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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 April 19, 2021

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

      The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

      Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

      In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

      When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

      Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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      1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

      When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

      As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

      That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

      The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

      What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

      Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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      There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

      So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

      2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

      When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

      No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

      3. Move Your Body

      A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

      It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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      So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

      4. Connect With Another Person

      Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

      One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

      Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

      5. Use Your Imagination

      When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

      That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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      And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

      Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

      Final Thoughts

      Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

      Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

      More on the Importance of Taking a Break

      Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

      Reference

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