In the prior article in this series, I shared that it’s important to figure out the nature of your current time management system before running to the Internet, books, or programs to find random tips, tricks and shortcuts. I emphasized that when you conduct a random chase, you could end up becoming a tip-a-holic: someone who frantically searches for the latest tip with no real purpose in mind.

For most people, doing an assessment is a good start, but it’s hardly enough. Even the very best assessment that reveals your faults might take you in the wrong direction because there’s an assumption made by the creator that you can’t escape: her/her concept of “ideal” performance. Their particular ideal may not be the same as yours, however.

After the assessment is complete and you have received the results, the next step is important. In the training I conduct with clients, I describe a range of skills from low to high, using a scale of martial arts belts ranging from White (beginner) to Black (expert.) I issue a warning at the same time: “The point is not to become obsessed about gaining the highest belt possible in the shortest amount of time.” In fact, that’s a good way for you to fail. Instead, you need to set your own goals using the tool’s results. Ideally, your goals should cover each of the behaviors from the assessment, and incorporate a realistic time-frame in which to accomplish them.

Why is this important?

Consider what happens in the life of young tennis players: As they proceed up the ranks, they set goals that are appropriate for their age group. Some just want to enter the top 10 in their city, while others want to dominate their national age group. Neither goal is betterthey are just different.

As professionals, we need to take the same approach to improving our time management systems. We are all different from each other, and don’t need to have the same level of productivity in order to be effective in our lives. I might be quite happy with a Yellow Belt; a level of accomplishment that might produce havoc in your life. I might not need an upgrade for another ten years, while you might need to put one in place every six months, just to keep up with a fast-changing life.

This may all sound like common sense, but it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom. There are many productivity systems being sold today that promise to “Triple Your Productivity Overnight.” It’s like selling a 10-year old tennis prodigy on the idea of “Winning Wimbledon in 2 Years!” We laugh at outrageous productivity promises but they come in different guises and offer no form of actual measurement: “Save 30 days per year.” “Stop wasting 2 hours per day.” “Instantly double your income by 33.3% by managing your time better.” “Implement this one time saving tip and…”

Fact from Fantasy

Turning away from outlandish claims, how do you know whether your improvement plans are sound? The following checklist can be used to separate fact from fantasy.

  • Have you done a diagnosis of your current skills?
  • What are the symptoms (if any) that your current level of skills are too low for your life’s demands?
  • Do you know the level of demands to be placed on your time in the future? (personal, business, community, etc.)
  • Are the goals in your plan realistic, and gentle enough to almost guarantee success?
  • What role does changing technology play in bringing new demands in your life?

As you can imagine, a part-time graduate student who is single and has a 5-year-old, has completely different needs than a 24-year-old who’s just entering the workforce. Unfortunately, most books and programs fail to distinguish between them. In their one-size-fits-all thinking they assign them all the same goals… and no idea how quickly they should be accomplished.

This is a huge disservice. Many, many people fail because they try to follow someone else’s goals at the pace they recommend. They come to learn the truth that researchers have learned: implementing behavior change is tough work and advertising that “It’s Easy!” may provide a catchy headline that sells, but in the end it leads to customers feeling guilty, or that something must be wrong with them.

Let’s back the heck up. We are all different to begin with, so we need to set unique goals that suit our needs, and we need to attempt to achieve them at a speed that almost guaranteed success. It’s time for us to stop failing at time management, and take our destinies into our own hands.

Part 2: The New Lifehacking #2 – How to Understand Your Current System

Featured photo credit: Jumping rope with a rock. via Shutterstock

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