Don't you believe it: Time management makes you efficient

There's a strange and slightly disturbing paradox about the time management industry - it is as big as it is because it doesn't work.

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 03 Oct 2011

Ninety-nine per cent of the people reading this column will have been on a time management course, owned a personal organiser, or installed some time management software on their computer.

And yet, for many, time management will remain a huge problem - whether it's the important being consistently sacrificed to the urgent, overloaded managers who never stop working but somehow never achieve anything, or people who put so much effort into being dynamic that they never manage to get anything done, the examples are all around us.

In my own career I have taken over from several directors of substantial companies who had been failing and were fired, and I always found poor time management to have been a large part of the problem.

So, what are we all doing wrong, and how might we do better?

Time management doesn't work because it assumes that we are rational creatures when it comes to allocating our time. It assumes that we can work out, perfectly rationally, those things which are both urgent and important, and then concentrate our efforts there. The problem is that we are not rational. We avoid that which make us uncomfortable (these tend to be the important things). We feel reluctant to do things differently, even when it is obvious to our rational selves that the old ways don't make sense any more. We find it hard to say 'no' to pointless requests.

The good news is that this irrationality is a problem only so long as we deny it. Self-knowledge is the key - if you can recognise the irrational biases that prevent you doing what you need to do, then you can start to compensate for them. Embrace the thorny issue you've been shying away from, have the awkward conversation, dare to think about the elephant in the room. And, after you've done all that, some of those old time management tools might even come in handy.

- Alastair Dryburgh's first MT book, Everything You Know About Business is Wrong, (Headline) is available now.

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