I have been catching up on my time management research by looking at some of the few published articles in the field. In some cases, I am re-reading papers that I first saw several years ago with a more informed, mature view than I had in the past.
That’s what I like to think anyway!
A few things are jumping out that never hit me before, that makes me yearn for the establishment of a “School of Time Management” at good institution.
1. Where are the Engineers?
The articles that I am looking at are published from departments of psychology in the main, and are written with a great deal of concern for the individual’s opinion about their time management skills. While I am sympathetic to this point of view, I am doubtful that, by itself, it makes much of a difference. Your opinion about your skills might be interesting to know, but it’s unlikely to produce a breakthrough in performance that can be generalized to all professionals.
It might be my bias as an engineer, as there is something impersonal about someone managing time demands, from my perspective. It’s a bit like shoving parts down an assembly line. Your opinion about the capacity of the line might be interesting, but there is something empirical happening on the line, and it cannot be ignored when we are trying to improve the way the line is balanced. I simply can’t find this kind of research anywhere as it pertains to time management. The engineers have left the building.
2. Everyone is a Time Management User
I noticed this underlying idea popping up in the research: “some people use time management and some don’t.” The researchers then attempt to make a comparison between the two groups in order to show that time management is useful, or not.
This mental model strikes me as fundamentally flawed.
Instead, my research tells me that every functioning adult engages in time management behaviors. If someone can understand what it means to “show up at 2:30pm” then they are engaging in these behaviors, even if they never actually make the appointment.
What varies are the levels of skill, and here at 2Time Labs we have distinguished these skills into Belt levels: white, yellow, orange and green. But it’s a mistake to assume that working professionals don’t do anything. Instead, I observe them acting in ways that are perfectly consistent with their established habit patterns developed over many years, even when they are unaware of them.
This mistake leads to strange outcomes in the research as the comparisons end up being invalid.
3. Training Makes (Almost) No Difference
This finding is probably based on the problems with the two points listed above. If you are not measuring the right things (opinions vs. capacity) and you are comparing apples to apples without knowing it, then it’s not likely that the research will yield too many answers that are actually useful.
As we’d say in business, the “so what” is sadly missing (in the research.)
This doesn’t help the trainers, writers, coaches, professional organizers, etc. who are looking for something that they can use to help people deal with real everyday problems. The research shows correlations between time management training/skills and feel-good constructs like “job satisfaction” but there is little research on the impact of time management on individual capacity or job performance, and the little that exists is mixed.
Obviously, something does make a real difference in the minds of people who are in this field, but it’s too bad that so very little research that’s completed actually sheds any light on what that might be.
And to think… this skill is one that every single working professional in the world uses!
Sources: A Review of the Time Management Literature by Claessens, van Eerde and Rutte.