The French sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” That may be true, but the reality is that your time is a scarce resource that must be cherished. Effective time management skills are much more than the concept of improving productivity. Many assume that small tweaks to regain focus during your workday won’t necessarily result in massive breakthroughs in productivity.
This is not necessarily so. To help you break free of striving to master time management skills that don’t deliver what they might promise, here’s a list of the most common time management myths.
Myth #1: There’s a magical finish line.
Forget the idea that all your tasks will ever be completely finished once and for all. You (and your team) are never going to check all of your tasks off of your to-do list, and that’s okay. According to Liana Sayer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Time Use Laboratory, many people who are employed, married, a parent, or a college graduate feel shorter on time today than people in those situations did several decades ago. 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 first. An effective time management strategy helps you make 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 and impact of tasks accomplished, rather than the number of tasks completed.
Myth #2: A to-do list is an effective time management technique.
To-do lists may help you to organize all of your tasks in one place. But they won’t actually make you more productive. In fact, this kind of list keeping can often be a way you trick yourself into thinking you have accomplished something when you haven’t actually progressed on any of your tasks. 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.”
This time management myth of to-do lists gives the illusion of furthering a project or task along. However, lists are in fact, only intentions of productivity rather than an effective solution to time management. Markovitz suggests, “Take your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transfer them to your calendar. Don’t forget to leave time to check and respond to your emails and Slack messages. And leave some empty space—one to two hours—each day for focused thought or, worse case, to deal with the inevitable fire drills that will crop up. In essence, instead of a to-do list, you’re making a production plan for your work.”
Myth #3: Emails, calls or sudden deadlines are distractions.
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, let’s 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 is important with any job. Effective time management means you can manage your schedule well enough to be flexible and responsive without getting completely sidetracked by other priorities.
For example, if your manager likes to email new ideas and goals late at night, give yourself extra time in the mornings to respond. Conversely, if you know your best writing or coding time is first thing in the morning, silence these distractions and block off your calendar in the morning. Make sure you communicate this schedule to your team so they know that you can attend to calls and emails later in the day. Managing the flow of communication is an essential tool for your time management strategies.
Myth #4: A perfect time management strategy 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 working time into your calendar, set aside one day a week to return calls or non-pressing emails, or even book a free hour for last minute 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 myths is that successful outcomes come from hours and hours of completely focused, uninterrupted time. The reality is that creativity and productivity can respond best to routine. The best way to achieve a large goal is to break it up into manageable tasks 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.
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There are a lot of rules, types and best practices around how to manage time effectively. As a result, there are a lot of time management myths. Don’t fall for the fact that there is 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. Please share your favorite trick for managing your time most effectively?