The French sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” That may be, but the reality of the work world is that your time is a critical resource that must be used efficiently for greatest success. With the amount of press that the concept of improving productivity through improved time management receives, it’s easy to think that everyone else is making small tweaks to their workday that result in massive breakthroughs in productivity.
This is not necessarily so. To help you break free of striving to master time management practices that don’t deliver what they might promise, here’s a list. Kick those myths to the curb!
Myth #1: There’s a magical finish line where everything is done, once and for all.
For better productivity, lose the idea that all your tasks will ever be all finished. You (and your team) are never going to be or have unlimited resources. A better way to look at “reaching the end-goal” is to make sure you’re on top of prioritizing the work that needs to be done, making deliberate choices that move us toward the most important outcomes. Productivity will never be measured by what’s left undone. Your focus is better spent on the quality of tasks accomplished, rather than the quantity of tasks completed.
Myth #2: Making a to-do list will make you more productive.
Stop thinking so much about creating to-do lists. They won’t save the day. In fact, this kind of list keeping can often be a way you trick yourself into thinking you have accomplished something when in fact your tasks are as numerous as ever. In fact, the Harvard Business Review’s Daniel Markovitz states, “Stop making to-do lists. They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration.”
To-do lists in and of themselves do nothing to further a project or task. They are in fact only intentions rather than scheduled commitments. Markovitz suggests, “Take your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar. (Don’t forget to leave time to process your email. And leave some empty space—one to two hours—each day to deal with the inevitable crises that will crop up.) In essence, you’re making a production plan for your work.”
Myth #3: Don’t be distracted by emails, calls or sudden deadlines.
Emails, phone calls, meetings, notifications: These are indisputable parts of today’s working world. Even calling them “distractions” minimizes the importance of this kind of collaborative work. Instead, think of them as “obligations.” The ability to respond to colleagues in a timely fashion, be on hand for in-person interactions, or occasionally reboot your schedule comes with any job. Being an effective time manager means you manage your schedule well enough to be flexible and responsive in a way that makes sense.
For example, if your manager likes to email new ideas and goals late at night, know that and prepare yourself for some response time first thing in the morning. Conversely, if you know your best writing or coding time is first thing in the morning, book some morning time on your calendar and then attend to calls and emails. Managing the flow of communication is an essential tool for your time management toolbox.
Myth #4: A perfect time management system exists.
There really is no single magic bullet for managing your time more effectively. So many factors—from your company’s culture to management timelines to your own inner clock—affect how and when you are able to get your work done. The best way to improve time management for yourself, and for your team, is to make small, incremental changes. Begin with short-term goals: practice adding executing or planning time into your calendar, set aside one day a week to return calls or non-pressing emails, or even book a free hour for sudden meetings into every afternoon. Over the course of a few weeks you’ll see what changes work best for you and your team as you implement them. Then, adjust accordingly.
Myth #5: Undivided focus is king.
One of the most cited time management tips is that successful outcomes come from hours and hours of completely focused, uninterrupted time. The reality is that creativity and productivity responds best to routine. The best way to achieve a large goal is to break it up into manageable pieces and complete those tasks on schedule. Always plan some extra time beyond what you think you’ll need. Try to get into a rhythm of work that suits your internal clock, and be consistent about achieving daily goals.
There are a lot of rules, types and best practices around how to manage time effectively. Don’t fall for the fact that there’s a best way to manage your time, and stay rooted in realism. Find what works for you, and master it.
Tell us a time management myth you’ve turned on its head. What’s your favorite trick?