The Illusion of Time Management

Because we live in a hyper busy world, chock full of important and not-so-important distractions, we are constantly looking for a way to keep our heads above the tsunami of stuff. Because so much of this busyness is driven by our work lives, I have given the phenomenon a name- “organizational A.D.D.” Unfortunately, this form of A.D.D. is not treatable with meds and so we go in search of some other “holy grail” to make it better. Hence the never ending quest for “time management.”

The concept of time management is pretty ridiculous, when you stop to think about it. Exactly how are we supposed to “manage” time? The last time I looked, each second that transpires is precisely as long as the one that preceded it and the one that inevitably follows it. In the time it takes me to finish this article, approximately 1200 seconds will have elapsed, and absent building a time machine, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Still we happily go about the process of scheduling and Blackberry-ing appointments, meetings, business trips, seminars, vacations and whatever else in order to continue our illusion of mastering the unfolding of time. We can get it all done, we tell ourselves (or our boss tells us) if we were just more efficient about how we manage our time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the use of productivity tools. You would be wacky not to use them to your greatest advantage. But rather than primarily focus on the processes we utilize to get as many things done as we can, we need to focus on the impact of the things we do, first and foremost. We can not and do not manage time. Rather, we manage “what we do” while time is constantly marching past us.

I have observed throughout my career, first in the c-suite and now coaching executives in a number of organizations, the consistent alleged shortfall in strategic thinking skills on the part of so many leaders. Company after company decries this thinking gap in their quest for the better prepared leader of tomorrow. But I have discovered that this gap does not outgrow some genetically inbred inability to think strategically. Instead, I see too many executives attempting to do too many things as they try to “manage their time”  and do it all, rather than “use their time” to make distinctions about the things worth doing.

The things worth doing are typically described in strategic planning documents that you’ve likely worked diligently on for hours, then plopped on a shelf somewhere.  If done well, these documents describe the activities that are difference makers to the business. They allow you to “grab the lever at the far end.” Revisit them now. Do something with them.

Forget about time management and start managing your effectiveness instead. You have all the time you need to do the things that matter most.

Matthew Angello is the Founder and Principal of Bright tree Consulting Group. 
Bright Tree Consulting Group, LLC is a boutique firm that offers an array of highly personalized and effective coaching and consulting services for executives and companies seeking to unleash their potential, move their performance to the next level and prepare for future challenges. Our focus is on the development of pragmatic and actionable programs that are tailored to address the specific challenges and needs of the individual executive or company.