Flipping the Script on Time Management

Time management affects a massive part of our lives, from how much we earn to how happy we are.

Learning to manage your time involves everything from your ability to hit big goals to how satisfied you are by the end of the day. Time management strategies can be helpful, but many miss the mark because they do nothing to address underlying habits and predispositions that lead to poor time management.

While the Pomodoro Technique or adding calendar blocks to your schedule can be worth trying, these approaches rely on us to add something new to our pattern of habits. They don’t redefine how to work with preexisting practices or rid people of deeply ingrained habits that frazzle us when we look at our to-do lists, miss deadlines, and show up unprepared for meetings.

Most of us need to take a second look at our underlying patterns and find ways to work with them rather than adding to them or changing them altogether.

Prep for decision fatigue

Think of yourself as an energy vessel. At the top, you’ve got strategic thinking, motivation, and bright ideas. In the middle, you have people skills, patience, and focus. At the bottom is the energy it takes to run your body, remind you to eat, and keep you alive.

Now, picture that vessel being poured out from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. That first layer of energy has been poured out by lunch, and when dinner rolls around, you’re down to your basic functions. The more decisions you make, the more mentally exhausted you get. That is the very nature of decision fatigue.

It’s hard to make decisions and think clearly when operating from that bottom level of energy. It’s much easier to work with your natural energy than against it. Apply this knowledge to how you plan your day:

  • Take time in the morning to organize your priorities and prep for when you’ll be too drained to make good decisions.
  • Plan for what you’ll accomplish, paying particular attention to when you plan to achieve it.

You’ll find that when you match your activities to your natural energetic cycle, you’ll flow through your day with much more ease and satisfaction.

Attention management vs. task management

Considering your energetic vessel, think about how your attention waxes and wanes throughout the day. Everyone is different, but we all have patterns that can cast light on how we prefer to work. Maybe you like to work on long, intensive projects over a glass of wine in the evening. Or perhaps you want to get all the heavy lifting done first thing in the morning.

Whichever you are, take note and consider how it translates to your workday. Many people have difficulty switching between big, complicated tasks and small, quick tasks. This isn’t because of the actual content of the tasks but the type of attention those tasks require. Instead of breaking up your day by project, consider breaking it up by attention type:

  • Group all your quick, small tasks together and complete them all simultaneously.
  • Then, take a break and let your mind reset.
  • When you return, tackle one of your big, time-consuming projects. Plan these chunks of time to coincide with your preferred time of day for that type of attention.

Are you noticing a theme here? It’s all about working with your preferences rather than against them.

Learn your behavior chain

Habits rule our lives, making up how we function daily. They can serve us well but also hold us back. While working with your natural patterns can be a great strategy, sometimes we need to break our habits.

First, understand the behavior chain concept: Trigger ➡️ Thought ➡️  Action ➡️ Consequence. Something happens in your environment, which triggers a thought, causes you to act, and results in a consequence. Let’s use this example:

A meeting is coming up, but you’re deep in a project. This triggers a thought: “I’ll just work for a few more minutes.” The thought causes you to act: You continue working past your intended time. This results in a consequence: You show up unprepared for the meeting.

There are books on breaking habits, so you have the resources to combat patterns that result in mismanaged time. But identify which habits to break and which ones you can work with. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to break the behavior chain.

Reward yourself

One thing that helps establish new habits? Positive reinforcement. Help establish new strategies by giving yourself positive reinforcement when you succeed, like takeout from your favorite restaurant or that new notebook you’ve been eyeing. Rewards make it easier to cement new approaches into long-lasting habits.

Make the change, be the change

When we make changes to our daily lives that work with our strengths rather than against them or begin to break our behavior chains (and show up prepared for our meetings), positive things happen

Our colleagues compliment us on our work. Our bosses give us more autonomy and trust. Our energy feels less depleted by the end of the day. We start actually getting things done—and it’s a beautiful, gratifying feeling.


Content provided by Q4intelligence

Photo by BullRun