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Why “Time Management” is Nonsense — And What You Can Do About It

man_with_clock.jpgEver wonder why some people complete in hours tasks that others drag out over days? Or why busy people seem to volunteer most, yet accomplish far more than their leisure-blessed counterparts?

Many believe the answer lies in “time management.”

What nonsense!

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.

But for those who’ve achieved some success in being underwhelmed by administrivia, Getting Things Done seems toothe_truth_about_getting_things_done.jpg long by, well, about 257 of its 267 pages.

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.

hurry_and_blur.jpg“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.

mark_fritz.jpgThe 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.

You may also enjoy:

Daunting Task? Learn to Whip It

Jack London on Upward Mobility

Recognizing the Opportunity Within

15 Comments to Why “Time Management” is Nonsense — And What You Can Do About It

On Oct 16, 2008, Brian commented:

I had to chuckle, the manilla folders and label maker were the two pieces that I really took away from Getting Things Done as well.

I love ’em though.

On Oct 16, 2008, by Tim commented:

Surprising how those simple things help so much, isn’t it?

Now if Brother could just come out with cheaper label maker tapes …

On Oct 16, 2008, charles faris commented:

right on, brother. i always find that the longer i take to do something the greater the likelihood that i’ll never get it done…thank god!

i don’t need to get more done. i need to do the right things! that’s why i work for myself…less filing, more chasing my son around the house.

On Oct 16, 2008, Dan commented:

For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:


You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version and iCal are available too.

On Oct 16, 2008, by Tim commented:

Thanks, Dan. Many readers may find this helpful. I’ll stick to my paper-based system. Already spend too much time at the computer as is.

BTW, Charles’s comment reminds me that I need to do a post soon about Clark’s Law of Hurtling (that’s hurtling, not hurling)

On Oct 17, 2008, Brett Owens commented:

Good post, have to say your emphasis on “focus management” really resonates with me.

Recently I noticed that most of my “to do” tasks weren’t taking me nearly as long as I thought they were – they key was focusing in on them and not being distracted by the constant incoming barrage (email, etc).

On Oct 17, 2008, by Tim commented:

I’ve noticed the same thing, Brett. The “to do” list often looks overwhelming. But when you crack down and focus, it’s amazing how quickly you can knock off those items–and surprising how daunting tasks become puny in the face of serious concentration.

On Oct 17, 2008, Brett Owens commented:

Exactly Tim, very well put.

I’ve noticed this contrast especially on weekends, where I find it easier to focus on the tasks at hand, I believe due to the lack of inbound noise.

Now trying to figure out how to replicate this level of productivity on weekdays – and minimize the need to work on weekends!

On Oct 17, 2008, by Tim commented:

It’s against my religion to turn on the computer on Saturday or Sunday, and I highly recommend the same strategy for Monday through Friday.

Turn off the PC and watch your productivity soar. Above all, never let yourself get distracted by superfluous tasks, such as, er, blog commenting …. :)

On Oct 20, 2008, Chris - Manager's Sandbox commented:

Interesting article, but… The daily and weekly reviews you mention in your anecdote ARE GTD. They’re core components of the system, actually.

I think saying “manage your focus instead of manage your time” sounds nice, but in the end, it’s really the same thing.

– Chris

On Oct 20, 2008, by Tim commented:

Good point, Chris, we very well may be using different words to talk about the same thing. Tim

On Oct 21, 2008, Chris - Manager's Sandbox commented:

@Tim – to be fair, I actually think “time management” is probably the mis-nomer here, not “focus management”.

On Oct 21, 2008, by Tim commented:

I’ll buy that! Thanks for stopping by, Chris.

On Jun 10, 2011, Fotografia slubna Wroclaw commented:

Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Opera. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon. Cheers

On Jun 24, 2011, by Tim commented:


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