Is it TIME you lack or is it FOCUS?

by Mark on March 2, 2010 · 2 comments

Do you study time management techniques? I have been studying them for about 20 years now, and I have found that, ironically, they are often a waste of time. Most of them are directed towards increasing our efficiency, but too often we are efficiently doing unimportant activities. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that something not worth doing is not worth doing well.

This one of my biggest criticisms with David Allen’s cult classic time-management book Getting Things Done. There are some good ideas in the book, but his system has far too strong an emphasis on processing action items efficiently and almost no emphasis on determining whether the action items are worth doing in the first place.

The Overemphasis on Systems

Historically, one of the problems with time management systems is the focus on intricate systems for how to manage time. I’ve gone through numerous systems myself. They always sounded great. I would buy a new planner and set it up and try to implement the system. But it never really worked like I hoped. It always felt awkward, and in no time I would be completely ignoring the system. One reason that these systems never stuck was because the author of the system never focused on how to make using the system a habit. If you don’t condition the system as a new habit, it will fail every time.

The other aspect that turned me off about these systems is that I would be busier than ever but not feel like I was accomplishing anything important. And the reason was because I wasn’t! I really just found a way to be busier. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel. My results just didn’t seem to be justified by my activity level. My results may even have been an improvement over what I was getting previously, but it simply wasn’t worth it. I think it was because as you increase the number of activities that you fit into your schedule, you naturally work on tasks that are simply not as important.  Your output is low relative to your input.

Forget about Time Management. Focus on Focus.

My time management strategy is in some ways going in the complete opposite direction of the typical time management strategy. My goal isn’t to get more things done. It’s to get less things done! If I get less things done, then I’m probably on the right track. I now focus less on scheduling my time in detail and trying to squeeze the most out of every second, and I focus more on setting aside larger blocks of time to work on more important things.

My “planner” couldn’t be any simpler. It’s simply a Moleskine 3.5 in. X 5.5 in. 192 page ruled notebook without any dates or times printed on it.  I write the day and date at the top. On the top half of the page, I write down a few important tasks to complete for the day (usually 2-4). I use the bottom half of the page for notes to myself.

It’s extremely flexible and easy to use. It works for me. I still don’t complete all the tasks that I set for myself, but my success rate is improving. It’s a matter of raising my standards and changing my habits. The biggest change is that I’m not distracting myself with millions of little unimportant tasks.

What do you think? Do you think that you could benefit from a little more focus?


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