The Three Dreadful Stumbling Blocks to Time Management

The Three Dreadful Stumbling Blocks to Time Management Ineffective time management is characterized by folks having too many things they need to do (and just a few they must do,) but not enough time for everything they want to do. The key to time management, therefore, is to identify your needs and wants in terms of their importance and match them with the time and resources available.

If your time-management efforts are not getting you the results you envision, you need to pay attention to three hurdles that can get you derailed easily.

  1. The foremost obstacle to time management is a lack of practical awareness of your job duties, as well as the extent of your authority and responsibility. Your efficiency could be acutely hindered by doing the wrong tasks—those that are relatively unimportant or not even part of your job description. You could also not be using the skills or time of others, perhaps not recognizing that you have the authority to do so.
  2. An associated obstacle to effective time management is your failure to prioritize tasks. You may not be able to prioritize because either you’re unaware of your job duties, or you don’t know how to set priorities. As stated by the Pareto Principle, you could be spending 80% of your time on tasks that account for a mere 20% of the total job results. As a result, you could be working on the trivial and the routine, but not the important. In other words, you could be working on the “can do” and not the “must do.”
  3. Equally important, your time management-plans often go off the rails because of “time thieves”—meetings, impromptu visitors, avoidable reports, telephone calls, delays, canceled engagements, redundant rules and regulations, and other claptrap.

Idea for Impact: Develop a high level of awareness in the areas discussed above. Use my three-part technique (time logging, time analyzing, and time budgeting) to control time, conserve time, and make time. Additionally, learn to farm more work out—delegating not only frees up precious time, but also helps develop your employees’ abilities, as well as your own. Try not to say ‘yes’ to too many things and avoid taking on too much.

Think in Terms of Habits & Systems Rather Than Goals

Effective Goals Can Challenge, Motivate, and Energize

Most folks fail to understand how goals work: goals don’t stipulate behaviors.

Goals relate only to the outcomes and results of specific behaviors—they are not about the actions and behaviors that can bring about those results.

In other words, goals can only provide direction and can even impel you onward in the short-term, but ultimately, a well-designed system—when put into habitual practice—will always prevail.

'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg (ISBN 081298160X) Developing a system is what matters to discipline and self-control. Committing to the process is what makes the difference. As New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg wrote in his bestselling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012,) only a systematic approach works:

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

An example of a goal: “I want to lose 10 pounds before my sister’s wedding.” A habit/system would be, “What dieting and exercising changes can I make with the aim of looking better at my sister’s wedding?”

Another example of a goal: “How do I amass $1 million before I turn 35?” A habit/system would be, “How do I develop financial disciplines and investment methods to get richer over time and achieve a net worth of $1 million by the time I’m 35?”

Idea for Impact: Only by creating habits and systems to achieve goals can you live more of the life you aspire to. As a creature of habit, when you are doing something that is routine, you don’t need to be deliberately engaged in the task in the same way as if you were doing something that is not habitual.

Death to Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy can suck the life out of any organization by rewarding complacency and inertia.

Efficient managers are annoyed with the speed of bureaucracy. Internal rules and policies for making and approving decisions slow down managerial undertakings. In a world where fast, disruptive innovation has become foremost, any company can ill afford the time or expense of operating with bureaucratic mindsets.

Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the father of management theory Management pioneer Peter Drucker‘s enduring condemnation of bureaucracy, formalities, and rules and regulations hit the peak with his ground-breaking editorial called “Sell the Mailroom,” first published in the Wall Street Journal in 1989 and then republished in 2005.

At a time when the great majority of businesses were engaged in making an effort to improve the efficiency of support staff, Drucker brashly advocated that bureaucratic support should be eliminated by outsourcing their work to outside contractors. Drucker observed,

In-house service and support activities are de facto monopolies. They have little incentive to improve their productivity. There is, after all, no competition. In fact, they have considerable disincentive to improve their productivity. In the typical organization, business or government, the standard and prestige of an activity is judged by its size and budget—particularly in the case of activities that, like clerical, maintenance, and support work, do not make a direct and measurable contribution to the bottom line. To improve the productivity of such an activity is thus hardly the way to advancement and success. When in-house support staff are criticized for doing a poor job, their managers are likely to respond by hiring more people. An outside contractor knows that he will be tossed out and replaced by a better-performing competitor unless he improves quality and cuts costs.

Idea for Impact: Drop unnecessary work.

What Type of Perfectionist Are You?

Adaptive and Maladaptive Perfectionism

Psychologists recognize two forms of perfectionism—adaptive and maladaptive. Both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists have high personal standards—for themselves and for others. However, failing to meet those standards is more stressful for the latter than for the former.

Adaptive perfectionism is the normal, healthy form of perfectionism. Adaptive perfectionists endeavor for success—they tend to complete tasks in good time and have high standards for their work. They take into account their strengths and limitations and don’t overexert themselves unless it really matters.

Perfectionism turns out to be maladaptive when people become terribly concerned with the notion of “just the thing”—they strive for perfect performance. So nearly nothing turns out to be “good enough.”

Failing to meet high standards is more stressful for adaptive than for the maladaptive perfectionists

The #1 Pitfall: Maladaptive Perfectionism Rigidifies Behavior

Maladaptive perfectionism may cause people to dodge tasks for fear of making an error or for not being able to complete tasks to their lofty standards. They tend to want to control their environment. When events do not go as planned, they develop negative attitudes. They are inclined to striving to achieve goals in their own way; consequently, they regard their personal and professional settings as competitive and handle relationships more aggressively.

Many maladaptive perfectionists aren’t necessarily high achievers because their drive for perfection leads them to chronic procrastination and to never-ending, futile agonizing.

Even success can be imperfect to maladaptive perfectionists. Their reaction to reaching a goal is often “so what?” followed by “what’s the next big thing?” with nary a pause for “I did it! Let me celebrate.”

Idea for Impact: Prioritize Your Perfection

Perfection can boost your satisfaction too much can be paralyzing There’s nothing wrong with high standards. Soaring, impracticable standards are another matter, however.

While a reasonable dose of perfection can boost your satisfaction, too much can be paralyzing. In the real world of constraints and limited resources, perfection is hard to achieve and your quest for the ideal can suck up precious time, energy, and money that could produce superior results elsewhere.

You don’t have sufficient resources to do everything, so commit them where they can bring the greatest overall improvement. (I’ll write about the concept of opportunity cost next week.)

If you’re an obsessive perfectionist, recognize that your compulsion to “get it right” can endorse a rigidity of character and action that is limiting.

Prioritize your perfection. It’s impractical to reach perfection in all areas of your life concurrently. Rather than trying to master everything, pick some areas of life you want to excel in, and go for average in others.

5 Minutes to Greater Productivity [Two-Minute Mentor #11]

How to Get Unstuck---5 Minutes to Greater Productivity

When you’re stuck—whether it’s at work, play, love, or some other facet of your life,—don’t wait for external change to come about and inspire you. As I’ve written before, motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.

When you’re stuck, if you can take time out and reflect on your current difficulties, many opportunities may open up that can help you get unstuck.

  • Clearly understand your objectives and your problems. Identify what you must do to solve problems or meet goals as efficiently as feasible. Get honest with yourself and reconsider your motivations. Being realistic can allow you to think more flexibly and creatively.
  • Target the causes of your problems and the reasons behind what you are doing. Analyze your current actions to determine whether they will effectively accomplish what they should. Look for ways to simplify your goals and targets.
  • Check if your perfectionism is holding you back. Folks who tend to be perfectionist are afraid that the world is going to see them for who they really are and that they won’t measure up. Could you lower your standards?
  • Organize your options. Are there faster-but-equally-effective alternative methods to the ones you’re currently trying? Could you learn new methods or delegate parts of your responsibilities to help you save time? Could you break your work into smaller, more manageable chunks? Focus on the next small step that will move you forward and set in-between deadlines.
  • Plan your work and carry on. Initiate the most efficient action plan to get the results you want. If you find yourself uninspired, take action—even a small step. Often, beginning to do a task builds momentum and motivation kicks in within a few minutes. Doing is everything.

Idea for Impact: The most effective form of change doesn’t happen to you—it comes from within you. To free yourself when you feel limited or stuck, take a breather and organize yourself. Introspection can unlock more adaptive behavior.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize [Two-Minute Mentor #9]

Focus on What You Want to Achieve Many of humankind’s greatest feats are accomplished by people who have a singular desire that becomes the foundational element for everything they do.

The 13th-century Turkish poet-philosopher Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, undoubtedly the most celebrated mystical poet in the Islamic world, purportedly advocated being absorbed in the task: “There is one thing that we all must do. If we do everything else but that one thing, we will be lost. And if we do nothing else but that one thing, we will have lived a glorious life.”

Don’t Have Too Many Irons in the Fire

  • Ask yourself this question: “What is my one thing—the singular objective that could make the most positive impact and meaningful shift—either on the present moment, or on my life as a whole?”
  • Just as the comical and wise Jiminy Cricket accompanies Pinocchio on his adventures serving as his official conscience, have a persistent voice persistently prompting you, “Are you doing your thing?”

Focus on What You Want to Achieve

The ability to prioritize, focus, and achieve is one of the most useful skills you can master. Learn to focus fully on the task at hand, and shut out everything else. As I mentioned in my world’s shortest course in time management, focus on things that you must do and avoid everything else.

It is truly amazing how much possibility, joy, and fulfillment you can add to your life when you shift your mindset to realizing and focusing on your one thing—in whatever timeframe you’re taking into consideration.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

“He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life. The orderly arrangement of his time is a like a ray of life which darts itself through all his occupations. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incident, chaos will soon reign.”
Victor Hugo

“A Guaranteed Formula for Success”

Ivy Lee's A popular legend recalls a time management trick that efficiency expert Ivy Lee showed to Charles Michael Schwab (1862—1939,) the American steel magnate and President of Bethlehem Steel, then the second largest steel manufacturer in the United States.

Lee famously advised Charles Schwab and his managers to list and rank their top priorities every day, and work on tasks in the order of their importance as time allows, not proceeding until a task was completed. After implementing the suggestion, Charles Schwab famously said that Lee’s method for managing priorities had been the most profitable advice he had ever received and paid him $25,000.

When Charles Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he confronted Ivy Lee, a management consultant, with an unusual challenge. “Show me a way to get more things done,” he demanded. “If it works, I will pay you anything within reason.”

Lee handed Schwab a piece of paper. “Write down the things you have to do tomorrow.”

When Schwab had completed the list, Lee said, “Now number these items in the order of their real importance.”

Schwab did, and Lee said, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and stay with it until it’s completed. Then take number two, and don’t go any further until it’s finished or until you’ve done as much with it as you can. Then proceed to number three and so on. If you can’t complete everything on schedule, don’t worry. At least you will have taken care of the most important things before getting distracted by items of less importance.

“The secret is to do this daily. Evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done, establish priorities, record your plan of action, and stick to it. Do this every working day. After you have convinced yourself that this system has value, have your people try it. Test it as long as you like, and then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

Mary Kay Ash Helped Her Beauty Consultants Juggle Spouse, Children, and Career

'You Can Have It All' by Mary Kay Ash (ISBN 0761501622) Mary Kay Ash, American beauty products entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, had a variation to this technique. In You Can Have It All, she writes:

Each night, I put together my list for the following day. If I don’t get something on my list accomplished, it goes on the next day’s list. I put the hardest or most unappealing task at the top of the list. This way, I tackle the most difficult item first, and once it’s out of the way, I feel my day is off to a good start.

Mary Kay Ash taught her cosmetics sales consultants this technique of prioritizing their work and thus avoid being stretched too thin. Most of Mary Kay’s cosmetics sales consultants were women filling multiple roles as mother, wife, and businesswoman.

We try very hard to get our consultants to organize themselves. The best way I have found is a little pad of paper we issue called “The Six Most Important Things.” I teach consultants to write down the six most important things they have to do the next day every night before they go to bed. I suggest that people organize things by priority. First, put the thing they most don’t want to do at the top. Then write down the six most important things—not sixteen, because this is frustrating, but six.

Idea for Impact: Squeeze the Most out of Your Day

The best way to start your day is by accomplishing something instead of fiddling around with email or contemplating the day’s priorities. So, every evening, before you leave the office, write down the most important tasks you’ve got to get done the next day. Leave it on your desk along with any support material you need to work on it. This will help you get rolling first thing in the morning.

The only thing that matters: The Relevant Results

New York City Taxicab

Consider the following parable.

In New York City, a taxi driver and a priest die on the same day and knock on Heaven’s door.

At the pearly gates, St. Peter receives them and shows the taxi driver and priest around. The taxi driver’s eternal home is a lavish new castle equipped with butlers and fancy stuff. The priest’s new home is a meager hut of a dwelling with neither electricity nor water.

The priest complains to St. Peter: “It’s I, not him, who dedicated my life to faith. I sacrificed much in life, worked hard, and delivered thousands of sermons to the faithful in New York. All I get is a mere hut when this taxi driver gets a castle?” St. Peter responds: “Yes, but when you did your work—when you preached—people slept. When the taxi driver worked—when he drove people around New York, people prayed hard.”

Idea for Impact: Your strategies, vision and mission statements, business plans, purposes, determination, ambitions, intents, ideas, resolutions, goals, hard work, sleepless nights—none of these matter if you don’t deliver the results that are relevant to your boss, your customers, and your stakeholders.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do? Accelerate, Maintain, or Terminate.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do

If you are overwhelmed by extensive demands on your time or by the number of projects that seem permanently stuck on your to-do list, here’s a technique to organize your projects more effectively.

Make a table with three columns: “Accelerate Mode,” “Maintain Mode,” and “Terminate Mode” and classify your projects.

  • “Accelerate mode” projects have the potential for significant benefits and therefore will need additional investment in time, effort, and resources.
  • Projects that you can sustain at the present pace and projects where additional investments may not necessarily translate to larger payoffs go in the “maintain mode.”
  • Choose the “terminate mode” whenever in doubt, especially for projects that have been lingering in the “someday I will get to” and “maybe” categories. Also, terminate those projects that are on your list because you feel that you should do but need not.

One of the key characteristics of successful people is to recognize and invest their resources in projects that really matter and to do everything else adequately enough.

Two-Minute Mentor #4: Is a task worth doing worth doing poorly?

Don't have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do

You’ve likely encountered career books or motivational speakers who urge you to work hard and give ‘it’ everything you can. While throwing yourself into work on every project and shooting for perfection is admirable, there are several downsides. Before long, you may find yourself forfeiting time with family, friends, or on hobbies as you feel increasingly pressed for time.

In actuality, you don’t have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do.

Successful people are very selective about when they push themselves to the max—they do so only when the stakes are big enough and when it’s entirely justified.

Not everything you produce has to be perfect. Many of the results that matter can be less imperfect than allowable, but relevant enough.

Imperfection is often a satisfactory outcome. A 110% effort might not move you any closer to your goals than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Your time, energy, and other resources are in short supply. Constantly weigh your efforts against the expected benefits. Consider output-to-input efficiency. Be aware of the point of diminishing returns and don’t contribute more effort than is necessary. Make prudent compromises between reasonable effort and perfection.