Can I tell you a dirty little secret?
The last couple days, my productivity has sucked.
Yesterday, I got a little bit done. But mostly I tanked my productivity big time. By the end of the day, I had almost zero work output to show for having sat at my desk for hours.
Today, I decided to hack it a bit. I made it into more of a “buffer” day. I didn’t expect a ton of productive output, but rather focused on things that I could do that would be productive, even if I didn’t feel productive. Things that needed to get done, but didn’t require the kind of focus and energy that are required for something like writing a sales letter.
And frankly, most of this is my fault. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
But from a bigger perspective, it got me thinking about time management.
And, about a fundamental truth about time management…
You CANNOT manage time!!!
The fact that there’s a whole industry around “time management” is kinda funny. It’s like the weight loss industry. If they told you what really worked, they’d all be out of jobs.
So they sell you the latest magic pill time management system… Not so you’ll succeed… But so you’ll feel like you DID SOMETHING… And if it doesn’t work, oh well… At least you’ll be back to buy their next magic pill.
And I’ve tried them all. I’ve tried written planners. Digital planners. Project management software. To-do lists. ADHD drugs. And so on, and so on. Et cetera, et cetera…
All these magic pills have worked for a while. I’ve gotten excited. I’ve put them to work. And they’ve worked for me… At least, for a bit.
Then, the inevitable fall-off occurs. You know what I’m talking about. What worked really well in the first few days suddenly becomes a little less effective. “Oh well,” we think, “that’s just the initial burst of energy wearing off, but I’m sure this will keep working.”
Then weeks later, months later, things fall off even more. With most things, you just quit using them. With the ADHD drugs, that was a lot harder. (That’s a story for another day, but I couldn’t stop using them, even though I knew they were counter-productive, until I got so sick I couldn’t stand the thought of being WIRED and SICK at the same time.)
Try it, it works great initially, then eventually the effectiveness wears off and you’re left feeling worthless…
Maybe you know the cycle?
Well, it comes down to the fact that you’re trying to manage the wrong thing.
If you cannot manage time, what can you manage?
In short, you can’t do squat about time. Time will keep ticking, whether you want it to or not. Time will keep moving, whether you’re cranking out your best work, or if you’re totally procrastinating.
Time is totally outside of your control.
And until Doc Brown can figure out the Flux Capacitor and trick out a DeLorean, you can’t ever get time back if you didn’t use it how you wanted to.
That’s why “time management” is such a misguided term.
“But Roy,” you might argue, “I can manage MY TIME, even if I can’t manage time itself.”
But you’re wrong! Your time is the same as my time is the same as everyone else’s time.
If you can’t manage time, it doesn’t matter if you try to possess it. You still can’t manage it.
Except… You’re not totally wrong. In fact, you’re half-right.
Because you can manage YOU.
The real “time management” is “self management.”
That is, you can’t manage time, but you CAN manage yourself.
You can manage what you do with your time.
You can manage your behaviors and your actions, during a specific stretch of time.
You can choose to use time productively, in pursuit of your goals…
OR, you can choose to twiddle your thumbs while time keeps slipping, slipping… into the future!
Grab your smart phone. Open up Facebook. And start scrolling… (There’s a reason they created “infinite scroll.”)
Do that, and you’ll not realize it as suddenly 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes have passed you by… While all you did was read whatever Facebook’s news feed algorithms thought you’d be most likely to respond to, and thus keep scrolling…
(For this reason, I’ve started really heavily favoring distractions that have a limited page length. Google News, for example. I can go, read every headline on the Google News front page, feel like I’ve got an update on today’s big stories, and I have a clear stopping point. This hack helps me manage that human tendency to chase an unlimited stimulus for an unlimited length of time.)
Get good at managing your self, and time management becomes less of an issue…
There’s a lot to this, and it goes beyond the scope of today’s article, but here are some thoughts to help you with self management…
— If you plan out your vision and mission for yourself, and create short- and medium-term plans and goals to reach your long-term vision, you’ll be more naturally motivated to do the work you need to do on a daily basis.
— Modern humans suck at dealing with the fire hose of media being delivered to us today, so you should find ways beyond willpower to limit your media consumption.
— Less is more: If it’s not a “hell yes,” it should probably be a “no.”
— Focus is a real problem for many in our society today. Develop a mindfulness practice like basic sitting meditation (I currently do 11 minutes every morning) where you simply sustain attention on your breath (and bring your attention back when it inevitably wanders) and your focus will improve.
— Find ways to create systems, structures, and processes outside of you (including things like client deadlines, etc.) that force you to be productive now.
— Work in breaks, R&R, and refresher time. One study I saw said someone who worked a 60-hour week had the same productive output as someone who worked 30. The ideal time was somewhere near 36-40 hours per week — with the rest of the week intentionally turned off work.
— Get a coach who will help you with this, and hold you accountable.
And finally, forgive yourself when you go off-track (as I have these last couple days), and find a way to get moving again, so you start to see progress, which creates a feedback loop that encourages more momentum, and ultimately takes you to the results you want.
But it all starts when you realize that what you ultimately have to manage is yourself…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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