The Return to Results-Oriented Time Management

by Mark on April 6, 2010 · 1 comment

In the early days of man, time management was intensely focused and results-oriented. As a hunter-gatherer, if you didn’t achieve the result of finding food, you starved. Hunger has an amazing way of focusing your attention. In fact, much of your motivation was to satisfy some immediate desire or to alleviate some immediate discomfort. If you were thirsty, you went to find water because bottled water was unbelievably rare back then. If you were horny, you hooked up with the cute girl in the cave next door.

Time management really didn’t involve much long-term planning. You achieved specific short-term results that were very closely linked to your actions, and your success or failure was pretty much immediately apparent.

With the advent of agriculture, man began to plan longer into the future. Activity was still very results-oriented, but now the results were much less immediate. People began to plan over the course of a season. Urgency to get immediate results became greatly reduced from the hunter-gatherer stage. The results of your actions weren’t known until much later.

Man slowly began to specialize, and markets began to develop. This specialization continued with the industrialization of society. The rewards of labor slowly changed from finding food, to bartering of goods, to the exchange of money for goods. As businesses became more complicated, more and more employees began to be paid according to the amount of time they worked instead of the specific results that they achieved.

Over the years, businesses have grown bigger and bigger, and the link between the rewards of labor and results has become continuously more tenuous. There is less urgency to achieve results, it is more difficult to know which results are actually desired, and the knowledge of how to obtain those results is not as intuitive.

Our Current Situation

Technology has opened up a world of opportunities, but it has also opened up a world of distractions and a world of useless activities. We are bombarded with e-mails and other communications, and the resulting “action items” can be overwhelming. Much of it doesn’t lead to real results, but it is disguised as productive activity. We still have compensation systems that compensate us for hours worked, not results achieved. People who work long hours are praised as if this is proof of greater results.

Not only that, but we are increasingly expected to be connected at all times and to respond immediately. If we don’t respond immediately, we feel a tinge of guilt. If we do respond immediately, then we are distracted from important work that we could have been working on. Multi-taskers are seen as heroes. Then there are the non-work Internet activities that we can distract ourselves with, such as Facebook, Twitter, or online shopping.

The Return to Results-Oriented Time Management

Over the last decade, there has been growing disillusionment with this model. New philosophies of time management are being developed, and many of them have a common core: an intense focus on results rather than inputs such as time. There is a movement back to the original time management strategy of the hunter-gather.

Examples of this movement include:

  • Tim Ferriss. His book The 4-Hour Workweek has created a worldwide movement of people focusing on results instead of time worked.
  • Scott H. Young. Scott has written on this topic at length on his blog. In his article Relax Without Feeling Lazy: Kill Open Loops, he talks about how defines his tasks specifically in terms of what he wants to get done instead of the amount of time he wants to work on it.
  • Leo Babauta. Babauta’s The Power of Less is an excellent book about increasing our focus and eliminating excess in all areas of our life, but it is also an excellent book on time management. He recommends severely restricting the number of things that we focus on and then making sure that we finish them instead of diluting our focus and accomplishing little.
  • 37signals. In the book Rework, the founders of 37signals (Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson), describe how 37signals uses a results-only philosophy in their business. It is an interesting description of how they break all the rules and accomplish impressive results with a small staff connected across the world.
  • Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. Ressler and Thompson implemented what is now widely known as a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) at Best Buy, and then they started CultureRx to provide consulting for companies that would like to implement the system. In a ROWE, employees have no fixed schedules. They just have to accomplish specific objectives. Ressler and Thompson also wrote the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It.

I think that this shift from a time-oriented philosophy to a results-oriented philosophy is an important one. It’s something that I will continue to explore and apply to my life.

{ 1 comment }

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: