Best Practices in Time Management

Is there such a thing as a best practice in time management?

It might seem that this is a no-brainer… of course there are things one should be doing, and things one should not be doing!

I would argue the opposite, based on my experience of teaching time management programs.  Here’s why.

I assume that people who take my programs have taught themselves the skills that they use on a daily basis.  Some are more capable than others, to be sure, and can handle a larger number of time demands.

However, before improving a single habit, practice or ritual, I encourage each person to make an assessment about whether  or not the change they are contemplating will enhance their peace of mind.  In some cases that surprise me, the answer is a clear “no.”

From my point of view as an outsider to their lives, there seem to be clear-cut cases of changes that people “should” make.  As a coach/expert in the area, I sometime think that all my experience adds up to something, including a right to tell someone what’s best for them… as if I can know what’s best about their lives.

I’m better when I remember an important principle: maximum peace of mind comes when there is a match between the volume of time demands in one’s life, and the capacity of one’s system.  While it’s fine to have more capacity than volume, we hate it when the opposite is true and we find ourselves falling behind, stuff falling through the cracks, overwhelmed by email and stressed.

At that point, an upgrade is sorely needed.

For some, however, there is no need to change anything, and their “best practices” happen to be the ones that they are currently using – regardless of how they stack up against Black Belts in time management or any standard I might dream up.  They don’t anticipate an upsurge in time demands, and can keep their peace of mind by operating at the same level indefinitely.

It would be a mistake for them to try to change things for silly reasons, such as a need to keep up with the Joneses by using the latest smartphone technology.  Yet, that is exactly what people do all the time.

They adopt a new technology without having an understanding of their time management systems, and end up learning bad habits that must be un-learned in order to retain their past levels of productivity.  (If you’d like to hear some statistics on how that happens, I recommend the new book “The Activity Illusion” by Ian Price.)

So, the long and short of it is that there are no universal best practices.  There are only personal practices that we each need to follow, in order to maintain our productivity and peace of mind.

This doesn’t say that there aren’t consequences for ALL the habits, practices and rituals we include in our time management systems.  There most certainly are.  it’s up to the user to decide when to change them, however, and not someone who comes up with some list of “best practices.”