Why “Time Management” is Nonsense — And What You Can Do About It
Many believe the answer lies in “time management.”
I’ve tried to manage time. Once I decided to put the fourth of July into May. Didn’t work. Then I struggled to delay my 40th birthday for a few months. It steamrolled toward me anyway, moving at the precise rate of 24 hours per day.
Believers in time management may benefit by reading Getting Things Done, the David Allen bestseller which I’ve found useful, mainly for two pieces of advice taken to heart:
1. Buy and use only plain manila tab folders
2. Buy and use a label maker to create professional labels for all files and notebooks
The rest of Allen’s advice is no doubt helpful for busy, busy people overwhelmed with long and short-term directives, deliverables, family and civic responsibilities, and general information. A terrific overview of the GTD approach is available at the 43 Folders blog.
I prefer a simpler, “higher altitude” approach advocated by my London-based buddy Mark Fritz, an aspiring achievement guru who recently came out with his second book, The Truth About Getting Things Done.
The Truth’s key point is that “time management” is an illusion. Everyone gets the same amount of time, and no one can “manage” it.
Instead of trying to manage time, says Mark, manage your focus.
“I’ve coached a number of people over the past few years,” Mark writes, “and one of the key problems they face is confusing activity with accomplishment. With today’s business complexity and the flood of information deluging us hour-to-hour, many workers fall into an ‘activity trap.’ They wind up reacting to everything that hits them all day long. They feel constantly busy and active, yet at the end of their day wonder what they’ve accomplished.”
So how to stop confusing activity with accomplishment?
“It’s all about changing from time management to focus management,” says Mark. “Time management is about fitting the most activities into the smallest amount of time. Focus management is about accomplishing your most important goals.”
For one Fortune 100 manager, changing from time management to focus management had a dramatic impact on what he and his team accomplished each week, says Mark. Two new habits made the difference:
1. Weekly Focus Review
This manager invested 30 to 60 minutes each Friday afternoon to list and review the key things he and his team needed to accomplish in the week ahead and weeks ahead. Then, he reviewed both his planned actions and actions he thought he needed to take (the ones he was thinking about but hadn’t yet written down), and made choices on what to do and what not to do.
Benefits of the Weekly Review: First, he clarified his Focus (important outcomes) and the key actions that would deliver it. Second, he went into his weekend with less stress, because he knew what needed to be done in the coming week.
2. Daily Focus Reminder
The manager started each day by reviewing his Focus: the key outcomes and actions he defined during the previous Friday afternoon Weekly Focus Review. He knew priorities often change, and that refining and keeping clarity on his Focus was key.
Benefits of the Daily Focus Reminder: First, the manager reminded himself of his Focus before the pressures of the day started. A clear Focus helped him make wise “yes/no” choices on actions throughout day. Second, he had a chance to refine his Focus based on new priorities that were beyond his control.
The Weekly Focus Review and the Daily Focus Reminder provided clarity that led the manager to better choices on how to use his time: What to do and what not to do. It also helped him guide his team toward better choices.
The way to stop confusing activity with accomplishment, says Mark, is focus management, not time management.
So, if like me, you sometimes find yourself struggling to accomplish goals, give the Mark Fritz approach a try. And stop trying to make Christmas come in July.
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