I have become an avid, daily user of Twitter, and from TweetDeck I have an ongoing search that updates itself continuously, letting me know when someone has tweeted using the phrase “time management.”
I just checked the results of the latest search, and found that 3 of the first 14 posts actually used the phrase “time management tips.” This echoed a trend I have noticed lately — there is a great deal of interest in “tips” in the area of time management.
As I have said in earlier posts, there is nothing wrong with tips per se. According to Dictionary.com, a tip is: “a useful hint or idea; a basic, practical fact.”
However, it seems to me that when someone is looking for a time management “tip” they are looking more for a “hint” than a solid “idea.” In other words, they are looking for an easy-to-implement piece of advice that requires little effort on their part to implement.
For example, a simple-seeming enough tip could be “purchase iPhone.” Seems easy enough, as long as the price isn’t an obstacle… but as I point out in an earlier post, the choice of which technology to implement turns out to be quite an important and difficult one, when seen correctly. When it’s just a matter of logging on to Amazon and using a credit card to order a gadget, however, it looks very, very easy.
When I wrote the free e-book offered on this website I used the following by-line: “Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals. At the time, I had a sense that people were focusing on the wrong things, which was triggered by an article I saw listing “The Top 100 Time Management Tips.”
What I didn’t say in the ebook is that I think that we humans absolutely love to hear that something is easy, effortless and free.
We want to believe that greater productivity is simply a matter of putting into place a few tips here and there that require little or no effort. In other words, the unspoken question is: “how can I get something for nothing?”
In time management, the answer is simple… you can’t. Here’s why.
Each person on the planet who is aware of the concept of time uses different habits to manage themselves, in an effort to make the most of the time they have. No two people are exactly the same, and no two habit- systems are the same either.
They were all learned after years of trial and error, most of which took place without conscious effort. For some, what they have created and implemented works for them. For many, it doesn’t.
The end-point is the same, however. Each person has a set of routines or habits that are executed over and over again, and they are now baked into their muscle memory where they are executed without thinking.
However good these habits are, at the same time they are difficult for anyone to break, and therein lies the problem.
When someone makes a decision to become more productive, manage their time better or procrastinate less, they are doing more than asking for a few tips.
Instead, they are setting up an internal battle between their new intention, and their already ingrained habits. Very few people are any good at willfully, deliberately changing habits, even when there is powerful external pressure to do so.
I once had a friend who was a constant smoker. A few years ago, he literally smoked himself to an early death, unable to stop the habit that took him on a one-way death march to the grave. Millions of others do the same each year – testimony to the power of ingrained habits.
The problem is that there is not a single time management system in the world that can be implemented without the development of new habits. Even the smallest of tips are useless if they cannot be converted by the user into a new habit of some kind.
Given our weakness at “habit management”it’s no wonder that the failure rate is so high.
The problem is that it’s difficult to promote the idea of “hard-to-change habits” and it’s much easier to advertise “10 easy, effortless tips.” I know which option I’d sign up for!
What I have noticed is that developers of time management systems downplay the challenge that users have in making the necessary conversion, and few offer the kind of long-term support that is needed to craft new habits.Unfortunately, habit breaking and making is a time consuming business that requires lots of practice, months of repetition, plenty of emotional support, constant reinforcement of the costs of quitting – all until new some muscle memory begins to develop.
In the book, Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, he notes that it takes some 10,000 repetitions on average, to become good at something, and he uses Mozart as an example of someone who almost HAD to become a genius because of the time he devoted to practicing his music.
That is not good news for most of us.
But it’s the truth, even though it might not sell books, programs or workshops.
Also, I’d be shocked if lots of people started tweeting about changing “time management habits”.
If anything, I believe that there will be a gradual dawning of the fact that the constant pursuit of tips is a fool’s errand, and that real change will only come from a steady investment in incremental behavior change.
After all, it’s the only way to produce a top ballplayer, musician or chemist. Why shouldn’t it be the only way to produce a top of the line, highly productive professional?