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4 Common Time Management Truths That Could Jeopardize Your Productivity

4 Common Time Management Truths That Could Jeopardize Your Productivity
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Sometime ago I wrote about 5 common time management truths that could potentially lower your productivity levels if you misunderstood them.

The idea behind that post was to make people realize that sometimes it is good to question even the common productivity wisdom that is being taught over and over again. Rather than blindly believing in it, we should all use our own judgment to decide if the piece of advice is applicable to our life or not.

I came up with 4 additional (and very common) time management tips that you should also take a critical look at.

1. Proceed one step at a time

A very common piece of advice when reaching your goals is to proceed one step at a time.

The idea behind this advice is that this way you are not overwhelming yourself by trying to do too much at once. Also, you are less likely to kill your motivation when you proceed this way.

Although this is sound advice, I don’t always like this approach: sometimes it just takes too much time to reach your destination this way.

For example, when I turned myself from a late riser into an early riser, it didn’t take me weeks or months to make the change – I did it immediately.

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One day I just decided: “from tomorrow morning, I start waking up at 5 AM” and that’s what I did. The approach of gradually waking up earlier until I’d reach my goal was just too slow for me.

This happened in 2007 and I’m still an early riser, so a quick change is definitely possible.

2. Procrastination is all evil

There is so much written about procrastination and why it’s not for you. I mostly agree with this advice – but not always. Instead, you should use procrastination to your advantage.

For example, I admit that I tend to procrastinate mostly on low-value tasks that are not important to my goals in any way.

This way I have more time to focus on those important tasks instead. So if it means that I’m postponing the cleaning of my home for couple of days, I can live with that.

You could also channel your procrastination to some other activities, which in turn may help you gain momentum.

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    For example, you might have an important task that you are supposed to do. For some reason you don’t want to do it right away, so you tackle some of the smaller tasks off your list first.

    This way you keep the wheels rolling and you may be eager to start working on the more important tasks on your list later on.

    Finally, you could channel your procrastination to do something useful.

    Once again, if you don’t like working on your main task, you could pick up a book (business, personal development …) and start reading and learning.

    Even if you are not directly working on your main task, you learn new ways to improve the other parts of your life.

    Although I’m not advising anyone to procrastinate on purpose, I’m just saying that procrastination has its role in making us more productive!

    3. Don’t check email first thing in the morning

    I can’t remember how many times I have heard that you shouldn’t check your email first thing in the morning.

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    While this advice is useful, there is also an exception to this rule.

    Sometime ago I was on a vacation for two weeks and then I got back to work. I started working on some tasks – without checking my email first.

    Later, I opened my email client and I found a message from my project manager saying that I shouldn’t be working on those same tasks that I had just completed.

    I was a bit annoyed by this situation, but I could only blame myself. I didn’t check my email first thing in the morning when I came to work. Instead, I started working right away before catching up with the latest project status.

    In most of the cases, you shouldn’t check your e-mail first thing in the morning. However, in some other scenarios you have to do this in order to keep yourself up-to-date.

    4. Do not use willpower when forming new habits

    Very often people are advised that they shouldn’t use willpower when creating new habits. Instead, one should have inspiring and motivating goals that makes the willpower part needless.

    Unfortunately, you still need to use a bit of willpower when you form new habits.

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    Let’s take a person who is trying to quit eating sweets in order to lose weight. Even that person is inspired to take her life in a healthier direction; there are still times when her motivation is going to be tested.

    Maybe there is someone eating sweets next to this person or maybe something happens in her life which makes the person to look for relief (for e.g. eating chocolate).

    In those cases motivation, compelling goals, or pictures of six-pack abs on your refrigerator door are not enough. You need plain, raw willpower in order to say “no” to those temptations.

    This may sound hard, but you need to fight against your old habits — especially in the beginning of your change. After you start, things get smoother and you don’t find eating sweets that compelling anymore.

    Forming new habits and relying solely on willpower is not going to work. However, using your willpower in small doses has its place in the process.

    It’s important to think…and not take common lessons for granted

    Time management advice is valuable, but occasionally you have to take a critical look at how you are performing and rework your strategies until they suit your own needs.

    Photo credits: Red Clock and Old Clock and Hourglass via Shutterstock)

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    More by this author

    Timo Kiander

    Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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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.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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