Designing Your Own Time Management System

Individual time management systems are notoriously difficult to implement.

Most professionals are never taught how to manage their time, and so they cobble together a home-grown system based on whatever software they find on their computers when they get their first jobs, and whatever PDA they can afford. They know little of best practices or universal principles, and they mostly operate without standard processes.

They do learn, however, how to complain about not having enough time, having too much to do and being stressed by how much their job is demanding of them. Everyone they know has the same complaint, so they find themselves in good company.

The Caribbean manager is no different in this regard. He, like others, looks at what other people who accomplish much more than he does with a sense of amazement as these hyper-productive people seem to be using magical methods to get the job done.

In an attempt to close the gap, he may place himself in a time management course, or pick up a book on time management. Unfortunately, the results are temporary.

The reason is simple: no two people are alike, yet the gurus behind the most popular time management approaches tend to advocate a single approach for everyone.

While it is a good bet that the approach works well for the guru, it is doubtful that it works for most professionals in the world today, who operate in environments that are, on average, unlike the environment in which the guru operates.

Some of the reasons for this are obvious. People are different, and the habits they use also vary tremendously. Some of the factors that affect their chosen habits include:

  • the availability of the internet
  • their choice of software
  • the availability of PDAs
  • the amount of travel involved in their job, if any
  • the degree of variation they face in an average day
  • their personal level of discipline
  • their preference for evening or morning activity
  • how close their old habits conform to the new ones being taught by the guru
  • whether they are more right or left brained, or more of an NT or SP, or their zodiac sign is a Leo or Sagittarius, or they are a DISC, or Black or White, or whatever system of classification they use to differentiate human beings
  • the changing cost of electronic aids
  • the career phase they are in
  • whether or not they live in a developed or developing country

Certainly, a time management system designed in North America, with its virtually perfect supplies of electricity and water and relatively low level of crime, is a different animal from the best Caribbean manager’s style of time management.

The fact is, the vast majority of professionals are unable to shoehorn themselves into “foreign” time management systems that other people have designed. They fall back into their habits quickly, and are often no better for having taken the course 6 months after the fact.

The lucky few need only make some small changes to fit into the new system, and they are the success stories touted in public.

To further complicate matters, any given system that is adopted can only be relied upon to work temporarily. A time management system is a bit like a diet – it must change over time to accommodate changing goals and new habits.

I believe that professionals do not benefit from being taught a single system for the reasons outlined above.

Instead, the program we are developing has as its cornerstone the requirement that the user of a good time management system must also be its master designer. They need to be able to make decisions as to how they change their system when, for example, a new version of Microsoft Outlook is adopted by their company and they find out that it removes some capabilities that they used to enjoy and adds others that may or may not be of assistance.

In our course, we plan to teach people how to design a time management system, by giving them insights into the nature of the problem they face, and a menu of choices that they must make to complete the system. They will start with their current set of habits and, by taking care not to be too ambitious about their capabilities, the system they design will be one that suits them and them only.

We will also help them to migrate to future systems and to look for the creation of tools that can be added into the system they have designed. To do this, they will learn to understand the principles behind the need to manage the flood of demands on their time that they now face, and how it impacts them as Caribbean professionals.