Managing Time in Time Management

Failure by Belief

What better to occupy one's mind late on a sleepless night than Time Management. This is not the first time my thoughts have been captivated by Time Management. Time Management seems to be something I have pondered at length, usually when I have less than enough time to get something done.

It seems that when faced with recurring time pressure we turn to the concepts of Time Management believing that it holds the answer for an escape from our dilemma. This in fact constitutes a two part fallacy.

Lets get serious, there is no management of time in Time Management. Time is not manageable! Time simply is. As Zig Ziggler is so fond of saying, "We all have the same amount of time, 24 hours in every day." It's really a question of what one does within that time that makes the difference.

The second part of the Time Management fallacy is based on the belief that if one simply becomes more effective, a better time manager, then they will be able to accomplish what needs to be done--NOT!

What is to follow is a anasynthis, i.e. analysis and synthesis, of one's activity within time in an organizational context. The intent is to provide a foundation for a deeper level of understanding regarding the dilemma faced, and provide some more meaningful approaches that can be taken to resolve the Time Management dilemma.

If this is your first encounter with the systems thinking diagrams which follow there are rather lengthy descriptions of how to read the diagrams in both Melting the Tip of the Iceberg and Victims of the System or Systems of the Victim.

I suppose the best place to start is with the situation as it's perceived, experiencing Time Pressure.

The interaction of Time Available and Things to Do results in Time Pressure. As Time Available increases the Time Pressure experienced decreases. As Things to Do increases Time Pressure experienced increases. From this perspective, there are three ways to deal with the situation, increase the Time Available, decrease the Things to Do, or just live with it. There are actually additional ways to deal with the situation. These are embedded in elements of the system which have not yet been described.

The situation being described assumes an organizational context and the individual experiencing Time Pressure might be an individual contributor or a manager. I don't think it will change the way the system unfolds. Within this context it is generally perceived that the those things in the Things to Do category can not be ignored--they must be dealt with.

From this perspective Time Pressure influences Action which after some delay reduces Things to Do. The reduction of Things to Do has two effects. First, reducing Things to Do decreases Time Pressure because one simply isn't faced with too many things to do. Yet, at the same time, reducing Things to Do causes Time Pressure to decline it increases Time Available. Before you begin to think this is the answer---think again. Would I have led you down this path only to let you off so easily? Of course not!

The previous diagram is only valid if Things to Do is only somewhat greater than the Time Available. If Things to Do is far greater than the Time Available in which to accomplish them completing some of the Things to Do will neither reduce Time Pressure nor increase the Time Available. And my experience indicates this is generally the case. So where to go from here?

When the action taken doesn't reduce Things to Do and subsequently Time Pressure the most often opted for approach is to Work Harder. While this may resolve the situation, it it not likely to for Things to Do is far larger than can be accommodated with Work Harder. If one continues under this misguided Work Harder mental model for some time the result is Stress & Burnout which reduces Effectiveness, actually resulting in more Things to Do because of rework. This is just one more instance of the best intentions leading one to where one least wants to be. The system wins! Always!

If all this isn't working, suppose we take another approach.

If one chooses to reduce Personal Time this will immediately increase Time Available for work. This approach is flawed because reducing Personal Time also has a tendency to increase Stress & Burnout and the system responds much as previously described. And, what makes it even worse is that the loop formed by Personal Time, Stress & Burnout, Effectiveness, and Things to Do forms a viscous reinforcing structure acting to make things progressively worse.

And so Time Management comes to the rescue.

The belief being that Time Management will improve Effectiveness subsequently reducing Things to Do and reducing Time Pressure. This all seems to make sense, and the diagram works. So why is it that in real life it just doesn't seem to work this way?

The critical piece of this system I have been purposely avoiding is founded in a belief structure.

What do you do when you have time available? Create things to do of course. Since we can't conceive of having time available we in fact ensure that we have none. How could a person be earning their salary at work if they have time available. It is simply unthinkable. And if management believes you have time available it is quite certain they will attempt to ensure you don't have it for long.

So, what the real answer comes down to is, to have time available, one first has to believe that it's ok to have time available. I would expect this answer probably difficult to accept. All I can say is, Been there! Done that!

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