Productivity: Time Management is a Fraud

How often do you wish you had more time in a day?

Do you tell yourself you could be so much better at your job, your relationships, or even your health with better time management?

Good. This is for you; a new perspective on achieving success with less effort than everyone else.

Let’s begin by ignoring the delusion of waking up earlier, going to bed later, and working harder. It’s a downward spiral to burning out. It may seem productive at first, but the end result is even less productivity and quality than where you began.

Time as we know it does not exist

Time is only a number. It holds absolutely no significance beyond the mathematical means to define the the length of our day. Did you know that our days are not actually 24 hours long? Go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to be prideful in the act of being busy. There is no pride in that.

Think about it this way; if time is a constant length then why does it seem to bend so carelessly? Why does staring at a clock seemingly make time stand still? Why does the anxiousness of running late eat away at time so quickly? If there were any solidarity to time, it would be reliable and never in question.

Time, unlike any other mathematical formula, is governed entirely by perception.

How can we plan for the future on such unstable ground? Isn’t that simply setting ourselves up for failure?

Most of us only budget by time because we lack a better way to plan. We dread the alarm clock that tells us when our day begins. We submit project estimates based on times that are completely fabricated. We submit timesheets for paychecks that valuate our time in an overly casual way.

When co-workers ask for help on projects, friends and family text, call or email, your time becomes their time. An ever growing Venn Diagram where their equal overlap becomes the steady majority. Eroding away any chance of productivity that is surely within your grasp.

Imagine the invigorating power of not planning your day around time, but planning around specific action.

Action Management

Do not create a to-do list for your day. Most people set themselves up for failure by planning for ideal situations.

If you can accomplish your action list in 4 hours, why would you try to fit more work into your day?

Let go of the fear that you may miss an important email, phone call or text. Once you react, their priorities become yours.

Electronic communication is only convenient for people that want something from you. Everyone else knows that you’re busy and understands your delayed response.

Repeat that paragraph. It’s important.

Now, pick three things that you will accomplish today. Don’t estimate how long each action will take. Just do them.

For consultants or business owners it may look like:

  1. follow up on pitch/meeting/phone call
  2. reach out to five new prospects
  3. finish specific task on a project

For bloggers it may look like:

  1. brainstorm five new blog post topics
  2. research and write a new blog post
  3. comment and share posts from five other bloggers

That’s it. If you think this is too easy, it is. It’s very easy. Accept it.

Time Management has failed us

We’ve conditioned ourselves to be prideful in the act of being busy. There is no pride in that. Don’t try to give 100% all day, every day because it’s impossible. Ignore the cliche motivators that do more harm than good. Just finish what you start.

If you can accomplish your action list in 4 hours, why would you try to fit more work into your day?

Once you try to do additional work, your brain will begin to compare how much you have accomplished today with previous days. Possibly even against your most productive day. If, by comparison, you accomplished less you will feel like you’ve failed.

Start setting yourself up for success instead of failure.

Working less has been proven to result in higher quality work. For that very same reason, major corporations are shifting focus to this mindset. Burying the timesheet and implementing value pricing in a results only work environment (ROWE).

Customers do not buy our time. They buy our knowledge and the value we provide them.

If you can provide the same value in five hours of time versus pretending to work for forty, shouldn’t you be able to make a similar salary?

If you get paid for an hour of work but your proposed solution to their problem only takes five minutes, should you only get paid for those five minutes?

This was part 1 of the Essential 5-part Productivity Guide series. Read Part 2: Stop Planning for Tomorrow

  • http://socialposer.com/ Collin

    Great post, Josh. I especially liked this part: “Now, pick three things that you will accomplish today. Don’t estimate how long each action will take. Just do them.” I remember talking to you about this post a month or two ago, and I’m so glad you finally posted. Your timing was perfect for me, as this is something I’ve been struggling with lately. Thanks!

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Thanks, Collin! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I remember talking to you about this a couple of months back too. It’s so easy to get distracted by everyone else and their demands. It’s important to take control of your day and focus.

    It would be interesting to see how much of our day, on average, is positioned to tend to what others need done.

  • http://www.doodlehaus.com Mark Anderson

    Great post, although I’ll bet there are a lot of theoretical physicists who would take umbrage with your claims about time. I keed, I keed.

    There’s a great chapter in Rework about this same topic. Jason Fried also gave a great talk about it at TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html 

    Our office/desk system is basically an anachronism left over from the manufacturing model. Everyone used to have to go to the building where they make the widgets. With so many distributed work tools and the massive computing power we have, it’s probably more efficient to *not* work at the office to avoid random interruption and distraction. Every time you get interrupted, you have to ramp back up into productivity mode. 

  • http://JimRaffel.com/ Jim Raffel

    Love it my good friend. My approach is slightly different. At the beginning of the day I try to write three things on a post-it note that must get done during the day. I think of those three things as the lighthouse I am sailing towards. Just as a sailboat must often tack to and fro to make it’s destination, my days also take a winding course. The point is it make sure those three things get done.

    I’m also willing to get up early and work late, just not all the time. When it’s time to rest, it’s time to rest.

    Again, good stuff and it’s got me thinking about how I prioritize and how I am compensated for what I do.

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Theoretical physicists just make stuff up though, right? ;)

    ReWork is such a great book. I will have to read it again. Thanks for sharing the TED link. I try and listen to one of those each day. I’ll check that out.

    I don’t think total freedom from an office would be successful for a majority of workers. You truly need to be a self-starter and focused. There are more distractions and negative pressure while working from home.

    It probably depends heavily on the job as well. For a creative, it makes sense to float and get lost dreaming a bit to find inspiration.

    Also why so many ad agencies have video games, foosball, etc.

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Thanks, Jim! I love the visual behind the sailboat and lighthouse task list. It sounds like what you do is spot on with this. You leave room for the random actions while still ensuring you finish what is important.

    The compensation aspect reminds me of various chats we had last year. It’s not about putting in a set amount of hours. It’s about meeting deadlines and launching.

  • http://thecxguy.com Brian Mayer

    And how does it work if I have a deadline approaching? Or if your livelihood depends on those “others” that are clammoring for your time? What if you’re not busy because you think your should be but rather because you just have way too much to do and not enought time to do it and delegation isn’t an option? It reads alot like Tim Ferris. Great ideals. A great thing to shoot for, but the practicalities? Not so much.

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    If you take on a project that takes three months to complete, chances are you have a road map of smaller goals that must be completed over those three months. It’s up to you to meet your goals. If you don’t, this will never work as it’s based on results.

    If you take on a project that has a fast turnaround, it’s assumed that you have the project management skills and bandwidth to complete the project in that time as part of your daily goals.

    If a client is holding up a project, it simply shifts the deadline. If a client is holding up a project that has an absolute hard deadline, they shouldn’t be a client.

    The only reason “others”, that base their livelihood on you, are clamoring for your time is because you have agreed to those terms already. Those people don’t wake up one day and base their livelihood on you. It’s because you have said you can help, you tell them they can call you, etc. If it becomes a problem that is preventing the accomplishment of your goals, it’s on you to speak up.

    Working from this model requires you to be a great communicator. Less communication requires that.

    It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s entirely practical for those that want to approach things this way.

  • http://thecxguy.com Brian Mayer

    If you’re talking about projects, yes.
    If you only have a job and a family, then yes.
    If you have the luxury of picking and choosing your clients, then yes.
    For the “livelihood” part, I meant the opposite. I depend on them.
    Working from this model requires a lot more than great communication. It requires a lot of things to be ideal.
    Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to do this. It’s totally in my nature. I love the theory and totally identify with it. I’m actually very frustrated that I can’t work like this.

    It’s actually the topic of my primary task for today–a 9-page paper on self management.

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Beyond projects, job, and family what is there?

    If you depend on others for your livelihood (sorry for the confusion) it’s important that you establish a process to begin a project. What is their preferred method of contact? Should you schedule a revolving touch base each week to circumvent this issue?

    It’s certainly easier once you establish yourself and have power over your day, client list, etc. By that time, you need methods like this to manage your time or you will spend entire days just responding to people.

    I’d love to read your paper when you’re done if it’s available. Thanks, Brian!

  • http://thecxguy.com Brian Mayer

    Just one more reply to answer the big question, “beyond projects, job, and family, what is there?”

    Therein lies the issue.

    My topline priorities: 1. Family: 4kids and our house. 2. Running a business with my wife. This pays the bills … for now. 3. A career change/job search … To keep paying the bills. 4. Full time grad school: a needed part of the career change. I need to be doing all of those and doing them well. The reality of my situation is that they don’t. Something doesn’t get done. Someone gets the shaft. Sometimes school work doesn’t get done. Sometimes I get something late to a client. I don’t spend enough time with my kids. I don’t spend enough time on the necessary steps for my career change.

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Exactly. You focus to get the most important things done. That’s what this is about. Today your grad school work may be important, but not as important as everything else. So it doesn’t get done. It sounds like we’re talking about the same thing.

    You can juggle 10 things in general, but only 3 of them will be completed today.

    For example, when I have my son, 100% of my time is devoted to him. No emails. No work. No phone. It doesn’t go over well with everyone but I’m not trying to make everyone happy. My goal is to make my son happy and enjoy our time.

  • Mark Ellwood

    Hi Joshua,

    Just found out about your blog. Nice to read some unconventional insights. My background in time management is measuring the effective use of time in corporations. I’ve been doing this since 1990 with an electronic device I invented called a TimeCorder. (see it at http://www.GetMoreDone.com). Or maybe since time doesn’t exist, I’ve been measuring…well, who knows what?

    Your later posts on this subject included some tips. One thing I have learned is that there is no canon of evidence-based recommendations in the field of time management. It’s all common sense. Authors and speakers talk about what works for them, and that has some vailidity, but there isn’t much science.

    I’ve been on a quest to explore the data. Some of my research has correlated planning time with sales results. And I have examined the inefficiency of overtime in a paper I delivered in Paris recently. And here’s something to note; despite all the advances in technology, sales people have no more time for selling than they did 15 years ago. That is, if you belienve in measuring time.

    I’d be happy to share more data and insights with you. Keep up the good work.

    Mark Ellwood
    (416) 762-3453

  • Amisha Ekaant

    Time is money for small business owners and Entrepreneurs. They are not only working harder but also working smarter and for longer hours. I would like to know that how can small business owners make the most of their time for business?

    Is they are using any different application to track? In our office, our managers are using employee time recording software ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/online-time-recording-software.aspx ) to track and monitor our employees activities. As this software serves a single final report with all the information required.