8 Reasons Why Time Management Doesn't Work

There is a lot of useful information available about time management, but the constant feeling of looming deadlines and not enough time doesn't go away. Oleksii Fedorko, Head of L&D at EPAM in Ukraine, explains why this happens and how to keep up with everything anyway.

Oleksii Fedorko

­­— It should be recognized that there is no universal tool in time management that will work for everyone. Nevertheless, there are a number of tricks that you can try. But sometimes even proven approaches fail. There can be several reasons for this. Let's focus on the main ones to give you some new options moving forward.

1. Wrong type of management

The argument is sometimes made that people can be divided into two main types: rationalists and irrationalists. They require different approaches to time management.

  • Classical methods, structure, and accountability suit rationalists. They want to plan, execute, mark as done, and reward themselves.
  • For irrationalists, outlining vectors, areas, where they can switch among tasks as they progress helps them stay motivated and invested in their job.

So, try different approaches and techniques to find what works best for you.

2. Inefficient use of time

Monitoring the time you spend on unproductive, and sometimes unsatisfying, tasks a on daily basis is important, but very difficult. It requires a level of self-awareness and analysis that most of us can’t sustain. Try asking your friends or family members where they think you're wasting hours to help identify what unscheduled activities are eating up your time — like scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos. Or, as a first step, you may want to use your smartphone’s technical features to get an idea of how much time you waste.

3. Lack of tracking

This point flows from the previous one. There are many apps to help you keep track of time. Among the most popular are the Clockify, RescueTime, Toggl, and Pomodoro trackers. Psychologists, fun enough, recommend keeping records in a paper notebook, since this is said to provide greater awareness.

4. Abstract goals

You do not need time just for the sake of having it. The absence of a sufficiently concrete goal can interfere with your ability to use your time efficiently. You need to understand what goal are you pursuing. Your objectives should be specific. For example, "learn English" is a general goal, and not likely to be very motivating. However, "learn English to a B1 level and qualify for a specific training program or job" sounds like a great plan. The more substantial your goal, the more time-based tasks and subtasks you will need to set for yourself.

5. Lack of balance

The concept of time management is often exclusively assosiated with work. In a perfect world, however, it should include and balance all the main components of your life. To have the energy and motivation that you need to perform tasks, and to avoid burnout and procrastination, you should pay attention to all of the elements of your work-life balance:

  • Body: sleep, nutrition, health;
  • Activities: career, achievements, training;
  • Contacts: family, friends, communication; and
  • Mental health: dreams, plans for the future, values.

6. Absence of supporting practices

The truth is, it's not nearly enough to write a to-do list or download an application to master time management. Without regular review, planning, and scheduling, lists simply do not work. Hence the need to review your tasks on a weekly basis and regularly update your to-do lists. The technique proposed by David Allen in Getting Things Done (GTD) is one example of a system that supports task performance — provided that its use becomes a habit. If it is not a habit for you yet, dedicate one hour a week every Monday morning to plan key tasks for the next week and analyze the achievements of the previous week.

7. Incorrectly defined priorities

Trying to make the most of your time, you may plan too many tasks per unit of time. Or you may impulsively start working on the tasks that are more to your liking but that don’t necessarily have a top priority. The easiest way to sort out your priorities is using the Eisenhower matrix. It helps you to evaluate the importance and urgency of tasks and work on them accordingly. Interestingly, the most important things in our lives are often not urgent, so they get lost in the background, while pressing matters, on the other hand, are not always important, but they tend to get done anyway.

8. Hidden motivation, procrastination

Deadlines go unmet and tasks undone if you subconsciously are not inclined to complete them. Such "self-sabotage" can be caused by several things. If you are putting off a task because the sequence of execution is not obvious to you, give yourself time to dig into the matter or ask more experienced colleagues for advice. Alternatively, you may put off a task because you lack understanding of its significance. In that case, figure it out or forgo the task. Significantly, procrastination is not a reason to reproach yourself or unrealistically swear that you’ll catch up on everything next month. Instead, it is a reason to sit down and look at why you are procrastinating, and — perhaps — reconsider your goals and priorities.

What to read

— There is a lot of literature on time management. Some of it is very useful. Ideally, you’ll want to study several sources in order to recalibrate your understanding of time management and stop chasing time. Some books that I recommend are:

  • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz — This book is not only about “catching up“ but also explains how to enjoy your life.
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal — A science-based practical guide on how to harness willpower, and what can get in your way.
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear — A practical book about habit formation and the large impact of small changes. You can also read his blog.
  • Self-organization skills are a very valuable resource for any IT specialist. You need to be able to work and study, and also maintain your work-life balance, so that you don’t burn out.

    My thanks to training.epam.com for providing the theme for this article.

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