Monday, December 29, 2008

Why Time Management Doesn’t Work

Yesterday I wrote about the idea of constraints. A constraint is something that stops you from getting more done. Many people manage their own work poorly because they are paying attention to just one constraint, which usually is not the one that is actually stopping them.

This is why time management systems don’t work for most people. If you use a time management system, it organizes your work as if it had only one constraint, time. This is not such a good idea. Time is never your only constraint. It is possible for time to be your primary constraint, but that is an exceedingly unfortunate circumstance to be in.

Think about this. Time can be your primary constraint in life only when your work is so demanding that your desires, energy, creative thoughts, health, knowledge, connections, and all other resources are essentially irrelevant to what you are doing. This can happen only with the most rote, plodding, unrelenting work. If your life is this dismal in character for more than two or three days at a time, then you are better off changing your life around than trying to manage it the way it is.

If time were your primary constraint, you would not be reading this — or anything else, for that matter. You would just be working away at whatever your work was, late into the night until you fell asleep. Therefore, if you are managing your work based on the constraint of time, you are managing to a secondary constraint while overlooking several constraints that are more important.

I bring this up today because I know many people are thinking of going out to an office supply store to buy time-management calendar pages for the new year. If you never got time management to work for you before, but you think you ought to try it one more time, I have a better idea to suggest.

For the average, ordinary modern person, the overarching constraint in life is not time at all, but clutter. As I put it in my new book Fear of Nothing, clutter is the reason you don’t have time. I’m talking about the possessions that you aren’t using and shouldn’t be saving because you won’t be using them anytime soon. We tend to save clutter because it seems valuable, but it is more costly and less valuable than it seems. Instead of making a new investment in a time management protocol that never worked for you in the past, try taking away one percent of your possessions, the things that seem least likely to contribute to your life in the coming year. Fill up a garbage can with things that just get in your way. You’ll feel lighter. Life will seem simpler. Do it again the next week. If you’re like most people, you can keep at it all year long. You’ll be amazed at how much simpler and nicer life becomes.

And your to-do list? Write it on any scrap of paper, and throw it away at the end of the day. If you keep a to-do list much longer than that, it just becomes part of the clutter, part of what makes your life difficult. I talk about this whole process in detail in Fear of Nothing, but you don’t need to read a book to simplify your life. Just start chipping away at the clutter.