Not Time Management, Habit Management!

istock_000002003024xsmall.jpgIt’s a difficult case to make — time management is the result of well-executed habits, and people who find themselves stuck in a rut when it comes to this part of their lives will never be able to improve their systems unless they learn to teach themselves new habits.

This is a tough lesson to learn and I am finding that it’s also a tough one to teach.

When we are late for an appointment, or an important task falls through the cracks, some of the typical things that we say to ourselves are as follows:

  • “I need to do a better job of remembering these things”
  • “I have too much stuff going on”
  • “I need an extra hour in the day”

While these sentiments are common ones that millions of professionals utter each day in frustration, there is a good reason why they are likely to keep saying them over and over again whenever they fail to respond to an email in time to hit a deadline.

To put it simply, saying these things are a waste of time.

Developing a better memory, changing situations and magically having an extra hour in the day don’t make a difference.

There is only one thing that makes a difference to the things that users say they really want in time management.

That something is new habits, and a user’s ability to create them at will.

Millions of people look in the mirror each morning and say to themselves “I wish I could lose a few pounds.”

The reason that they are unable to do so, is that they don’t know how to take a good idea, and turn it into a regular habit.  The result is predictable — the weight stays on in spite of the best  running shoes,  gym memberships and supplements that money can buy.

In time management, there are lots of lists floating around with seductive titles such as “101 Time Management Tips.”  The tips themselves may be world-class, but they are entirely useless to someone who does not know how to implement new habits in their lives.

To compound the difficulty,  each person’s habit-pattern is different, and one cannot simply copy another person’s approach to changing habits and hope to be successful.  We each have unique habit patterns, and getting rid of old habits and learning new ones takes a certain degree of self-knowledge to be successful more often than not.

For example, I have found that I respond well to a daily checklist that I do each morning.  I don’t respond well to a post-it note attached to my computer monitor.  About a year ago I switched to becoming a regular flosser by tying my floss to my razor with a rubber band, and I learned that I could physically tie one action to another and teach myself a new habit.

On the other hand, someone who nags me each day to learn a new habit is not an effective method for me.

You may respond well to piece of string tied on to your finger, or to the support of a good friend who is also starting the same or similar habit.

Others may respond well to being part of a live support group that gathers each week to discuss progress and receive coaching.

There is no perfect formula.

Knowing the right formula for you, however, makes all the difference in the world between having a knowledge of 101 tips while implementing none, and successfully creating a new practice that continues unstopped for several years.

All this makes me think that writing a blog on time management is a bit misleading, because good time management at Yellow, Orange and Green belts is all a matter of the habits that one practices, and little else.  I’d probably do anyone who wanted to improve their time management skills a favor by telling them to forget about the topic, until they discovered a way to change their habitual practices at will.

This is personal-mastery at its best, and an essential aspect to every time management program that exists.  Whether a user picks up a new time management book, or takes the MyTimeDesign program online or a live program for 2 days it doesn’t matter.   They simply cannot succeed in changing their lives without having an effective way to work on themselves.

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One Reply to “Not Time Management, Habit Management!”

  1. The emphasis here is on target: Manage actions, not time. I think of habits as programmed actions that sort of form the rib cage around your vital functions. I love GTD–which at heart is an action management methodology–but whatever life management scheme one adopts must (in my view) target the one thing ultimately under our control: what we DO.

    Also, attempting to improve one’s memory for time-dependent items is futile. The “memory improvement techniques” commonly encountered are more for enhancing long-term recall, which is a whole different function.

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