No, technology doesn’t help you manage your time
In a world where everything is accelerating, where the multiplication of communication channels disperses our attention and where the complexity of organizations causes an accumulation of sometimes contradictory priorities, managing one’s time becomes a major challenge for everyone.
Managing your time means knowing how to prioritize it and allocate it
Who says time management says two things: prioritization and allocation.
Prioritization: first of all knowing in what order to do things and even deciding not to do some of them. I will start with this second point which often shocks when I talk about it around me.
Yes I do sometimes decide not to do something. Do not respond to an email. Do not try to improve such a document. Do not answer yes to a proposition. Not that I’m not interested in it, not that I don’t want to, not that I don’t see the interest but because at some point and in the time slot in which I should be doing this thing I have more important + urgent things to do. Maybe I can the next day or the following week but not there, even if I really want to.
The other day one of my Facebook contacts was surprised to see himself indignant at the few people who answered his emails. My answer was very simple:
1 °) You ask for attention to try to sell them something and that annoys them. You ask them something when they haven’t asked for anything.
2 °) What is urgent / important for you at a given moment is not for them at this precise moment. They will process your request when its priority level for them is compatible with their agenda. Tomorrow, next week, in a month … or never.
In short, you can’t start to manage your time without accepting two things:
1 °) It is limited. No need to pile up the tasks to be done this afternoon. If you have 5 hours of spare time and 5 one-hour tasks to do, you don’t have time for a 6th, no matter how short. Just because you make a list of things to do doesn’t mean you have time to do them, that would be too good.
2 °) You have to know how to say no. Even regretfully accept not to do it because it is simply materially not possible. And refuse that your inbox becomes the to-do list of the others they delegate to you. You have things to do for you, priority for your work, the rest comes after if you have time.
Once we have said that comes the prioritization which is not the most difficult thing as long as we know the difference between important and urgent and that we prioritize things like this using the good old Einsenhower matrix. .
1 °) Important and urgent
2 °) Important and not urgent.
3 °) Urgent
4 °) Neither important nor urgent.
Then the way of treating things can also differ according to the individuals and we can have different readings of this quadrant.
At this point you know what to do and in what order. And what you shouldn’t do.
And so you’re happy with that and all you have to do is get down to business.
Long live the to-do manager
But priorities fluctuate over time, more tasks are added and it is difficult to stay the course, have a clear vision and stay the course. Your little list quickly becomes a huge illegible jumble. And so you get lost again in the heap of tasks that await you.
Fortunately, with IT, the to-do list managers arrived, the magic way to remember nothing.
And I recognize at least that in these tools: they allow you to keep a clear and readable vision of what you have to do with more or less advanced means of managing priorities.
But I can only note that the proportion of people who manage to do the right thing on time is far from proportional to that of people who use this miracle tool. how many people do I see proud to have a nice tool which allows them to write down all their tasks to be done and which I find annoyed the following week because they are late on everything….
Beautiful example of technological solutionism : if it was enough to note a task in a tool for it to be carried out auto-magically, we would have known it for a long time. There are of course tools which “do” things, which transform an input into a result, into a deliverable, but this is not the case with a to-do manager. All it does is remind you that you have things to do and sometimes help keep your head clear.
Managing your time is not the end but the means
Knowing that we have things to do is good. Knowing how long they will take is even better. However, it is important to differentiate between how long something can take and how long it should take. We can spend a lot of time improving and enriching a document because we can always do better. The question to ask is: compared to what is expected, how much time it deserves. Sometimes we will spend a day on a presentation, sometimes we will limit ourselves to 1 hour when it would have been possible to spend much more time there.
But we must not lose the final objective: we do not manage our time to have beautiful lists, well prioritized and an estimate of our daily load but to get things done. And for them to be done, only one thing is missing: time.
So time by definition we have, it remains to know what we use it for. But, I said above, the time for an annoying habit to be filled under the impulse of external constraints, in other words of people who burst in asking you something.
In the end you start your day with a to-do list and at the end you have done thousands of things but nothing that was planned.
How to do ? By blocking in your agenda periods on which you will work on a specific subject. from 9 am to 9.30 am such and such, from 10 am to 12 pm such other… It forces you to discipline yourself, to do things in order and prevents others from inviting themselves into your day by imagining that you are free. In fact, too many people are used to putting only their meetings in their agenda and by definition others think that when they are not in a meeting they are not doing anything and are therefore available.
Managing your time is a matter of discipline, not tools
Far too many people think that a good to-do manager is enough to manage their time and that is wrong. It helps but does not replace real discipline. Jotting down tasks is not doing them and not setting aside time to do them means they will never get done.
Bertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader in Emakina. He was previously Consulting Director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.