Why You Can’t Manage Your Time, And What To Do Instead
For years I had a love-hate relationship with my day-planner. I kept asking myself, “how can you manage your time better?” Soon, I settled on Stephen Covey’s work. Before long I was using his tool to accompany “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
I’d be dishonest if I said it didn’t make quite an impact. At the same time, it left me with a lingering feeling. It’s like I wasn’t up-to-snuff like others in my space who seemed to have total control of every second. That’s until some of the more recent thinkers led me to a different conclusion. The epiphany? The time management concept itself is a fallacy.
The Big Picture
I’m still nowhere near the top of the mountain. Still, I got rid of that constant dinging on my self-esteem. This piece is going to be a high-level look at productivity’s relationship with the ideas about how to manage your time. But I warn you it’s not the conventional approach. I also want you to know that everything you read below, I’m preaching to myself as earnestly as anyone. You’re only reading this because we’re on similar journeys.
I’ve heard it said, “It gets done if it’s on the calendar.” None of that stuff worked for me either. I wondered if I was the only weird one out here with this challenge. Even if so, I’d wager you’ll get some value out of this post.
Of course, if what you’ve got going works for you, you probably won’t benefit that much from an unconventional approach. How do you define “working,” though? I borrow these days from folks like Eckhart Tolle, Brooke Castillo, and Michael Hyatt. It’s not for everybody. But read on if you’re like me. Did all the tactics from the experts just make you wonder if you’re just too different? Could you really live life out of a planning tool?
We can delve into the myriad ways these unconventional methods spin new paradigms. Many of them you can use around your goals and strategy; around prioritizing, scheduling, delegating, productivity tools, life-balance, and daily rituals. Today is more of a step back so you can look into how the Western world socializes you to think about how to manage your time. Hopefully, you’ll decipher why it’s not working for so many.
Charles Dickens described his era of “Great Expectations” as the best and worst of times. Truthfully though, doesn’t this apply to any era of human existence you drop into? Since early 2021 I’ve been blown away with Web3 and blockchain technology. They’re beginning to take hold and transform our landscapes of consciousness. When has the world had greater expectations than it does now?
The juxtaposition of unprecedented technological advancement and the impending existential threat of human life on the planet is proof enough. This stark contrast permeates other areas too:
- Food deserts surrounded by unparalleled decadence in some of the worlds most affluent population centers.
- Medicine so advanced, humans are living longer than ever before. Yet pandemics overtake us every so often just as they did thousands of years ago.
- Data from the world of neuro-science keeps validating what used to be called “woo-woo” nonsense not so long ago. Congruently, religious centers of influence all over the globe are embracing the latest tech in the most creative ways.
Manage Your Time As a Value
Which experience does your brain perceive as lasting longer? Is it waiting for 25 minutes in a bank cue? Or is it the third hour on a first date going extremely well with the crush of your life? Which has more value if you’re looking for ways to manage your time better?
In comparing experiences like these, does it really matter what numbers the clock on the wall gives you? Doesn’t it feel more natural, useful, and relevant to appraise the subjective value of the experience? Why or why not?
And what’s the use of being super-organized and/or efficient if there are huge gaps in your life? You know the gaps! The same ones you try to tell yourself aren’t such a big deal. Would you rather not sacrifice some of that perfection for genuine inner-contentment? What if all that takes to manage your time like a maestro is a slight shift of your focus and attention? Where are you going to find the time for all that? Read on.
No, Really! What Is Time?
Stop reading and see if you can come up with your own definition of time. Don’t use Google or a dictionary.
All I came up with myself were some things that we’ve been socialized to think time consists of. Trying to define time itself directly, with words drew a total blank. That’s how it is with things that only exist because the human brain made them up. Social constructs are useful… until they aren’t.
Here’s one dictionary definition I like. “Time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future, regarded as a whole.”
This helps me to realize that the past is never something that actually exists. Neither is the future. At the present moment, both the present and the future are just concepts in my head. They don’t exist in the real world. One is gone, the other hasn’t come as yet. There are many real-world benefits to keeping this on your radar.
For example, I remind myself every day to resist the temptation to tell old stories to the bright young people who’ve become colleagues at the end of a long career. They don’t really want to hear them, and this is their time to create something new and better from scratch. I’m just here to keep the door open until they get their footing. It’s also time for my new career and bigger, more impactful present-day work. The only thing that exists is… NOW! But it ceases to exist the moment it does; before there’s another now… and so on and so forth.
The Beauty And Power of Now
To stay creative, relevant, and infinitely powerful, stay in the now. It’s the most important concept to help you manage your time. You’ll never stop growing. The only true power you have is to act, to create, to be intentional about anything…. Or NOT, is NOW.
The best reason for considering the past is to learn from it. The best reason for considering the future is to harness it’s uncertainty. You can only manage your time now!Teach Life Skills
You see, infinite potential always runs inside uncertainty. The secret sauce is learning to harness it for a better future now… the same one that presents infinite potential one second later, then the next. It’s a mindset; one in which time is almost meaningless. What matters instead is the energy you bring to motivate action on the opportunity in each successive present moment.
There you go. Time isn’t even a thing! So how are you going to manage your time if it doesn’t really exist? I remember understanding the implications of this for the first time. My brain exploded. You manage your own thoughts, feelings, and actions NOW. Those are the only three things in this universe you have real control over.
To do that, what you really want to think about managing is the quality of your energy, your mind-body well-being, and where you decide to guide your attention. But even before that… right now in fact… awareness is key. Interrupt the unconscious repetition of past ways of doing things. Own your present moment. Bolster your courage to stop masking unwanted feelings and surfacing indulgent but less useful ones. This is what will help you make a promising path forward that’s uncomfortable but indispensable.
The capacity to do all this varies from one individual to the next. But one thing is certain. Without sourcing outside influence in some way, it’s next to impossible to create a new mind using the same one you inhabit now. That outside source can be any combination of reading, researching, studying, socializing, or seeking professional mentoring or coaching.
Mind Management vs Time Management
Thoughts, feelings, and behavior are all you get to work with directly in order to intentionally create the life you want. Not time! The beauty and simplicity of this are that if you so choose, you can constantly renew your energy, your intention, and your attention. Forget the necessary willpower to manage your time. , and therefore the direction of your life, from moment to moment. As long as you have a functioning mind, there is always immediate access to the infinite possibilities in the new moment.
With that established, you can now ask, What do you want to use NOW for? THAT’S the question, isn’t it? Contrary to conventional thought, the mental construct called time is actually infinite. Humans have no way to conceive of its beginning or end. On the other hand, the number of nows you have is very finite. You only have ONE now, but its value has whatever limits you energize it with.
In a word, that’s how you manage your time the TLS way. Way before you even decide what to put in the calendar, there’s a process that starts with the all-important question: How do you want to feel after it’s all said and done? The answer to that question is the only true motivation for everything humans decide to do, or not to do.
Once you know the answer, you set a deliberate intention to create that feeling. Then you invest energy to grow and maintain a relationship with that intention. But you stay in your, now always. Or at least, try to. The “monkey-mind” wont let you do that for long, so you’ll spend the rest of your days always gently bringing it back to now. In so doing, you shift your energy and therefore make it easy to take action now.
Energize Your Now
Armed with this mind-blowing understanding, it feels like my past life had always been on the wrong side of the twilight zone. Sometimes the difference it makes is subtle yet powerful. It helped me understand why the mere act of putting something on my calendar didn’t motivate me into action as the gurus predict. I just didn’t care enough. Yet there are other things I would never fail to execute on, whether they’re on my calendar or not.
All this may seem obvious in hindsight. But that wasn’t the case when I was floundering around with my planner without taking action on stuff I only thought was important. I had to do my inner work first. Maybe it’s the same for you. The real value of your planner is to stay organized, but the organization is just a means for accomplishing your innermost desires. The manner of thinking I described above should have already motivated your taking action on what’s truly important before approaching your calendar
The other side of the coin can also be true. There are those who actually DO manage to get super-organized around parts of their lives, while neglecting or totally ignoring others. It’s a cliché by now: super-productivity at work and even at home with all the chores, but relationships in shambles or needing serious work. Or maybe both work and relationships in order, but health having been on a slow but steady decline over a number of years.
The HPP (Hidden Power Pathway) to manage your time
Finally, before briefly summarizing the aspects you want to keep in view using whatever planning tool you chose, let’s talk briefly about the other gap you need to be careful closing. I’m repeating myself, but it’s not only how well you execute what’s in the planner. It’s what you put in the planner. How aligned is it with your life-purpose and your deepest desires? Is it the thing that moves you the furthest in filling those gaps in your life?
I’m not going to go much deeper into the planning process. I think there’s enough easily accessible information on that. It’s also going to be built into our online courses going live over the ensuing months. The flagship course will be called The “Hidden Power Pathway.” But here’s a summary of the largest buckets. You may be able to find a way to pull all of them into even rudimentary planning tools.
- Clarify your goals and strategy
Be very clear about your aims and ambitions in all life domains, both short and long term. Write them down. Once you know what you really want to achieve (and why) it’s easier to make decisions about what needs doing, and to plan accordingly.
Keep these goals in view, and journal about your progress or lack thereof in a nonjudgmental way on a regular basis. Always give yourself credit for what you’re doing right first, then appraise what’s not going well and why. Again, make sure your inner talk through all this is pretty much the same as you’d talk to your toddler who’s not doing so well with something. I’m serious. Its a bigger deal than you may think. Let me know via comments to this if you have questions or ideas about it.
- Focus on your top priorities
You’ll be more productive and profitable if you identify and focus on the areas most important to your relationships, your business or career, and your personal wellness. Don’t be greedy or you’ll choke. Pace yourself and work on the fundamentals first. The rest will follow when you’re truly ready for it to do so.
- Schedule time
Literally write an appointment in your planner to set aside a realistic block of time for your priority actions. Give yourself ample time and leave whie space in-between. You’ll get better as time passes if you’re not yet good at accurately allocating the appropriate time for tasks. But DO set hard limits and commit to them. This reduces anxiety over not having enough time and keeps you focused.
- Say no!
Consider Jim Rohn’s suggestion. “Learn how to say no. Don’t let your mouth overload your back.” Always check your schedule before committing to anything new. Don’t allow others to divert you from your objectives. Remember also that the person you have to say not to can often be yourself. But we hit on this already.
- Create supportive systems
This includes systems for filing, management information, work-flows and communication. This one is true whether or not you have a team to delegate work to. There’s enough cool tech, apps and gizmos out there to automate repetitive tasks or make speed-bending templates for processes.
- Take reality checks
Will your current activity have a positive outcome, or are you doing it to avoid something else? Ask yourself – is this the thing that takes the least effort but will move me the furthest right now towards my goal? As Peter F Drucker observed “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
It’s tempting to do something yourself when you think you can do it faster and better. But consider the long term – delegation now will save time in the future, and if done appropriately can motivate your staff, boost their confidence and help them develop their skills.
- Repeat your success
Remember the last time you went away on holiday, and how you got so much done in those few days before you left? What strategies and techniques did you employ that made you so effective and focused? Can you repeat them? Alternatively, imagine you are going away tomorrow and work through today accordingly.
- Balance your life
Formally schedule personal activities too, so you make time for family, friends, your health and fun because having a balanced life reduces stress and increases energy levels. Time management is really about life management!
- End the day
At the end of the working day, tidy your desk, make notes about what needs doing tomorrow and priorities those tasks. You’ll worry less that evening and be prepared and focused the next morning. Make a ritual out of it… one that has a hard stop. I don’t remember who to attribute this to, but I read this somewhere and it’s so true: If you’re working longer than 8 hours consistently, you don’t have a work-load problem; you have a planning problem.
A wind-down ritual before retiring to bed is a great idea too. I don’t get this done properly half the time. But whenever I do, I sleep better and tend to wake up next morning with a little brighter spring in my step.