course is the way forward.

My conversations with HR managers tell me that they are committed to make their people more effective. It is good for the morale and of course it is good for the morale of the workforce. Is there really a time management or productivity system out there that can be rolled out and taken on board in a wholesale manner? I don’t think so. But that’s not to say that we should give up on encouraging people to be more effective.

What we can do is share and offer tools that we feel might work. We just mustn’t force them on people like pâté de foie gras.

All the research shows that high performers use some form of time management or productivity system, either explicitly or implicitly. They do not live a life of randomly picking things up and putting them down. They have processes and systems for everything from how they start off their days to how they prioritise and arrange their time and activities. That’s how they get so much done. The list of frequently (but not always) used activities include: journaling, meditating, prioritising, listing, goal-setting, and so forth.

To become more effective, there is a series of activities that need to take place in a certain order. These activities are the starting point for getting more productive. Agreeing goals and pursuing them gives a sense of meaning and purpose.

In essence, there are basic questions that need to be answered. A simple ‘ology’ asks:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where are you going?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • How are you going to measure and evaluate progress?

The next step would be to look at the whole picture of your life: how do you rate your current performance level (on a score of 1 to 10) in terms of the following:

  • Finance
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Fun
  • Faith
  • Business
  • Health

To develop a process that helps you articulate your goals and priorities you can then identify your key roles in life (say 8): eg father, manager, teacher, husband…

Next, list up to 8 goals for each role.

Then, order your roles in order of priority, from the most important to the least important.

The next step is to circle what you believe to be the 8 most important goals on the big list.

Finally, for each of the 8 goals, identify how you know it will have been achieved, how much resource it will take, and create a timetable for activity.

Once the plan is sorted then a journal-type device can get you to review recent activity and preview forthcoming activity, day by day, week by week, month by month and quarter by quarter.

Clearly this is a very quick and dirty simplification of how to set and create goals. However, I am sure that you get the gist of what I am saying.

Many feel that such an exercise is overwhelming. I disagree. What is overwhelming is having countless big and small projects and tasks all vying for your attention and not having some kind of framework to prioritise. The result is that everything is equally important and as a consequence you start failing or under-performing. An hour with a pen and paper allows you to get a sense of order and priority to the nightmare of trying to do everything and constantly feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of demands on your time.