What happens when we intend to make a choice—such as mowing the lawn before watching the game on TV…or cleaning out the closet before shopping for new clothes—and we fail? What does that say about us? We may feel guilty, but that feeling doesn’t tell us what went wrong. In Part 2 of this series, I review five common enemies of efficiency, along with realistic solutions.
We all procrastinate, but you’ll notice that procrastination is not on my list of obstacles. Why should it be? Procrastination is just a synonym for inefficiency. It doesn’t help us understand why we didn’t complete a task simply by saying that instead of the intended task, we did something else. Remember, when you procrastinate, you are performing a task. You just aren’t performing the task that some part of you thinks you should do. Procrastination is not an obstacle; it’s a description of what happens when we encounter obstacles to good time management.
The central question is: Why do we intend to do A but end up doing B instead? Here are the answers.
• Obstacle #1: ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
o The biggest obstacle to improving time management is neurogenetic. People with ADHD have a disconnect between their knowledge of skills and their ability to perform those skills. In other words, they know what they need to do. They say things such as, “I just have to write a to-do list” or “I just need to get organized.” However, they cannot perform these necessary time-management strategies because they cannot sustain goal-directed behavior. (Sustaining goal-directed behavior is the essence of what are called “executive function skills.”) Someone with true ADHD might look as if they are not trying, but they are. They lack the capacity to self-regulate in a planful manner.
o If you feel that you have a chronic inability to sustain goal-directed behavior, then you should get an evaluation with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of ADHD. A combination of medication and behavior therapy effectively alleviates the most significant symptoms of ADHD in 80% of those with the disorder.
• Obstacle #2: Old Habits
o It is true that old habits die hard . Your established behavior patterns have built-in reinforcements. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have lasted, right?) It takes humility and serious introspection to figure out what has been reinforcing an old habit that you don’t like. In most cases, you’ll discover a short-term reward that is thwarting a long-term goal. For example, it may be fun to watch Netflix now but that pile of bills and mail will be even larger later.
o Establishing new habits, such as standing over the recycling bin with today’s mail, will take time to sink in. Most new habits are uncomfortable and unrewarding at first. We experience this as effort. Therefore, we have push ourselves to behave in a new way. Over time, the new habits become rewarding and are easy to maintain. The commitment is always heaviest at the start.
• Obstacle #3: Priority Perjury
o If you keep calling something a priority but keep not doing it, then it’s not really a priority. You are lying to yourself to serve some secondary purpose, such as postponing the guilt that might go along with jettisoning a pet project or making yourself feel important by having important-sounding tasks on your to-do list. Either way, that’s Priority Perjury. Those long-overdue, undone projects are not really priorities.
o Cut your losses and take those items off of your list today. Sometime in the future, if it becomes important enough for you to deliberately carve out the time and map out the steps to complete this item, or if you someday acquire the skill or collateral support to complete this item, then you can put it back on your list and truthfully call it a priority.
• Obstacle #4: Time Blindness
o Adults sometimes behave like children, who have an underdeveloped sense of time. This is manifest in at least four ways: (a) Gross underestimation of how long a project will take; (b) Gross overestimation of how many tasks you can achieve in a given block of time; (c) Not tracking how much time has passed (neglect of the clock); and (d) Failure to arrive on-time for appointments or end your own appointments on-time.
o Good time management requires accurate estimation (which comes with practice) and conscious attention to the passage of time (which takes a deliberate commitment, the setting of alarms, keeping a detailed calendar, and revising your estimates as needed).
• Obstacle #5: Skill Thrill
o Talented people overcommit because showcasing what they can do is rewarding.
o Avoid the temptation to overcommit simply because you know you can do something well. Just because you could do something—perhaps better than most people—doesn’t mean that you should do it.
There are the five most common obstacles to healthy time management. Begin refining your own time management strategies by taking an honest look at those that apply most directly to you. Focus on the solutions that you believe are realistic in the near-term. Then apply the “triple deuces” technique: Commit to 2 small changes you’ll make in the next 2 days and tell 2 friends. It may be the one thing you do this weekend that will make all subsequent weekdays efficient and fulfilling.