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The Difference Between Time Management and Task Management

The Difference Between Time Management and Task Management


    Here’s the thing about productivity: we only have a certain amount of time on our hands, and yet we have an ever-growing number of tasks to complete.

    We all try at one time or another to “beat the clock” and get as much done as we can in our workday…which often stretches out said workday beyond what some would call “normal office hours”. And the circle begins anew the next day, until we run out of time again.

    The reason we try to manage time is because we know exactly how much of it we have. It’s finite. Yet the number of tasks we have to complete isn’t.

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    And that’s the problem.

    The good news? It’s one that has a solution: we have to stop managing time and start managing tasks. There’s a difference between time management and task management – and when we really compare the two it isn’t too difficult to spot it.

    Time

    Time is defined as “the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues.” By virtue of it being “measurable”, it gives us something to hold on to – something to grasp. It’s far easier to look at a calendar and put tasks on the calendar than it is to look at a to-do list and assign dates and times to those, isn’t it? That’s because you run out of time when you do the latter. It’s inevitable.

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    Peter Bregman, author of the book 18 Minutes, has said that we “shouldn’t try to get everything done” – and he’s absolutely right. Yet we still try. We think that the more we do in the time we have will make us more productive by default.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    We need to stop focusing on over-scheduling our time, which leads to overwhelm. We need to take the time to create space for yourself – because if you do then you’ll create the space to make time for yourself. And with that time you will be more efficient and effective instead of just having work possessing one of those qualities. Or even worse…none of those qualities.

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    Task

    A task is defined as “a usually assigned piece of work often to be finished within a certain time”. But the thing that’s most important to notice here is that I referred to the word “task” as a singular item as opposed to how I referred to time as being something much larger, something multiplicative in nature.

    If you focus on that, then you’ll understand that managing a task is far more – well, manageable – than managing time. You end up managing one thing at a time rather than something that is far greater in size – something that that no one has ever really mastered a battle with.

    You can take on a task time and time again and expect you have a chance to come out on top; you can’t take on time in the same manner and expect the same result nearly as often.

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    I’m not suggesting that understanding how tasks fit into your time isn’t important. What I am suggesting is that we place too much importance and – pardon the irony here – time on that notion. what we need to do is worry about figuring out how to do a great job with the tasks we’re given rather than with the time we’re given.

    That’s how you can really become not just more productive – but a better kind of productive in the process.

    (Photo credit: Clock on Dried Soil via Shutterstock)

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      Mike Vardy

      A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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