If you struggle to manage your calendar and find enough time in the day to get everything done, you might wonder if you just haven’t found the right time management technique yet. Maybe you haven’t – but it’s also possible that the real issue is that your thinking about time management is what’s holding you back.
Here are four of the biggest misconceptions about time management that can really mess with your head --- and your schedule – if you buy into them.
1. “There’s time in the week to do everything I need/want to do, if I can just figure out the right way to manage my time.”
This might be true – but for a lot of people, it isn’t. Too often, people look to time management systems and techniques to provide a magic bullet solution for a schedule that’s simply loaded up with more than one person can do in a day or a week. When that’s the case, the answer isn’t to keep looking for more time management techniques; in fact, that can hurt you, by making you feel guilty for not being able to get everything done and by leading you away from dealing with the root cause of the problem.
When there simply isn’t enough time in the week to get everything done that you want or need to do, the solution is to revisit what’s on your plate in the first place. That might mean talking with your manager, or reassessing the relative importance of various items, or delegating more, or accepting that you can’t take a night class during your work’s busiest period. Whatever the solution, it’s always going to start with being brutally honest about what you can and can’t do.
2. “It looks bad if I say no to people.”
What looks bad to people is taking on more commitments than you can handle and then either turning in shoddy work or dropping the ball altogether. That looks far worse than saying from the start, “I'm pretty booked up for the next few weeks and don’t think I’d be able to take this on without reshuffling something else.”
And to be clear, saying no isn’t usually about a flat “no.” Depending on who you’re talking to, it might be, “I can do that but only if we push back X or Y” or “I could do it in two weeks, if you can wait that long” or “I’d love to, but I’m booked solid and can’t see a way to fit that in” or “It’s a great idea, but I’ve got my hands full with X right now.”
And of course, you need to consider your audience. For example, you usually shouldn’t say no to your CEO or a major funder (although even in those situations, there are often times when you might need to; in those cases, it’s about figuring out the best way to frame it.)
3. “If the work keeps coming at me, I must be expected to find a way to do all of it.”
If your manager keeps piling work on you, you might assume that she expects you to do all of it; after all, she knows what your workload is, right? But in reality, many managers will expect you to manage your own workload and to speak up if there’s a problem. If they don’t hear any push-back, they assume you have room to take on more and more. But if you raise the issue (“I'm buried under case files and can’t get through all of these and still sleep during the next two weeks”), reasonable managers will help you re-prioritize, delegate to someone else, bring in extra help, or otherwise work toward a solution. But you have to speak up – don’t assume they know if you don’t say something.
4. “I can get this done at the last minute.”
If you often wait until the last minute to do work, turning it in just before the deadline, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Sometimes this strategy works just fine – but what will happen when you’re sick or fielding a crisis the day it’s due? Or if you start working on it and realize you need information from someone else before you can complete it, and that person isn’t available? You’ll do yourself a favor in the long-run if you build in a buffer and don’t save things until the last minute.