What we really mean by time management is our ability to plan and control the time we have in order to efficiently accomplish our goals. It’s about balancing our tasks with the amount of time we have to get them done.
The last thing time management means is productivity for the sake of productivity. Unfortunately, the endless number of apps that promise to boost our productivity only reinforce that notion.
However, that only scratches the surface of time management myths. If you buy into them, you could develop habits that actually decrease your productivity. To overcome some of these misleading ideas, it’s important to understand why everyone — not just business professionals — needs to manage their time well.
Time Management Goes Beyond Business
We tend to think about time management in terms of how office workers balance their day-to-day tasks, such as answering emails, attending meetings, and contributing to team projects. However, time management is also important for getting the most out of our home life and hobbies.
Effectively managing your time brings you a host of benefits. It can boost your confidence by giving you a sense of accomplishment, reduce your stress levels, and allow you to spend more time on things like self-care.
The trouble is, the way we think about time management has not kept pace with technological change. Time management is not taught in school, despite being one of the key skills of adult life. Many time management experts still teach the “ABC” method((Harvard Business Review: Time Management Training Does Not Work)), despite the fact that modern life cannot be broken down into a neat little list of three priorities per day.
In fact, even many productivity experts misunderstand the realities of time management. They, as well as many students, professionals, and everyday people, believe three key myths about time management.
3 Common Time Management Myths
Spend enough time thinking or reading about time management, and you might start to believe the following myths.
1. If you could just get your schedule right, you’d be more productive.
One of the more dangerous time management myths is the idea that scheduling tasks better is all that it takes to manage your time. It can make you feel like you need to redo your whole schedule in order to be more productive.
The same goes for to-do lists. Well-meaning advisors can make you believe that writing out your tasks is a cure-all for your time management issues. In reality, these methods are likely to leave you feeling discouraged when you can’t seem to accomplish what you set out to do.
Harvard Business Review notes that these kinds of tasks fall under the time management category of “Arrangement.” However, there are two other domains of time management((Harvard Business Review: Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks)) that matter just as much, if not more, than the arrangement of tasks:
- Awareness: This refers to having a realistic view of the time you have. For example, knowing that you shouldn’t schedule a doctor’s appointment in the middle of a busy workday shows time awareness.
- Adaptation: This refers to being able to adjust to unexpected interruptions or changes while performing tasks. If your doctor’s only available appointment is in the middle of that workday, adaptation means that you’re able to move things around to make it all fit.
These two skills are more difficult to develop than arrangement, which explains why we are so drawn to changing our schedules or making new plans. Arrangement is a good skill to have, but it cannot substitute for awareness or adaptation.
2. Time management tactics are one-size-fits-all.
Another consequence of the endless information about time management is that the tips and suggestions are often presented in a one-size-fits-all manner. In clothing and in time management — and frankly, in just about every area of life — there’s no such thing as something that works for everybody.
For example, some people prefer to start their day by doing their most difficult task first, a tactic known as “eating the frog”((Calendar: How to Schedule Your Day for Optimal Productivity)). Morning people might find that the system works well, but for those who are most productive in the afternoon or evening, it doesn’t make sense to tackle the toughest task in the morning.
If you fall into the latter group, it might be better to start with smaller tasks to get your brain moving in the morning. After a couple hours of work, then you can tackle the big-picture task.
This is also true of non-workflow factors, such as waking up earlier, and tools like apps. Instead of assuming that what works for others will work for you, try out different methods until you find what actually does.
3. Time management is about getting as much done as quickly as possible.
When you believe that effective time management is about the quantity of the tasks you complete, you’ll inevitably sacrifice quality of work for quantity of work. What’s more, you will also be drawn to inconsequential tasks as opposed to your higher-order concerns.
Our media environment encourages multitasking, and that’s what makes the myth so tempting. However, the best way to see multitasking is actually as rapid context switching, which can reduce your productivity by as much as 80%.((RescueTime: Context switching can kill up to 80% of your productive time (here’s what to do about it)))
Rather than doing a bunch of multitasking, I tend to advise people to find tools that will help scale personalization. Get those in place and then move on to another important task. For example, Hubspot’s free email marketing tools are something I use for some of my startups to scale personalizing email. Find a tool that allows you to scale, then focus on it so you can set things up for success and move on to another important task.
Time Management That Works for You
Although there’s no one time management tactic that makes sense for everyone, there are some things you can do to find what works for you:
Think About Time Management on Your Own Terms
The first step to becoming a better time manager is to stop feeling guilty if a certain approach doesn’t work for you. It doesn’t mean you’re a poor time manager or that you’ll never be able to accomplish your goals.
Time management should lead to less anxiety and more productivity. If a certain tactic isn’t accomplishing those things for you, then feel free to scrap it.
Practice Time Awareness
Time has a way of passing without you noticing it, especially when you feel busy all the time. But it doesn’t have to work that way.
Leadership speakers((Inc: These 10 Leadership Speakers Can Help Transform Your Company Culture)) are starting to incorporate the concept of multiplying time into their talks: track your time, create moments of waiting and anticipation, and let yourself be comfortable with boredom. You might also reminisce about past experiences and accept feelings of awe and fear.
As you might notice, most techniques for time awareness are rooted in mindfulness. More importantly, they will allow you to enjoy your personal and social experiences without feeling rushed through them.
Say “No” to Some Tasks
One of the best strategies for time management is simply to reduce the number of tasks on your docket. Don’t think of it as letting others down; think of it as filling your own cup first. If your glass is empty, you won’t be able to give sips to others.
The key to saying “no” is being honest about why. If you have a time conflict — or even if you’re short on self-care time — most people will respect that. Saying “no” gives you a sense of agency and control over your life because declining a task that isn’t important to you is actually about saying “yes” to yourself.
Time management is tough, so there’s no need to feel like you have to be great at it right away. But until you get those time management myths out of your head, you’ll struggle to do what actually works for you. Stop believing in myths and start believing in yourself.