February 19, 2019

More Self-Knowledge, Fewer Hacks: Why Time is Up for Time Management Techniques

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As a project manager, to say you’re pressed for time would be an understatement. To combat this, you no doubt invest some of your valuable time looking for ways to use it more effectively.

Search “time management techniques” in Google and you’ll likely see top results for three different articles listing the same (or very similar) productivity hacks. You’ve read these before. Strangely, most of them advocate eating frogs or buying a fancy project management tool, and at least one of them will have a quote from Elon Musk peppered in among the bullet points.

I don’t mention these articles because the advice they offer isn’t valid or good but because so-called “time management” is much more than a list of tips for boosting your working efficiency. To truly improve your ability to juggle a variety of tasks and complete them by certain deadlines, start working on your relationship with perhaps the most important person in your life: you.

Once you’ve done the heavy lifting of building a relationship with this stranger, there’s nothing holding you back from implementing productivity hacks paired with the right project management software. But first, some context.

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Time management is really self management

In an article on Getting Things Done, organizational and personal productivity expert David Allen says, “You can’t manage time away. Time just is…Time management is really managing what we do, during time.”

This is a frequently cited quote from Allen, but it’s one that bears repeating. Instead of viewing time as something to wrangle or tame (as many people do), we should recognize that time is outside of our control and use that as the parameter for our efficiency function.

Acknowledging this subtle difference may seem pedantic or cutesy, but its implications highlight the need for a perspective shift in our approach to work: time management is really self management. Knowing how you operate in relation to time is the key to setting yourself up for success in managing projects.

Based on this change of perspective, here are some guidelines for better self management.

1. Know how much time you have

Understanding how you operate in relation to time begins with understanding how much time you have to work with. This idea goes a step further than just knowing your schedule for the day.

While mapping out your availability for the day is a good start, it’s not enough to know that you will get to work at 8, take 30 minutes for lunch at 11:30, step into an hour-long meeting at 3 p.m., and head home at 5:15. You know deep down that you won’t jump back into deep work the minute you come back from lunch at noon, so why do you only give yourself an hour between noon and one o’clock to work on that important project?

It’s no secret that time is a social construct. Just as we express time in terms of phrases like “one o’clock sharp,” we also use phrases like “in the afternoon.” Another example is the word “lunchtime.” Lunchtime usually means about 25-30 minutes for me, but for others it can be shorter or longer.

The point here is not to throw your clock out the window but to cut yourself some slack. Setting unrealistic expectations for how and when you work will only frustrate you and lead you to delay your projects.

2. Know your working pace

Just as “lunchtime” holds different meanings for different people, so does work. Not everybody works at the same pace. Some of us breeze through tasks while others take a little bit longer to reach the finish line.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, the important part is knowing which one it is. For example, if you think you’re a fast worker when you really work more slowly, that’s going to have a big impact on your workload. In fact, knowing that you’re a slow worker and planning accordingly might see you getting more done than taking on too much at once and getting overwhelmed when you can’t keep up.

Knowing your working pace is crucial once you know how much time you actually have to work with because it allows you to make accurate to-do lists for the day. Setting unrealistic goals for yourself will only make you feel like you’ve failed.

3. Know your working capacity

In addition to knowing how much time it will take you to complete certain tasks, you should also be cognizant of your working capacity, or burnout rate.

It may take you an hour and a half on average to complete a certain job task, but once you start scheduling other tasks on top of that, your performance begins to dwindle. For example, you might be able to run a seven-minute mile or do 12 squat repetitions per set on average, but your mile time might increase if you do several sets of squats just before you start running. The rules are no different for knowledge work.

Only you know how long it takes you to burn out at work, so plan breaks between certain tasks to improve your stamina. This isn’t just an easy way to break up your day—scientific research suggests that taking breaks makes you a better worker.

Ferris Jabr writes in Scientific American: “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

Your brain does a lot of work throughout the day; it deserves a rest every now and then.

Continue to implement the productivity tricks you’ve heard before, but make an effort to shift your overall perspective on time management towards towards personal management as well. Paired with the right tools and resources, this mental adjustment will help you get more done in your projects and feel better about the work you’re doing.

We may not be able to make the shift for you, but we can help you find the right software tools to fit your needs. For in-depth and unbiased information about project management solutions, check out our Project Management Product Selection Tool. If you’re short on time, give us a call at 877.822.9526 for a free 5-minute consultation with one of our Tech Advisors.