I run into three main objections when I teach my time management system:
• “I’m too busy to do all this!”
• “This system seems very regimented and robotic.”
• “Do I have to keep doing this forever?”
Let’s take them one at a time.
“I’m too busy to do all this!”
The more rushed you are, and the less time you think you have available to do time management, the more you need to do it. Trust me: it will help. It can’t be much fun to be constantly rushing around trying to do twenty things at once, meanwhile missing deadlines, being late for appointments and doing a mediocre job at many tasks simply because you don’t have the time to do any better. Time management will help you get past all that.
Besides, time management isn’t as much work as it seems. It will probably take a day or two, at most, to create your Time Budget, Weekly Schedule and Time Tracking Form. After that, Tracking takes perhaps half an hour a day at most. You keep your Time Tracking Form next to you, and interrupt your work every fifteen minutes to put a checkmark in the appropriate box. This takes only a few seconds, and after a while you will hardly notice it. In fact, it’s a mildly pleasant task, like giving yourself a gold star.
If you spend ten seconds recording your time after each fifteen-minute chunk of work, you will have spent a grand total of 640 seconds, or just over ten minutes, tracking your time over an sixteen-hour day. So, your daily Time Management won’t take up that much time at all.
The end-of-week activities—Tallying, Reviewing and Planning for the next week—take an hour or less. Many people find these tasks enjoyable: it’s interesting to go back and review precisely how you spent your week, and whether and why you were more or less productive than the previous week.
To summarize: time management is probably going to take around an hour a week once you set up your system. That hour is probably the best investment you will ever make, as it will help you make much more rapid progress on all of your important goals than you might have ever thought possible.
“This system seems very regimented. I’m not a robot.”
All of this budgeting, scheduling and tracking strikes some of my students as being too regimented. (“Fascistic” is a word that pops up every once in a while.) My answer to that is:
1. It is regimented—because that is what most people need. Some of my students have tried less regimented time management systems and they haven’t worked. This one does, and it does because of its regimentation.
2. You are probably exaggerating the amount of regimentation. Most successful people exercise some control over their schedules, and many budget and track their time in just the way I’ve shown you. They don’t consider it a big deal. If you have never managed your time, all of this work may look excessive, but it’s really not. It’s normal for people who hope to succeed at an ambitious Mission.
3. The system is similar to other systems people use to effect difficult personal change. We create a money budget to manage our finances and a calorie budget to manage our weight. Why shouldn’t we create a time budget to manage our time? You need a plan to use any kind of limited and precious resource well, and time is the most limited and precious resource of all.
4. Often, when students complain about the system being “regimented,” what they really mean is, “it’s too much work.” It isn’t, as discussed above.
5. I would never say that this is the only time management system, or the best one. This is simply the one that works best for me and many of my students. There are other systems out there, some less regimented, some more. I urge you to try this one and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, try one of the others. The important thing is to do some form of time management.
Do I Have to Keep Doing This Forever?
“Forever” is a scary word, and I can understand how the thought that you might have to track your time forever would scare you. But don’t worry: you probably won’t have to.
The way time management works for me (and my students) is this: I use the system I’ve described for two or three months to establish new and better habits of using time. Once these habits are established, I am able to automatically manage my time without the formal process I’ve been describing.
If I start to backslide, or go through a difficult period where I’m having trouble being productive, I return to doing formal time management until I get back on track. Sometimes this only takes a day or two; sometimes it takes longer. And if my priorities or life situation changes, or I’m ready to boost my productivity or take on a new goal, I set up a new Time Budget and start formally managing my time all over again until the new habits take hold.
You can think of formal time management as the “training wheels” for the bicycle of your professional and personal life. It helps you make the transition to a more productive schedule, just as actual training wheels helped you make the transition from a three- to a two-wheeler. Once you’re comfortable with your new schedule, you can set the training wheels aside.
Some people, you may be surprised to learn, keep doing their formal time management not because they need to, but because they like to. Like most organizational tools, it helps you maintain order and keep calm even in the center of a storm. As I mentioned earlier, it can actually be fun and meditative to spend a peaceful hour at the end of the week going over how you spent your time.
So, the answer is no, you don’t have to do your time management “forever”—but you may want to.