On the management of time

June 21, 2006

Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself sighing when I read about “time management”…so much of what I read appears to be predicated on two things (a) there’s limited amounts of it (yup, I get that bit) and (b) it’s possible to operate in a linear way within a given time frame (here’s where I have problems)…
My life simply doesn’t work in straight lines. I can’t start the day with at “to do” list, work my way systematically through it, while ignoring all other interruptions so that I can feel a self satisfied glow at the end of the day with that line of “ticks”. i just can’t do it!
I remember attending a talk by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips a couple of months ago. He was talking about how psychoanalysis ‘works” and he described it as the theory and practice of side effects. He talked about how people come into therapy with a list of things they want to talk about and/or resolve and then something happens to derail the process and it’s in attending to the derailment that the real work begins. I laughed heartily at that description because in some way it describes my approach to consulting and getting things done. I am not in the habit of missing client deadlines. My work is done on time and on budget. I get the stuff done. But I rarely get up and work though my list systematically. I wander around, I think out loud, I allow myself to be distracted, heck I even day dream. And sometimes when I’m pottering about the most interesting insights will land in my lap. I know they wouldn’t arrive as fully formed if I was on a schedule and waiting patiently for them to materialise by 3.04pm.
I’m all for time management, but it needs to be congruent with the way in which we actually work and how we allow ourselves to be open to derailments that fuel our creativity and don’t close it down.

9 People reacted on this

  1. I share your concern. There’s something about the notion of “time management” that seems to run against the whole excitement and mystery of being alive. “Managing time better” sound so much like a “presenting problem” masking some deeper, more exciting need below the surface.

  2. It’s easy to react to what we favour doing. I use Outlook tasks to keep track of tasks and remind me of things.
    I get think of something, an idea or something to check out, then I tap it into Outlook or my Palm Treo task list and get on with what I planned to do.
    Have you ever being in a queue in a shop and the person serving you stops to answer the phone. Why should the person on the phone be allowed to jump the queue?
    Some tasks need solid focus, others are interruptable. Everyone works a little differently on this one.

  3. Donagh your view of my piece is interesting, I dont’ see someone disrespecting me by answering a phone (see a previous entry for that one!) as the same thing as adopting a less linear approach to time management. Perhaps I’m one of those people who can actually multi task! My piece was more to do with getting tasks done…my preference is to get the tasks done…time doesn’t need to be managed – we do! therefore I’m suggesting that a one size fits all approach isn’t necessarily going to yield a one size fits all result. If we can attend to how people manage themselves and build on what works then I think more creative solutions can emerge

  4. My point is on respecting our own plans for our time. We shouldn’t allow others manage our time completely.
    After all is it your plan or is it theirs?
    I agree completely that one-size doesn’t fit all. I’d question if the ‘non-linear’ approach as an excuse for lack of discipline.
    Not that I’ve cracked it. I do know how much more I get done with a disciplined approach as opposed to allowing myself and others interrupt my plan for the day.

  5. I’m all for discipline… Im all for planning daydreaming. I’m strong for welcoming interuptions that spark the creative process and keeping the door shut at other times. There is nothing so satisfying as saying “no” to a distraction and running the risk that you have just missed an opportunity of a lifetime. I love that risk.
    It’s not my life. it’s our life. I am who I am in relation to others. All that I am is interconnected with others. I can’t succeed on my own. I need to disagree with you to find out what I think myself, to discover myself. I need the tension of time, the pressure of minutes and the space for doodling…
    No one interrupts me. We interrupt me.
    Aren’t that right?

  6. How distracting are ideas, that you must stop what your doing right now? You either expand on it now or note it for later.
    It’s your life, with interactions. Don’t you need to control your interactions to progress your path and/or our path. As a leader what are you leading?
    There is such a thing as being over creative and less productive.

  7. Donagh,
    You’re right. Control matters. I do need to control my interactions, and an open door policy is usually honoured in the breach.
    Am I “over creative” and “less productive”? Good question. In work, I don’t think I’ve ever felt over creative. It’s usually been tough protecting time for thinking ahead, for planning, and hardest of all to guard time for envisioning.
    I didn’t intend to respond to you now, but I have no regrets.

  8. Perhaps this is more a matter of managing multi-tasking rather than managing *time*. If you have five things that need to be done, you might not work on them in a linear fashion…but there needs to be some way of making sure that the proper balls keep rolling.
    I resonate with the impulse toward non-linear time management, but I also rely heavily on lists & such. I teach at different schools with different schedules & deadlines, so it can difficult to keep all the to-do’s straight. I sometimes refer to this as “time triage”: if I have five projects on deck, I need to keep in mind which one has the most pressing deadline so I don’t get distracted with other, more interesting tasks.

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