Going Overboard with Time Management

A common complaint I hear is that people want to use their time more effectively, but their efforts always seem to fall apart after a day or two. This unfortunate trend can be traced back to mistaken belief shared by many that time management is something other than a technique to be mastered through practice and gradual progression. Simply put, there are very few people who can simply wake up one day and decide to dedicate a mechanical focus to one endeavour until they receive success. Many can do this for a day or two, but soon willpower collapses and the individual falls back into their old habits.

This trend of over-commitment is particularly pronounced after New Year’s at the local gym, where I see hundreds of new faces piling in and excitedly stating how they are going to work out five times a week, six times a week, even seven times a week! For the record, you can go to the gym six or seven times the week if you are effectively cycling which muscles you are working, but if you intend to just work biceps (the inevitable goal of all those raised on a media diet of Schwarzenegger clones), you are going to achieve nerve damage before you achieve any sort of physical goals.

Typical New Year's Resolution goal: The result of hard work, careful diet, and all the drugs

Typical New Year’s Resolution: The result of hard work, careful diet, and all the drugs

While I try to be supportive, I know that I will not see the vast majority of these people the following week. The reason for failure is that people are doing the equivalent of entering a marathon without having run more than a kilometres in their life (we’ve all heard of at least one person who tried this). The same principle applies to time management; don’t expect to go from a couch potato to the embodiment of monastic devotion overnight by adopting various time management strategies all at once.

In order to implement time management effectively (i.e. for the long term), you will need to overcome the temptation to over-commit and instead, focus on developing time management in small, reasonable steps. What constitutes a reasonable step will of course vary from person to person, but a good baseline to work at is to implement no more than one new strategy every two weeks. Two weeks is a good minimum, as this is the time required to habituate an activity, which will make it easier to perform and allow you to evaluate it purely on its own merits and not on the challenges you face developing it into a pattern. Furthermore, if after a month (and no less than a month), you feel that a strategy is no longer working, feel free to discard it in favour of another strategy. If after two weeks however, you feel you are gaining from having this strategy in place, try adding a second time management technique. If you then find yourself overwhelmed, back off to one technique and wait another two weeks before trying to add in the technique again. The goal here is to submerge yourself gradually in time management, as opposed to simply diving into the deep end and complaining when you struggle to stay above water.

To summarize, pick one time management strategy to implement over the next two weeks, either from my blog or from this thing called the rest of the Internet. Stick to this one strategy for a minimum of one month, adding a second strategy two weeks in if you feel that the first one is being met with success. Don’t overdo it, don’t feel that you need to develop monastic dedication, and don’t feel that if you mess up a day, the technique is worthless or that you are incapable of time management. Time management is a technique like any other; one that takes time to master and is built on a foundation of experience and failure.

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