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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

3 Biggest Time-Management Myths to Stop Believing

3 Biggest Time-Management Myths to Stop Believing
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Time management has become something of a cultural obsession, and like any cultural phenomenon, it’s surrounded by some myths — including around the term’s true meaning.

What we really mean by time management is our ability to plan and control the time we have in order to efficiently accomplish our goals. It’s about balancing our tasks with the amount of time we have to get them done.

The last thing time management means is productivity for the sake of productivity. Unfortunately, the endless number of apps that promise to boost our productivity only reinforce that notion.

However, that only scratches the surface of time management myths. If you buy into them, you could develop habits that actually decrease your productivity. To overcome some of these misleading ideas, it’s important to understand why everyone — not just business professionals — needs to manage their time well.

Time Management Goes Beyond Business

We tend to think about time management in terms of how office workers balance their day-to-day tasks, such as answering emails, attending meetings, and contributing to team projects. However, time management is also important for getting the most out of our home life and hobbies.

Effectively managing your time brings you a host of benefits. It can boost your confidence by giving you a sense of accomplishment, reduce your stress levels, and allow you to spend more time on things like self-care.

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The trouble is, the way we think about time management has not kept pace with technological change. Time management is not taught in school, despite being one of the key skills of adult life. Many time management experts still teach the “ABC” method[1], despite the fact that modern life cannot be broken down into a neat little list of three priorities per day.

In fact, even many productivity experts misunderstand the realities of time management. They, as well as many students, professionals, and everyday people, believe three key myths about time management.

3 Common Time Management Myths

Spend enough time thinking or reading about time management, and you might start to believe the following myths.

1. If you could just get your schedule right, you’d be more productive.

One of the more dangerous time management myths is the idea that scheduling tasks better is all that it takes to manage your time. It can make you feel like you need to redo your whole schedule in order to be more productive.

The same goes for to-do lists. Well-meaning advisors can make you believe that writing out your tasks is a cure-all for your time management issues. In reality, these methods are likely to leave you feeling discouraged when you can’t seem to accomplish what you set out to do.

Harvard Business Review notes that these kinds of tasks fall under the time management category of “Arrangement.” However, there are two other domains of time management[2] that matter just as much, if not more, than the arrangement of tasks:

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  • Awareness: This refers to having a realistic view of the time you have. For example, knowing that you shouldn’t schedule a doctor’s appointment in the middle of a busy workday shows time awareness.
  • Adaptation: This refers to being able to adjust to unexpected interruptions or changes while performing tasks. If your doctor’s only available appointment is in the middle of that workday, adaptation means that you’re able to move things around to make it all fit.

These two skills are more difficult to develop than arrangement, which explains why we are so drawn to changing our schedules or making new plans. Arrangement is a good skill to have, but it cannot substitute for awareness or adaptation.

2. Time management tactics are one-size-fits-all.

Another consequence of the endless information about time management is that the tips and suggestions are often presented in a one-size-fits-all manner. In clothing and in time management — and frankly, in just about every area of life — there’s no such thing as something that works for everybody.

For example, some people prefer to start their day by doing their most difficult task first, a tactic known as “eating the frog”[3]. Morning people might find that the system works well, but for those who are most productive in the afternoon or evening, it doesn’t make sense to tackle the toughest task in the morning.

If you fall into the latter group, it might be better to start with smaller tasks to get your brain moving in the morning. After a couple hours of work, then you can tackle the big-picture task.

This is also true of non-workflow factors, such as waking up earlier, and tools like apps. Instead of assuming that what works for others will work for you, try out different methods until you find what actually does.

3. Time management is about getting as much done as quickly as possible.

When you believe that effective time management is about the quantity of the tasks you complete, you’ll inevitably sacrifice quality of work for quantity of work. What’s more, you will also be drawn to inconsequential tasks as opposed to your higher-order concerns.

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Our media environment encourages multitasking, and that’s what makes the myth so tempting. However, the best way to see multitasking is actually as rapid context switching, which can reduce your productivity by as much as 80%.[4]

Rather than doing a bunch of multitasking, I tend to advise people to find tools that will help scale personalization. Get those in place and then move on to another important task. For example, Hubspot’s free email marketing tools are something I use for some of my startups to scale personalizing email. Find a tool that allows you to scale, then focus on it so you can set things up for success and move on to another important task.

Time Management That Works for You

Although there’s no one time management tactic that makes sense for everyone, there are some things you can do to find what works for you:

Think About Time Management on Your Own Terms

The first step to becoming a better time manager is to stop feeling guilty if a certain approach doesn’t work for you. It doesn’t mean you’re a poor time manager or that you’ll never be able to accomplish your goals.

Time management should lead to less anxiety and more productivity. If a certain tactic isn’t accomplishing those things for you, then feel free to scrap it.

Practice Time Awareness

Time has a way of passing without you noticing it, especially when you feel busy all the time. But it doesn’t have to work that way.

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Leadership speakers[5] are starting to incorporate the concept of multiplying time into their talks: track your time, create moments of waiting and anticipation, and let yourself be comfortable with boredom. You might also reminisce about past experiences and accept feelings of awe and fear.

As you might notice, most techniques for time awareness are rooted in mindfulness. More importantly, they will allow you to enjoy your personal and social experiences without feeling rushed through them.

Say “No” to Some Tasks

One of the best strategies for time management is simply to reduce the number of tasks on your docket. Don’t think of it as letting others down; think of it as filling your own cup first. If your glass is empty, you won’t be able to give sips to others.

The key to saying “no” is being honest about why. If you have a time conflict — or even if you’re short on self-care time — most people will respect that. Saying “no” gives you a sense of agency and control over your life because declining a task that isn’t important to you is actually about saying “yes” to yourself.

Final Thoughts

Time management is tough, so there’s no need to feel like you have to be great at it right away. But until you get those time management myths out of your head, you’ll struggle to do what actually works for you. Stop believing in myths and start believing in yourself.

More Tips on Time Management

Featured photo credit: Rachael Crowe via unsplash.com

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Reference

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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