Like many people, my time management strategy used to be rooted in planning out how I would spend my time for the day. Goals were prioritized and then further broken down into smaller tasks. Sound familiar? I used to tell myself that 15 minutes of prep would gain me hours of productivity later in the day.
Traditional Time management is an exercise in effort management.
Regardless of how well I planned my time, results were always mixed. I seemed to spend a lot of time planning my plans and that ended up having little correlation on whether or not the day was actually considered a success.
I am building a new approach to time management. In fact, I’m effectively ditching the name “time management” because it misrepresents my goals. My new strategy has nothing to do with managing time. It is all about managing results.
Moving Away From Just Reflecting
My new strategy is laser focused on results. No longer do I care about micro-managing my calendar, journaling about my to-do list in the morning, setting timers on mobile apps or taking breaks every 12 minutes.
I’ve realized that all of these planning techniques are great ways to reflect on my day, but that’s about it. They do nothing for helping me stay motivated or engaged in completing the work I need to do.
Building Habits For Results
Anyone that knows me personally knows I have a dry sense of humor. My wife knows this especially well as she is frequently the victim of my bad jokes and teasings.
At the top of the list (pun intended): her passion for making lists for everything. And not far behind that is her obsession with crossing items off her lists. She has even been known to add items to her list, that have already been completed, just to get the satisfaction of having it crossed off.
It’s taken me awhile to realize and admit this, but she’s teaching me two very valuable lessons on habit forming: focus and rewards.
Focus is King
The first and most important skill to my results management strategy is Focus. What my wife has artfully mastered comes naturally to here, but is very difficult for me. See, I have spent my entire life believing I was an expert in multitasking.
The key to getting stuff done is all about prioritization and focusing on the ONE thing that needs to be done now.
Focus is equal parts what to do and what NOT to do.
Right Things Done Right
There’s a great book by Stephen R. Covey called First Things First. It’s a long but very easy read. The book discusses categorizing your tasks in matrix of importance and urgency. The major premise is clear: only some things are both important AND urgent. Everything else must be de-prioritized.
When we appropriately prioritize and focus on a single task or goal, it gives us the ability to manage success. We do more than just accomplish things. We accomplish the right things and do them well. And that’s a good feeling.
Addicted To Success
The second skill isn’t actually a skill as much as it is understanding how dopamine works within the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released whenever we are rewarded with something. This could be anything from eating something sweet to earning an A+ on a test. It also gets created when we check a box on a list.
As more dopamine is created during a behavior, the more the brain will crave that behavior in the future. Sounds like an addiction? You bet, that’s exactly what addiction is.
The key is to focus on the ONE thing you need to work on and complete it. Check the box, tell a friend, or whatever you need to do to trigger that happy reward. Then get right on to completing the next thing.
Results Will Vary
This new strategy means different things during different parts of my day. For example, at home it’s things like being patient when my kids are misbehaving, not interrupting my wife even though I might think she is wrong, or paying bills the moment I open them.
At work, it involves things like responding to emails in a timely fashion or proactively reaching out to colleagues to follow up on a project status.
I don’t try to do all of these things at once. I pick one and focus intently on doing it. After completing, I smile (even just to myself) as a reward for my good work. It’s about creating as many of these positive reward triggers as possible. And the more I seem to convince my brain that this is good, the more I want to do more.