“Time management is nonsense. You cannot manage time, it flows comfortably by at its own pace, blissfully unaware of human angst and tribulation. It’s your priorities you get to manage.”
When I say “time management is nonsense”, that doesn’t mean I think all the principles taught in Time Management courses are nonsense. A lot of them work, for a lot of people.
If you are good at estimating how long a piece of work will take to complete, techniques like time-blocking (blocking out periods in your diary) can be very effective. But if you’re not, if things are always taking longer than you thought (that’s me – perfectionism getting in the way of quality output), then Parkinson’s Law really works against you.
In case you’re not familiar with it, columnist and productivity specialist C. Northcote Parkinson said that a task will expand to fill the time allocated for its completion. The example he gave was that if you have nothing else on, writing and sending a letter can take all day (he was writing in the 1950’s).
Parkinson’s Law works against you because you either over-estimate the time required, and the task expands to fill that time, or you under-estimate it, and rush the job. Or, you under-estimate it and because you know you always under-estimate, you then add lots of buffer time, and – you guessed it – the task expands to fill the buffer time. Either way, it’s not really managing time – just using it very inefficiently!
The solution to this challenge is found in prioritising what you work on, and working to a list, in priority order, most important first. Note that: in priority order, not in order of urgency. Unimportant stuff that has to be done today can be squeezed into the available time, after you have done the important stuff. It doesn’t really matter if you have to cut a few corners to get it done; it’s unimportant! If it matters if you rush it, then it’s not unimportant!
As an aside, a good tool to use here is the Urgent/Important Matrix popularised by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, otherwise known as the “Eisenhower Box” (after the president who used it widely). There’s another post here on that.
Overall, I’m not anti-time-management – I just think it’s important that we understand that it’s ourselves, our priorities, and our experience of time (more on that in a future post) that we can affect, not the passage of time itself.