Time management myths – busted

Stop trying to come up with ways to do things quicker, and start working on ways to improve your efficiency, say Karen Meager and John McLachlan.

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How do you manage your time? We all look for ways that will enable us to be more productive and get more done. But what works for one person, may not work as well for you.

A particularly common approach is that people equate multi-tasking and making lots of lists with effective time management – but this is not always the case.

There are many similar misconceptions that are not as effective as they first appear.  It is essential these are debunked so you can better achieve better time mastery.

Myth 1: Multitasking is an effective way to get things done

Despite multi-tasking often being considered an effective way to complete lots of tasks quickly, your brain can actually only truly focus on one thing at a time. In order to complete each task to a high standard, it requires your full attention. 

When you are flicking between several tasks you are unable to focus entirely on each one as your attention is divided between lots of different thoughts and activities.

Instead of getting more done quicker, your energy will be drained and your thinking capacity reduced, making it much more difficult to create innovative solutions to complex problems.

While doing more than one task at the same time might feel productive, the output is ultimately much less effective as this could cause you to make mistakes, miss important things out, or even need to redo the whole task. 

You may actually find that multi-tasking when completing everyday tasks that you are unconsciously competent at, for example driving a car, may work very effectively.

However, when you are completing tasks that are not routine, or if they relate to other people, multi-tasking is much more difficult.

For example, sending a work-related email when speaking to someone in front of you can cause you to be distracted and psychologically absent.

Instead, place your focus upon one task at a time right through to completion and see how much more efficient your day becomes.

Myth 2: Being constantly busy is good

You may be one of those people who feels like they ‘need’ to always be occupied. Or perhaps you describe yourself as the type of person who is always busy, sometimes even overloaded.

It’s not useful to brush over your heavy workload by painting a picture of yourself as always occupied and therefore a very important person

Describing yourself as busy has become an attractive way to express your personality, hinting you are popular, skilled and in-demand. 

Despite this, both perceptions are negative. It’s not useful to brush over your heavy workload by painting a picture of yourself as always occupied and therefore a very important person.

And if someone is always busy, this is usually a sign they are struggling to keep up with every task required of them and are finding it difficult to prioritise, or they are suffering and require extra support.

If you are one of these people, it may be useful to describe your tasks as stimulating, interesting or efficient as this can help focus your attention.

And if you are struggling with your workload, voice this with someone else in the team.

Myth 3: Things that take up more thinking time must be more important

When something we need to do worries us or makes us nervous, we usually attach more importance to it. However, this does not paint an accurate picture.

Often, the things we do and the decisions we make that have long-term consequences are actually those that we complete in a few seconds. 

Saying yes to a marriage proposal, offering help to someone in need, or deciding what film to watch are often decisions made in very small amounts of time. They require no contemplation because they are things we want to do.

However, things that cause us to worry as they generate fear, uncertainty or concern about what other people might think, take up much more thinking time.

Therefore, the importance of the decision is not the determining factor in our thinking, but it is our perception of it.

In reality, it is much more beneficial to take action and alter your thinking along the way rather than waiting for the perfect solution to come along. Each decision is a learning process, so harness its power.

Myth 4: Time management tools are an effective way for everyone to organise their work

Tools such as to-do lists, timetables or organising by priority are only effective for some people. 

Trying to prioritise tasks by labelling them as ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ highlights that everyone has different priorities and perceptions, and this can help them bring this to light.

Some people think long term, others need their goals broken down into smaller tasks, so the time management tools they use need to match.

Whichever time-thinker you are, time management tools can be effective as they can help you stay aware of what needs to be done, whether this is long or short term. 

Many of the above time management strategies do not make you as effective with your time as may first appear. It is time to think less about what you need to do, and coming up with ways to do it quicker, and start working on ways that will help improve your efficiency in the long term.


About the authors

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are organisational psychologists and co-founders of  Monkey Puzzle Training and Consulting

Access the first chapter of their book Time Mastery here.


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