This Is Why Time Management Is Hard

I’ve been working on my time management quite a lot over the past year. So I’ve read all kinds of books, tried implementing all kinds of strategies and downloaded all kinds of apps.

And while I feel I’m now starting to really get to grips with managing my time more effectively, I know that there’s still a long way to go.

Because the fact is, time management is hard.

As I’ve discovered, there is no single simple hack, or trick, or technique that will suddenly turn you into this super-organized, highly-productive being.

Managing your time and attention is a work in progress. It’s a process that requires constant review and adjustment. It’s pretty much a way of life.

If you’re looking at ways to sort out your time management, sometimes it’s good to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for, so here are ten things I’ve been finding tough when it comes to managing time and more importantly, some ideas on what you can do to overcome the tough stuff.

1. Self-discipline

We all love quick fixes and one-time solutions to our problems, but unfortunately, when comes to time management, there aren’t any.

The fact that managing your time effectively is an on-going process and a way of life means that effort and discipline are required to succeed.

And many people struggle with self-discipline, so don’t feel bad when you have days when it seems that you just can’t get it together.

What you can do about it
Having clear goals and clarity on why you are trying to improve your time management will help you to stay disciplined. It’s really hard to stay focused on anything when we don’t have a genuine reason for doing it.

2. Clarity on what to prioritize

Sometimes it is may seem that all of the things you have on your plate are important. And when you don’t distinguish between what is important and what is not, it is easy to fall in the trap of allocating too much time to the non-important stuff and not enough to the stuff that should be taking priority.

What you can do about it
Using the Eisenhower Box can help with this. This is a way to organize your tasks in a way that will help you prioritize what needs doing and identify the tasks that can delegated or eliminated.

Check out this post: What Is The Eisenhower Box? >>>

3. Matters outside of your control

As much as we’d like to be in control of everything that happens in our lives, the reality of doing so is impossible.

Sometimes stuff happens that can derail even the best of plans.

What you can do about it
You can’t often do much about circumstances beyond your control and it is not realistic (or a good use of time) to try and make plans for all possible contingencies. Instead, focus on the stuff that you know you can control and make sure that you have a good schedule and method of working in place that allows you to get back into the groove as smoothly as possible.

We live in an Age of Distraction / Flickr

4. Distractions

We live in an ‘Age of Distraction’ when there is simply too much vying for our time and attention. So it is probably more difficult now than it has ever been to focus our attention on any one thing. While it can be tough to eliminate all of the distractions around us, there are still many types of distraction we can control.

What you can do about it
Identify the biggest distractions in your life and do everything you can to reduce them, or even better, eliminate them completely, particularly when you are focusing on important and/or work-related task.
A lot of ‘time-suck’ activities may not be immediately obvious to you, so a good way to get a handle on how you are currently spending your time is to carry out an audit, which I will cover in another post.

Check out this post: How Audit Your Time >>>

5. Maintaining focus and attention

In addition to controlling the distractions around us, we also need to get better at focusing our attention.

Attention span is something that varies from person to person and it can be task-dependent as well. The average human attention span is estimated to be somewhere between ten and twenty minutes, but regardless of where you think you fall in that range, increasing the amount of time you can focus your attention on a task can always be improved. However, it is a skill that takes both time and practice.

What you can do about it
Be patient and be persistent.
My biggest challenge so far has been trying to implement the Pomodoro Technique for dealing with many of my daily tasks. I now know that it is a super-effective way for me to work, but I still fail to focus for the full duration of the Pomodoro more often than not. However, I can feel that each time I use this technique, I get a little better at it, albeit with a few slip-ups in between, so it is definitely something I will perservere with.

Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique? >>>

6. The changing nature of work

The nature of work today sometimes makes “finished” difficult to define.

In the “old days”, nearly all work was sort of self-evident – you knew what needed to be done and it was quite obvious when a task was finished.

For example, it’s clear if a field has been ploughed or if a wall has been built and, by definition, if the task has been finished.

However, we’ve moved into a world where a great deal of the work we do is so-called “knowledge work”, which often involves tasks and projects that can be on-going and don’t necessarily have a clear end-point when you can say it is done.

What you can do about it
Be clear on what constitutes “done” before you start the task.
If it is a large project, break it down into phases and tasks, so that you can physically check off each completed part.

Maintain private boundaries / Pixabay

7. Lack of boundaries

A lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life can be a big problem for many of us these days due to the double-edged sword that is technology.

Having laptops, smartphones and a WiFi connection rocks! These things bring us a huge amount of convenience and information at our fingertips, but they also blur the lines between work time and personal time and this is something that, unfortunately, employers seem to regularly abuse.

What you can do about it
Some industries and companies have built a work culture in which it is almost expected for you to do overtime and be available whenever you are called or emailed, regardless of the time or day (or night). And it has become commonplace to expect people to respond to emails and texts immediately and to pick up the phone when called. But sometimes, we permit this (knowingly or unknowingly) to become the norm, when it could be easily avoided.

If you are finding that your work is intruding on your personal life, the first step you can try is to communicate with your manager and colleagues, so you can discuss expectations about availability outside of working hours.

The other thing is to make sure you turn off your devices in the evening and are not checking emails, etc. Read my post about Inbox Zero to help you manage your emails.

Check out this post: How To Set Boundaries At Work >>>

Check out this post: Does Inbox Zero Work? >>>

8. The ‘planning fallacy’

The planning fallacy is the phenomenon of underestimating how long a task will take to complete. This is a particular difficulty faced by students regarding assignments and may account for how often I ended up pulling all-nighters to meet essay deadlines at university.

The crux of this is that we tend to be too optimistic about what we can get done in a given time and end up rushing to get things finished or missing deadlines completely. There is also the consideration of another phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law, which I cover here in this post.

Even if we are organized, this can make things difficult when it comes to scheduling our time.

What you can do about it
Practise!
The more frequently we do a particular type of task, the better we become at estimating how long it will take.
The other thing you can do is to do an exercise where you predict how long each of your daily tasks take and then audit them to see how long they take for real.

9. Present self versus future self

Our psychological sense of time plays a vital role in determining our actions. There is often a discord between the plans your present self has for your future self and the plans your future self has for your present self. For example, you may go to bed with the full intention of waking up a 6 am to go for a run, but when the alarm goes off, you’re having none of it, and so you end up hitting snooze and your plans for a productive day are off to a bad start.

Check out this post: How To Beat The Snooze Button >>>

What you can do about it
Delaying gratification and doing things in the present that benefit your future requires discipline, practice and the formation of habit.
I don’t know of any short cuts or helpful techniques for this, but it is something I want to explore and will report back as soon as I have something useful.

10. Sometimes, we just want to say f*ck it!

Time management requires a lot of structure and discipline and while that is a virtuous thing that can help us achieve so much in life, sometimes we just want to live a bit without any constraints or worries.

We just want to say, “F*ck it!”

And you know what? That’s ok.

What you can do about it
There’s nothing wrong with doing this – as long as it does not become the new (bad) habit.

Make sure you schedule in time for fun and if it messes up your schedule for the day, so what? Don’t beat yourself up about breaking a disciplined streak – just make sure you get back on track tomorrow.

Remember though, when it comes to the habit of good time management, it does need to be consistent, so implement the simple rule of this never happening on more than two consecutive days.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Although the things we can do to improve our time management may look quite simple in theory, the reality of actually implementing and sticking to the strategy on a consistent basis can be very different.

What have you found the most challenging part of time management? Comment below!

Where to next? Try this one: “20 Signs Of Poor Time Management”

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