Time Management – An Alternative Viewpoint

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Sweetie Berry (Twitter: @SweetieBerry, web page http://www.sweetieberry.com) for prompting this post. She shared with me a link to a web site which is (in her own words) “geared to help ADD high abilitied people (all ages) learn to use 7 minutes at a time to prioritize time to organize how they are effective in their plans of action, choices.”: http://www.the7Minutelife.com. This fired my grey cell into thinking about the whole issue of time management, which I find to be a somewhat peculiar phrase.

First, Some Groundwork

Before developing an argument, I need to lay some foundations from which I will be arguing.

Time is Finite

Whatever the time management experts say, we all have exactly 86,400 seconds available to us every day. Time is incompressible.

Of Goals and Tasks

We all have goals. Some goals are minor, such as having clean teeth after a meal, while others can be major, such as completing a research project. We achieve those goals by undertaking and completing tasks, such as using a toothbrush or writing research papers.

Continuous Choices

I now raise an idea that seems to be much neglected: the notion of “continuous choice”. This may need some explanation. By continuing to read this item, your are making a choice to keep reading: this is a choice that you keep making for as long continue to read. There any number of things that might change that continuous choice, such as

  • You reach the end of the item
  • Your telephone rings
  • You have a sudden and great urge to visit the bathroom
  • The device that you are using to read this item runs out of power

The same idea applies to driving a car on a long journey: anything could happen to change your mind to keep driving, including

  • Desire for a coffee break
  • Having a flat tyre
  • Needing to refuel your vehicle

These are decisions that you take continuously, and largely unconsciously, but they nevertheless control your actions on a moment-by-moment basis as you respond to the varying priorities of your own consciousness.

Da Capo

What we have here is an issue of task management, where we change the task of the moment to meet different goals. Whether or not we decide to switch between tasks is a function of the relative priorities of the goals at any given moment (“continuous choice”). The phrase “time management” is something of a smoke screen, merely reflecting the amount of time that we allocate to any given task, while obscuring the issue of goal prioritisation.

My Own Daily Goals

There used to be days when I remembered in the evening that I had forgotten to do something important that day. It might be to call a client, or pay a bill. To overcome this, it is now my habit to write a “to do” list at breakfast time, when my mind is usually least cluttered. It usually fits comfortably on a small “Post-it” note, measuring about 75mm square. I then refer to it throughout the day, and somethings think, “Woops, I’m glad I wrote that down.”.

“You Are REQUIRED to Attend this Time Management Course”

We now come to the classic case where time management is seen by some management teams as a “universal panacea”: they perceive more effective time management as a means of squeezing yet more work out of staff who are already fully committed to the business. At best, this is simply an exercise in futility. At worst, this can be a very effective means of demotivating everybody.

In Conclusion

Perhaps it is time to start thinking in terms of goal prioritisation and task management.