Time management made smarter for dummies

Why Time Management is Dumb

Guest post by Kola Olaosebikan

You probably know lots of people that do their best work when they are sweating bullets under tight deadlines. Under the same conditions, others feel overwhelmed and stressed out. If you fall into the first category, much of this article will not apply to you – in particular, if you like tight deadlines AND you are a chronic procrastinator, you might want to click away from this post.

How Smart are SMART goals for YOUR Time Management?

You see, there is a general understanding that Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-constrained (SMART) goals are required in order to make progress in life and master time management. I really can’t argue with the profit that is to be gained from this method. However, SMART goals are being taken completely out of context these days (kind of like crocs—they belong on store shelves—not on your feet).

Do you really need a specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-driven modus operandi for your household chores? Or even your daily office work? Do you really need to construct that 5×5 matrix for your weekly schedule? Probably not. There is a better way to sort out your time management challenges.

On a personal note, I happen to work extremely well under pressure; however, I do have moments when I need some stress-free existence. It was during one of those periods of wanting zero stress that I discovered that there is a time and place for setting goals.

Sometimes, you need to forget about goals because setting goals when your mind, body, and soul are kicking against it will only drench you in stress, and consequently reduce your productivity.

The Case for un-SMART Time Management Goals

Heresy! I know, but the bottom line on time management is this: you need to pay attention to your patterns.

Are you much more productive when you don’t set goals 60% of the time and get SMART for the remaining 40%? Or do you need to set goals 80% of the time and be un-SMART for the remaining 20%?

It will take some time to find your balance but it’s worth it. If your goals are stressing you out, and you spend most of your day beating yourself up for not “finishing your list”, you need to decide what is worth creating a goal for and when to create those goals.

Proceed with Caution

For those trying this out for the first time, I strongly recommend that you get into the habit of writing down the main activities that you complete during your un-SMART time. So instead of creating a list of things to do and checking them off as you go along, start with a blank sheet (or Microsoft Word document) and record your main activities as you go along. You will find that you get a lot more done than you would expect.

Icing on the Time Management Cake

The best part is, when you look at your list at the end of the day, you are not forced to focus on all the things that you didn’t achieve. Instead, you are rewarded with a list of all the things that you did achieve. Sounds bueno to me.

Does that sound good to you or do you have some other time management tips to share?

Kola Olaosebikan is a blogger, speaker, management consultant, and passionate investor in human capital. Last year, Kola managed to wander through four countries and her passion for travel will likely take her to several others this year (Brazil anyone?) Keep tabs on Kola at Beta Motivation.

Photo credit: Hryck
Author: Annabel Candy

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Annabel Candy August 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Thanks Kola for writing this and sharing it with us. I love the idea of ending up with a list of things you’ve done at the end of the day instead of a list of things you wanted to do with just a few crossed out. That’s a great motivational tip. Thank you.

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 6:25 am

thank you, Annabel. This tip has saved me so much stress because there are some days that I feel that i haven’t achieved much but then i look at my list of things that got done, and it makes all the difference in the world :)

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Carl Coddington August 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

First, hello nice to meet you….

Personally, I don’t even want the goal (stress) of having to write down what I did at the end of each day.

I think lists are only stressful if you are compelled to follow them :)

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Annabel Candy August 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Hi Carl, Lol, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Sometimes my lists get too long so I just have to chuck them away, accept that it’s not going to happen and move on:)

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Ramblings of a Woman August 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm

My problem comes when I can’t find the list I made, lol! Now I use a blackberry and I make my list there, sometimes! I still forget to look at it many times.
I heard some famous speaker (can’t think of who right now) that there really is no such thing as time management anyway. It all comes down to SELF management! Time is the same for us all, no matter what, it is up to us to manage our SELF well with using the time allotted to us all.
I used to like to last minute stress, have definitely moved beyond that now…
Bernice
http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/the-topic-of-depression-from-eat-pray-love/

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 6:26 am

Oh i really like that idea. Would you let me know if/when you remember who said that?

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William Bryan IV August 13, 2010 at 11:41 pm

First, of all congrats on your success in Brazil and the other 4 countries you did work in. Second, I do like the idea of writing down the things you do everyday, but I still believe you need goals. For me, personally, what drives me is the goals I set for myself. Don’t get me wrong I am happy with the results of accomplishing things today. But what keeps my going and drives me to do more is the goals I set in the future.

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 6:31 am

Thank you, William! I haven’t quite made it to Brazil this year but it’s on the radar.

Great comment by the way. I absolutely agree with you. It’s very important to have goals but when those goals are leading to more stress than results, it might be time to re-evaluate things. I am very goal oriented myself, but I know a few people that simply go with the flow and magically achieve great things. It’s one of those nuances that make us different….and human :)

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Mark W. August 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm

The worst thing about lists?
Carrying over tasks from one list to another more than one time for whatever reason. The “carry-over” is a reminder that we procrastinated or didn’t do something because we’re waiting for someone or something.
At the end of the day, you know if you’ve been productive – you don’t need a list to know that!
P.S. – I still use lists. :)

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 6:34 am

haha. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
I was actually a little surprised when Annabel agreed to publish this post because I know how she loves her lists :)

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Lorraine Arams August 14, 2010 at 12:53 am

There are “different strokes for different folks” and no one can argue with what works for any one individual. For some people, the “tried and true” is best for them – they feel uncomfortable without a to do list ready every single morning. For others, the system you suggest might work very well. And for others, it will add stress to their lives. If a system resonates, then a person should try it and see what happens – tweak it and make it their own.

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Leon Noone August 14, 2010 at 2:44 am

G’Day Kola,
Dare I say it; “a timely post.” Sorry….

If you employ people, time management and delegation are inextricably linked. If you can’t manage your time you wont be able to delegate and if you can’t delegate you wont be able to manage tour time.

Years ago, I read a story about how some tycoon paid a huge amount–I think it was $10,000 in the 1930s–for this piece of time management advice: each day, or evening or lunchtime or whatever, write down the six things you must do that day. Restrict it to six. Stop, go home, go out or whatever when they’re done.

The bloke who recommended this was a smart fellow. He realized that poor time management is merely a symptom. The real problem is failure to set priorities.

The time management gurus want you to feel guilty so that you’ll buy their programs which when you do them, will make you feel even guiltier! What a lurk for generating repeat business……

You can try my six things idea for free. If it doesn’t work, you’ll be no worse off. If it does, I promise to split you $10,000 gratitude donation between Annabel’s favourite charity and me. Painless!

Make sure you have fun.

Regards

Leon

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Dave Doolin August 14, 2010 at 2:44 am

Not trying to hijack, just reinforcing the OP.

I do this here http://hrecipe.com/ and here: http://status-star.com/

And at least one other other, but that’s not open to the public. I also have a couple of private wiki pages where I running journals.

I thoroughly recommend keeping these kinds of journals and web logs. It’s a huge boost to productivity.

@Carl: writing down at the end of every hour works best. If you do this religiously, you will find that you are lucky to get 4 solid hours of work into an 8 hour day. I’ve probably rendered myself permanently unemployable here, but *anyone* who can deliver 4 solid hours of work per day is doing better than average.

@Mark W: If you have a task management system that works well, stuff that doesn’t get done can be easily factored into smaller pieces, the important part of it scheduled, the not so important part moved to “blue sky” deadline.

For me, task or todo lists are a way to brainstorm, especially when I don’t understand a problem (because it’s impossible to schedule tasking when you don’t understand a problem). Once I understand a project, it’s not too hard to break it down into hour-long chunks and just get ‘er done. The task list becomes indispensable. It’s your IP, it has real value, you can use it to outsource and bid in the future.

I recommend anyone using tasking or todo have a “blue sky” project, with open ended completion. Put what doesn’t fit anywhere else into Blue Sky.

Disclaimer: I’ve tracked my own time off and on for years, including a long stint under US DCAA (military) accounting. It’s not optional for these kinds of contracts, you will track your time, or you will pay monetary penalties when you get audited. Your choice.

I could (and should) probably consult on time accounting.

I have a raft of productivity and time tracking article on the linked website.

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Annabel Candy August 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Hi Dave, I agree, you could (and should) probably consult on time accounting! Thanks so much for sharing all this with us. It’s incredible and inspiring. I know I have a lot of work to do on my time management:)

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Nunzio Bruno August 14, 2010 at 3:32 am

I absolutely agree with you about the crocs – on the shelves, not the feet :). I think you covered some other interesting stuff too when you talk about recording what your main daily activities are. After a while you can take that data and plan around when you feel the most productive. I think we are similar in that I like deadlines and a good crunch but I def need my stress free time to work too. I try to plan my days out like that and put the heavier stuff at times I know I’d be more likely to not skip over them.

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 6:45 am

Nunzio,

You bring up a very good point that takes this to a whole new level. I can definitely see plenty of value in taking things a step further to plan important activities around your most productive times. i like that–thanks for that insight

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rob white August 14, 2010 at 6:21 am

Hi Kola,
I really enjoyed this post… mainly because it wise to question everything. It seems to me SMART goals are a complicated way to do simple things. Genius is always in simplicity. Cluttered minds need complicated ways to get simple things done. I find it odd that our biggest goals and passions could fit neatly into this formula… when I commit my mind to do something I do whatever it takes to get it done. Some of my biggest achievements have taken YEARS longer that I thought they would. If I am understanding SMART goals correctly, I should have given up on them… I can tell you I am glad I did not. Everything else is everything else.

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Cate August 14, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hi Annabel and Kola,
loved the post… as someone who has just dived back into teaching after several years at home playing at being a Mum and a Writer, I’m back to being ruled by the bell, so time management is imposed over the top of whatever I seek to achieve in my working day. :-)

However, I picked up a great tip from Zen Habits at sometime in the past little while of writing down 3 main things I wanted to achieve in the day + 3 not so main things. As an habitual procrastinator this sorted my decision-making out for me, and was much more achievable than the huge lists I used to write out when my brain capacity let me down and I couldn’t remember everything that I still needed to do.

Totally love the idea of writing down what you have achieved rather than what you aim to achieve. Creating such a list is really motivating in itself. :-)

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Kola August 14, 2010 at 10:01 am

thank you, Cate. I imagine going back into the workforce is a challenge in and of itself! You know what? your comment actually turned my attention to something that I hadn’t thought of before.

Could there be benefit in having two lists simultaneously? Having your to-do list and then the list of things that actually got done. I think this would be a really interesting personal experiment. any takers? :)

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Dave Doolin August 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

Yeah…

I use Trac tasking, the same software used by WordPress developers.

When a task is done, it gets checked off.

In the best case, each task takes about 45 minutes, which leaves me 15 minutes to write up my notes as a journal entry. If the task is over an hour, I may factor it into separate smaller tasks at this time as well (or I may not), and enter these into the task management system.

Sometimes, getting through one task spawns 3-5 new tasks. And that’s fine. Provides more choice on what should get done, and what can be gaffed off.

I often, but not always, close the journal entry with a description of the next task that needs doing. That way makes it much easier to pick back up the next time I work on it which may be a day or more later.

This 1-2 punch of bracketing the work before hand with tasking and afterwards with journaling has been the turning point for me.

Later, the task list can be used to repeat the work, and the journal becomes the manual for repeating.

If you use WordPress for tasking, file each increment of work performed into the correct category, and tag it appropriately.

I don’t worry about SEO for any of these journal entries. They end being between 75 and 200 words long. Not worth it.

Marketable side effects: with the tagging and category from a recent launch, I can easily strip a couple thousand words from the journal (blog) and turn that into an ebook or long blog post… something that has real meat to it, tips and tricks nobody talks about, because I wrote that stuff down as I went.

FWIW, this comment and the one above I’ll probably use as the basis for a future blog post.

Annabel Candy August 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Hi Dave, I often do that too, get so carried away in the comments I realise it’s something I need to write a whole post about. So glad to have a record of it here and all the inside info but look forward to reading the whole thing too!

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Anne Galivan August 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I am a full-time home-schooling mom of four (and part-time business owner) – and I challenge anyone who thinks they need to be more flexible than a full-time home-schooling mom…

I laughed to myself reading part of this…the part where you say to write down what you do as you go along, so that at the end of the day you see what you did rather than what you didn’t do.

There have been times in my mommy life where I have felt like the day was so fruitless that I would actually write down a list of what I did manage to accomplish that day, and then check each thing off! It was a little psychological trick to remind myself that even if all I did was: a couple loads of laundry, nurse the baby ten times (because of a growth spurt – yes it happens), throw together something resembling dinner, and put the kids all to bed with a story – I would still feel semi-productive.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of survival! :)

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Annabel Candy August 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Hi Anne, great comment and I can certainly relate to it. The worst part is that it’s never done. The next day you have to get up and do more laundy, shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. I think for busy mums the aim should be to make sure they do at least one thing each day for themselves!

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Joshua Noerr August 15, 2010 at 5:53 am

Kola, I started thinking about time management very differently when I learned about Parkinson’s law, in which SMART goals fit very nicely.

Simplified, the law states that work will swell to fill the time alloted to it. So, if you have a two week deadline on something, chances are very high that project will fill the entire two weeks. The same project given a one week deadline will do the same.

Using it creatively, you can give yourself smaller time constraints to use the law to your advantage. It’s the reason so many college kids cram, and do papers last minute. Cheers on a great post.

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Kola August 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm

thank you, Joshua

I completely agree. Parkinson’s Law is real but you might be surprised to learn that there are some people that simply get stressed out when they have a task list looming over their desks. Add a deadline on top of that, and you’ve pretty much extinguished any hopes of productivity for the day.

Judging from your post, you may not fall into that category but if you’ve found a time management technique that works for you, I say keep on keeping on :)

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Sandra Lee August 15, 2010 at 6:45 am

Kola, I like your proposal so much! I’m a flow person and it seems like no one ever addresses the way to approach time when you operate differently than the crowd. I’ve been using J. D.’s approach of thinking in 3’s – 3 outcomes for the day, the week, the month, the year and it’s helped me so much. Especially the idea of sloughing off the rest. However, your idea of counting what you actually do is brilliant!

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Kola August 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

why thank you, Sandra. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Writing down the things I’ve achieved during the day has helped me tremendously because I hardly ever go to bed feeling like i’ve wasted an entire day and i have my handy dandy list to prove it :)

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Sarah August 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Great article! :) I have always hated lists and it just drives me crazy to see people writing their long list of “what they’re going to do today”. They’re spending all that time making their list when they could be doing something more productive!

But I do like your idea for writing a list of what you’ve completed. I’ve done that sort of thing before and it’s so much more satisfying (and less time-consuming!). Sometimes I surprise myself with how much I’ve done!

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Walter August 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

While time management has it’s benefits, they are not reliable in determining which goals are important and which are not. Oftentimes, we set ourselves to working on our everyday task and feel stuck or unhappy about doing it. Maybe it’s much wise to let loose of time and do the things that we want to do. :-)

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J.D. Meier August 17, 2010 at 4:48 am

Yeah, time management is dumb.

I see too many people architect their time, only to miss out on the spice of life or accomplish meaningful results.

The key is to connect the time you spend to the value and experiences you want. The real key is carving out more time for the things that light up your life. It’s like creating an arena or a stomping ground or a personal romper room.

Personally, I live my values at work … either by finding the right projects or changing how I do the work, or who I spend more time with or less time with. This helps make sure that my goals line up with what I already want to do more of.

The cutting time management question is:
What do you want to spend more time doing each day?

If you can link your work and your values and the time you spend, you found your personal recipe for results, and finding your flow and getting your mojo on.

Goals are never a tool you can beat yourself over the head with. You can want one thing, but goal yourself with another. Your goals have to be something you really want. It has to answer the ultimate question … “Why?” (even if it’s as simple as … to “feel good” :)

From a pragmatic standpoint, I set mini-goals to nail the things I MUST do so that I don’t fail at the basics (food, shelter, and health) … so my mini-goals are about succeeding on the job or whatever my latest challenge or adventure is.

Where goals help the most is when they tease out tough trade-offs in where to spend time or what to spend more energy on. A goal does a good job if it simply makes you more mindful of the choices you have and the path you want to take.

I like the metaphor of … a river person + goals (go with the flow, but use goals to avoid going over the waterfall in a barrel :)

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Theresa Bradley-Banta August 17, 2010 at 9:15 am

Hey Kola,

Hmmm. Interesting post. Not sure I entirely agree. This can be read as throw it all out the window. The trouble is, you can easily get buried in tasky things that get you to zero really fast.

Your daily office work can bury you. Your household chores can steal hours from you. If you get a whole bunch of little things done that ultimately get you nowhere… then where are you?

This is dicey advice. I get it but… I don’t know. I didn’t make millions with throw a dart planning and tail chasing activities.

Hey — but thanks for the heretical stance!

Theresa

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Claire Lane August 23, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Hey Annabel,

Interesting… I’m a big planner, it’s just the way I am (I guess I have to be in my profession), and I’m always encouraging my clients to plan plan plan too.

But, I agree that you need to do it in the way it works for YOU. If planning is not the best way of working for YOU, then don’t do it.

However, I do have to say that, for me at least, the act of writing a list and unloading that mental clutter is a relief, it’s almost like I’ve done half my tasks simply by writing them down and getting them out of my head.

Anyway it’s an interesting thought, and I might play with it a little this week…

Thanks
Claire

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JD August 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Goals have always been important to me. I love the line, A goal not written down is only a dream. We’ve created this free simple facebook app that allows you to create SMART Goals and uses your friends as Goal Buddies to help monitor your SMART Goals. http://www.facebook.com/SMARTGoals.Me

Just like when in running or working out you tend to go harder when you know someone is watching. Thats they whole aim of this :)

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