by David B. Bohl
If you visit any library or bookstore, you’ll see shelves full of books on time management. It seems we all want to “manage” our time, “get control” of our time, and start doing “what we’re supposed to, when we’re supposed to.”
With the exception of meetings and conferences that really need to happen when all the participants are expecting them to, most “scheduling” is not only unnecessary, but can be damaging to your ability to really be effective at work and in your personal life.
This is not to say that you should not plan what you want and need to be done. You should definitely be aware of what you need to accomplish and how you plan to accomplish that. If you’ve made commitments, they need to be written down and remembered.
But many people spend so much time with task lists (whatever happened to the “to-do” list?), calendars, and planning, that they’re not really planning anything anymore. They’re just scheduling everything without giving thought to what really matters behind all those tasks.
When we try to manage our time, what we really mean is that we want to manage our own actions, so that we accomplish what needs to be accomplished in a given period of time.
There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a very laudable goal. What we miss is the “what needs to be accomplished” part. We get so focused, sometimes, on the tasks and the meetings, that we don’t think about what we really need to be doing, where we really need to focus our energy.
For instance, assume you’re writing a book on herb gardening. You’re a gardener, you raise a lot of herbs, and you’ve written other books. You have the experience and the resources to write a book on herb gardening, so you start scheduling your writing.
If you schedule yourself so that you write Chapter 1 on Monday and Chapter 2 on Tuesday, and then schedule the rest of your work around that writing, you may miss some of the most important time you could be spending on this book.
Because you’ve scheduled three hours of writing, you may find that you don’t have time to spend in your garden on Monday or Tuesday, and the new seeds you bought from The Tree Center are lying in the garden shed unopened. You don’t get the ideas and inspiration you would get from actually working with the plants, and you don’t get as much writing done because you’re actively trying to “think” about what to write.
Time management is about getting things done, but that’s not all there is to life. What really matters is getting the things done that are important to the purpose of what you’re working on.
If you’re working on a book, spending time around the subject of the book is important. If you’re working on raising a child, going to the park is important and may overrun the time allotted on your schedule.
It’s not time to toss out your planner, but it is time to think more deeply about the actual planning and spend less time just scheduling.
This week, try:
- Before you write anything on your calendar, try to think of at least five related things that need to be planned for, or at least thought about, during the week.
- Analyze the way you use your planner. Is the planner working with the way you need to plan?
- Study some of the planning systems available and think about what a planner you designed would look like. If yours isn’t working, consider buying or creating a new one.