As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been immersing myself in Dezhi Wu’s book “Temporal Structure in Individual Time Management: practices to enhance calendar design.” It’s a book based on the research she did over 5+ years and her empirical findings have put to bed some of the questions I have been exploring here at the 2Time Labs.
Here’s a summary of some of the findings as they pertain to a topic I have been exploring in depth. In it, she uses the term “temporal structure” to mean “a time representation indicating how (people)…. capture, manipulate, and manage … time -related structures… in order to find out the best way to manage their time.” In an earlier paper she states that a “temporal structure is defined as patterned organization of time used by humans to help them manage, comprehend or coordinate their use of time.”
In other words, temporal structures are the items that you put in your calendar, ranging from birthdays, study schedules, meetings, appointments, project work, exercise time… pretty much anything.
The best time managers use calendars to schedule their tasks.
This finding was unambiguous, according to the following excerpts:
“effective time managers demonstrate more skill in capturing and using their temporal structures than ineffective time managers.”
“better time managers (in terms of how much they accomplished in their work and how busy they were) were more likely to have intricate use of temporal structures as part of their scheduling behavior.”
“time-urgent individuals have a tendency to schedule more activities and are capable of fitting these activities more comfortably into time slots.”…. “They are more capable of completing more work within the same time… and have a tendency to be good time managers.”
“Effective time managers who exhibit less procrastination are found to use…. (and create) …significantly more explicit temporal structures in comparison to time managergs who procrastinate.”
“Time managers who meet more deadlines exhibit significant differences on the use of explicit temporal structures”
“there is a significant correlation between meeting deadline and creation of temporal structures.”
“Within the set of respondents were individuals who complained less about the difficulty of managing their time and who also had more time for personal activities and additional achievements. …. they were better able to estimate the amount of time a task required… They created their own temporal structures to manage their life… they allocated units of time for specific types of repeating activities. These better time managers also recorded more of the external temporal structures affecting their time usage in their electronic calendars. In contrast, another set of respondents, who complained about a lack of time for accomplishing anything significant, were much less likely to record and manage their time in a calendar system…. They were relatively unproductive… (and) produced less work product.”
Her research involved over 7,000 respondents and took place in a variety for forms, including surveys, in-depth interviews and a survey of existing time management research that must be the most comprehensive of its kind.
What does this all mean for the average professional?
Well, it casts into doubt the assertions made in many time management and productivity books that state or imply that it’s too difficult to keep a calendar of tasks, and that instead one must revert to using lists. In all the research I’ve done, I’ve never seen any data to back up these statements, or even a single author who has stated that they tried both methods and have first hand experience that compares the use of lists to electronic scheduling.
Wu’s research backs up my own findings: there are many professionals who manage their tasks in schedules, and they tend to be the more productive as a result. In numerous posts on this website, I have made that point, but here is the first empirical evidence that backs up my observations, and my own experience in moving from an electronic calendar, to lists, and back again to a calendar.
There are other findings I’ll share in future posts having to do with the paucity of tools at our disposal, different time management types and the reason why there is so little research. None of it contradicts the 2Time Labs concept that each user needs a system that is customized to his/her needs, and habit pattern, and that it’s simply invalid to state that one size fits all.
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