productivity,  Stress Management,  Time Management,  Work-life integration,  WorkLife balance

Struggling with Time Management? Look into the Root Causes

Time management is one of the topmost challenges for almost every functional human being. When my clients come with this question, I tell them that time is a fixed resource. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make it unlimited. However, there are other ways to look into this challenge.

We “hide” under the time question only to avoid addressing some other underlying issues.

I ask: What would you achieve when you have better time-management?

A typical answer: “I will be able to do everything I want to do and will be able to spend time with my family and for myself and do exercise …” and the list goes on. Notice the answer, it is the same as “I will be able to buy anything I want if I can do better money management”. It doesn’t work that way!

Let’s go a little deeper. Though the symptom is the same, the root cause could be different.

Scenario 1: “Activity is Productivity” – I want to do everything.

“Doing everything” you are asked could be a moving target. Such expectation itself could set one up for failure.

Questions for you: 1. What tasks are most important to you? What outcome do you want by completing those? (in a week, month, or a year, ten years)?
2. What tasks can you let go of without compromising your big picture outcome?
3. What tasks can you delegate, get help, or get paid service for?

If you can’t find enough for #2 and #3, you may need to pay attention to your underlying assumptions or limiting beliefs. Some common ones are: “I am in charge means I do things myself; otherwise, I lose authority, control, and respect.”, “No one can do as well as I do.” Find yours!

Scenario 2: “I Never say No” – I see the value, so I say yes.

I have seen two main categories in this:

a. “No” hurts relationships – I know I am already busy, but if I say “No,” I will hurt this person. (For damage control) Maybe I will make time by being more efficient, by canceling the coffee chat with my friend or skipping my exercise time.

Questions for you: What is the underlying assumption when you say, “saying no will hurt someone”? Common ones: “The requester has no other option,” “He/she is not capable enough to hear a no,” “Saying no is rude,” “If I say no, I will no longer be needed.” When you always say yes, how strong are they? What would be a polite way to say no or not yet to the current request, so you don’t over-commit? Read Katherine’s Time Management Dilemma for some ideas.

b. Not enough data about my availability – I don’t exactly know whether I am entirely busy or not. Maybe I will have time on one of the weekends. Why say “no” when I  want to do this.

Most likely, you don’t use a calendar for time allocation, and you don’t necessarily account for personal or family time. You could be over-committing and under-delivering.

Questions for you: How do you see time? Think about a metaphor, for example: Is this a free-flowing stream? Is this a space bounded by walls? What is the cost you are paying now by over-committing and under-delivering? What does your “Yes” mean – “Sure (would be nice to do it)” OR “I am committing to this” (and keep your word)?

To get an idea for how to say a strong yes, read this post: Why Do I Do It? 3 Steps to Clarify Your Commitments.

Where are other Scenarios?

If you wonder why I am not talking about the to-do list and plans yet, here is why. The internet is full of that advice already:  Make a plan, do brain-intensive work in the morning, manage distractions. I mentioned some in these articles:
Feeling overwhelmed? You might be overloading your PFC
Work-life balance in my own backyard

Want to Take Your Career to the Next Level? Manage Your Attention Wisely

Bottom Line

If you want to solve the time management issue without making a fundamental change in your behavior or internal belief system, you may get disappointed soon. That is an integral part of the learning, though. If you are in that disappointed state already, start digging deeper; you will discover something bigger and better for sure!

Sign up for Q&A with Sharmin every other Friday starting from April 23rd on Zoom at noon PST.


This article was originally published in June 2013. Feature Image is by Jan Vašek from Pixabay