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The Difference Between Time Management and Task Management

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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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      More by this author

      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 October 21, 2021

      How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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      How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

      Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

      Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

      The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

      Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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      Program Your Own Algorithms

      Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

      Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

      By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

      How to Form a Ritual

      I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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      Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

      1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
      2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
      3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
      4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

      Ways to Use a Ritual

      Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

      1. Waking Up

      Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

      2. Web Usage

      How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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      3. Reading

      How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

      4. Friendliness

      Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

      5. Working

      One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

      6. Going to the gym

      If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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      7. Exercise

      Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

      8. Sleeping

      Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

      8. Weekly Reviews

      The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

      Final Thoughts

      We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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      Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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