Effective time management seems to be the ultimate panacea for professionals in today’s fast-paced world. The perennial presence of time management books atop bestseller lists attests to this fact.
In this busy world, people have become almost ‘obsessed’ with time management: investing significant time and energy in seeking systems or new tools to help them accomplish more in less time. Scholars have differing views and recommendations on this, and sometimes these perspectives can appear contradictory or inconsistent. For instance:
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- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ encourages people to start with simple, time-consuming tasks as they come to mind. In ‘Eat That Frog!’, the author advises starting with the most difficult and important tasks and gradually moving on to easier ones. ‘Overcoming Procrastination’ suggests beginning with social and leisure activities and later filling in work tasks during spare time. ‘Wait’ mentions examples of intentionally not completing tasks immediately…
Not only do scholars offer varying advice, but successful entrepreneurs and highly efficient individuals also employ distinct time management methods. For example, there’s Zhang Chaoyang’s ‘short sleep method,’ where he sleeps for only 4 hours a day, breaking it into two-hour segments and even taking a brief break in between to make vegetable juice. Then there’s Elon Musk, who manages three multi-billion-dollar companies simultaneously, works nearly 100 hours a week, maintains work-life balance, and plans his schedule in five-minute increments, skipping breakfast and minimizing phone calls.
Time management is an essential skill for managers. When mastered, it can significantly increase productivity. However, why do many people still find themselves in situations where they say, ‘I understand the principles, but I still can’t seem to manage my life effectively?’ How can professionals avoid these seemingly sound ‘lies’ about time management? And how can they apply appropriate time management techniques effectively in their practical work?
5 Major Misconceptions About Time Management
We’ve all come across advice from successful entrepreneurs and management gurus on time management, yet why is it still challenging to excel in ‘time management’? With this question in mind, time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders conducted interviews and discussions with clients worldwide over more than a decade, discovering that people commonly face 5 major ‘lies’ about time management:
- Improving time management skills leads to higher performance.
Interestingly, there’s a relatively weak correlation between time management and performance. Working longer hours doesn’t necessarily equate to higher performance. A famous theory in management is, ‘Work smarter, not harder.’ This advice works well for time management enthusiasts. Climbing the ladder or getting a raise isn’t about how much work you complete but how much impact your work has on others. The focus should shift from time management to emphasizing quality over quantity.
However, should time management be completely disregarded? Not necessarily. Some scholars suggest a positive correlation between time management and job satisfaction: better time management often leads to increased happiness. The essence lies in reducing stress while maintaining maximum productivity.
- If you’re good at time management, you can do it all.
People commonly hold the misconception that mastering time management enables them to achieve everything: a thriving career, accomplishments in hobbies, and effortless development of other skills. While some may achieve all of these, the usual approach isn’t to attempt managing everything.
Instead, stepping back to carefully evaluate your commitments is crucial. Improving time management often involves acknowledging that you can’t do it all and making necessary adjustments by setting priorities.
- There exists a perfect ‘time management’ system.
In the realm of time management, you can find universal concepts and strategies that are beneficial for nearly everyone. However, a one-size-fits-all system isn’t realistic. Saunders found that each person needs to develop a system tailored to their individual needs and personality to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of time management.
For instance, some rely on digital tools, while others prefer pen and paper. Some prefer listing tasks one by one, while others lean toward planning in their calendars. Some are more productive in the morning, while others excel at night. If a time management system doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed; you just need to adjust it to suit your needs.
- You can quickly learn time management.
Change takes time, especially when it comes to time management. It often requires people to alter behavior patterns they’ve held for years or even a lifetime. When Saunders works with individuals, she observes that those she coaches are changing their perspectives on time, setting boundaries, making decisions, staying focused, and planning differently.
While grasping some time management concepts might only take an hour or a day, genuinely internalizing them typically requires actively practicing these new approaches for at least three months.
- Time management is about filling your schedule.
Almost all time management advice emphasizes planning ahead for your life/work and setting goals. Indeed, seasoned professionals tend to habitually plan their schedules. However, it doesn’t mean you should cram your calendar.
A fully packed schedule typically means that you haven’t allocated any time for yourself during working hours, whether it’s for a bathroom break, having a meal, engaging in brief conversations with colleagues, or simply taking a breather. Similarly, during the evenings, you might not have the opportunity to chat with others, reflect on your day, or tend to simple relaxation activities such as cleaning up after dinner or folding clothes.
Everyone needs rest and recharge time. When people don’t allow themselves to rest, they often try to steal moments of leisure in unsatisfying ways. Saunders believes that people spend a significant amount of time on social media or aimlessly browsing the internet because they haven’t experienced true relaxation. If you permit yourself to do things you genuinely enjoy, there won’t be a desire to escape.
7 practical time management strategies
1. Choose Efficient Work Methods:
Every time management guru has their own way to work more efficiently. Jeff Bezos is famously known for the “two-pizza rule,” where he believes that the more people in a meeting, the less efficient it becomes. To boost efficiency, he avoids attending meetings where two pizzas wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, practices a “social sweep” every morning. He logs into his Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts at a fixed time to catch up on the day’s news. This allows him to efficiently handle all social media in one go and avoid wasting time throughout the day.
2.Schedule One-on-One Meetings and Reflect Promptly:
Time management can be challenging for managers who are busy with scheduling and decision-making while dealing with the pressures of decision fatigue. Researchers at Cornell University estimate that the average adult makes about 35,000 decisions every day. Efficient individuals try to minimize unnecessary decisions to conserve mental energy. One time management strategy, provided by Julia Kelly, co-founder of Rigits Accounting, involves scheduling one-on-one meetings with team members. After every set of five one-on-one meetings, she takes a short break for reflection. This approach helps her stay fully engaged in each meeting and ensures no one is overlooked. It also allows her to assess and reset her goal structure before moving on to the next set of meetings. If you feel hard to schedule a meeting with your team, you can choose a tool like Huddles. Huddles provides One-on-One meeting templates and you can design it by yourself within AI.
3. Practice the “Touch It Once” Principle:
The “Touch It Once” principle suggests dealing with a task immediately when you first encounter it so that you don’t have to come back to it later. Vladislav Podolyako, founder and CEO of Folderly, follows this principle. If a task can be completed within 10 minutes, he tackles it right away. If not, he either delegates it to someone else or postpones it for at least a week. As a CEO who receives a high volume of emails daily, he typically takes action only if he is in the “to” line. If he knows someone else can handle it better, he forwards the email. His focus is on providing assistance rather than getting involved in every detail or trying to perfect every task.
4.Arrange Structured Meeting Times and Time Blocks:
Consciously dividing personal and team time into blocks and arranging them in a logical order can help managers become more effective, avoid cognitive load from switching environments, and improve the flow of business information. For example, scheduling all one-on-one meetings with subordinates on the same day or during the same time period helps managers maintain a “coaching mode” mindset and enhances communication efficiency. Suppose a manager has a high-level meeting on Monday and a cross-departmental team meeting on Wednesday. Slotting the one-on-one meetings with subordinates between these two meetings allows for quicker dissemination of strategic decisions from the high-level meeting to subordinates. It also helps summarize the business challenges faced by subordinates, which can be discussed at the team meeting the following day. All of these actions occur within 48 hours. The time outside of meetings can be used for more in-depth planning and team collaboration, avoiding inefficiencies due to haphazard meeting scheduling.
5.Value “Protected Time Blocks”:
Dr. Quantum Wins, the former CEO of Aecho, faced challenges juggling multiple responsibilities and utilized a secret weapon: protected time blocks. These are dedicated and uninterrupted time slots used exclusively for dealing with truly important matters. By harnessing these highly efficient time blocks, she could focus on critical, high-impact projects, changing the entire landscape. This concept is akin to the widely endorsed “monk mode” embraced by entrepreneurs, where executives maintain a high-efficiency fortress and are not disturbed by anyone or subjected to last-minute meetings, or arbitrary directives from superiors. Many entrepreneurs use this time to cultivate “creative thinking,” brainstorm “product ideas,” and envision the “long-term vision” of their businesses. Dr. Wins also extends this concept to her team and clients, providing everyone with highly productive moments.
6.Identify “Time Bandits”:
Managers are often surrounded by various “time bandits” that can derail their carefully planned schedules. These “bandits” might include subordinates or colleagues seeking help, an overflowing email inbox, departmental minutiae, or @mentions in a Message group. As a manager, it’s important to recognize that many of these issues can be dealt with later. Handling them immediately can often disrupt your focus on more critical tasks. Therefore, quickly identifying these “time bandits” and addressing them at the right time, rather than immediately, will help you stay focused on your top priorities.
7.Avoid Making Everything Urgent:
Colin Darretta, co-founder of Well Path, once had a terrible work experience with a boss who constantly created “false urgencies.” Initially, he found himself working late into the night every day to address these “urgent matters.” Eventually, he stopped treating his boss’s requests as true emergencies. When genuine urgent situations arose, he was slow to react because he no longer trusted his boss’s judgment regarding what was “truly urgent.” Managers should be aware that not everything is genuinely urgent. Recognizing this allows you to prioritize tasks more effectively and avoid wasting time on artificial urgencies.
When he became a manager himself, he stopped creating false emergencies. He didn’t want his team to go through the same bad experiences he had in the past. Imposing arbitrary deadlines can create a false sense of urgency, and when there is too much of this false urgency, people stop respecting genuinely urgent situations that require the involvement of the entire team.