“I am definitely going to take a course on time management … just as soon as I can work it into my schedule.” — Louis E. Boone
Too many solutions = no solutions at all
There are definitelly too many books on time management. If you go to the bookstore, you will probably find sagging shelves full of manuals on how to harness time and how to be efficient in terms of 8-9 hours spent at work. If you google this phrase on your computer you will find tons of articles uncovering “six ways of making your day efficient” or revealing the secret of “five steps to a better day”. Even though the solution seems to be available at your fingertips and everyone knows how to help you, despite many attempts you’ve already made, you are still struggling with the same problem and see no light in the tunnel.
We all perceive the World differently
Just as there is nothing like an objective reality there is also nothing like the one good solution that can be used by everyone. Take a simple example – a beautiful flower bouquet received from a friend. All the tulips are freshly cut and their yellow colour is vivid and intense. When receiving these flowers, will you react the same way as other people reading this article? Obviously, the answer is no – some people don’t like tulips, some might have negative associations with a bouquet of flowers as such or with yellow colour in particular. This is exactly why all the advice on how to deal with time management doesn’t apply in your case – you are an individual with your likes and dislikes so the advice you are looking for has to be tailor-made.
There might be a solution!
There is no doubt that “time management” is actually a business term. When translating this concept into an everyday language you realise that it is about having enough time for things that matter the most to you. Beverly D.Flaxington, adjunct professor at Suffolk University explains that time management is really “a personal management” and it is a skill necessary for achieving a better quality of life (1). How to master this skill if all the previous attempts failed? One of the methods I would definitelly recommend as a tailor-made solution is the one discovered by a team led by APS Fellow Gabriele Oettingen (New York University). It is called MCII — mental contrasting with implementation intentions and I also use it while working with my clients.
The powerful imagination
The core of the method is to make individuals imagine the positive events they want to occur in the future, such as giving a speech at a seminar or getting a promotion. Then, they visualize what’s currently holding them back from achieving these goals (i.e., doing research, preparing PowerPoint presentations or learning Excel). Contrasting the best possible outcome with the current reality reveals how various obstacles and time commitments get in the way of accomplishing our professional goals. “However, sometimes people encounter particularly hard obstacles. Planning in advance how one wants to deal with these challenges is an effective remedy,” Oettingen and colleagues explain. When obstacles do pop up, MCII directs people to make a concrete action plan in the form of, “If I face situation X, then I will perform goal-directed response Y!”(2)
How does the success look like for you?
When my clients face the problem of time management I ask them to visualise a desired goal. “See it, feel it, hear it” – I say and encourage them to answer the question: who will benefits when the success comes? Let me give you an example: one of my clients, say John, is trying to write his second book. Everytime he opens his laptop and tries to create the first sentence, there is always “an obstacle” standing on the way. Suddenly all the other tasks seem to be more important and the to-do list becomes longer than ever… We begin to work with his imagination. I ask him to imagine he has already written his book – how does it feel? How does it feel to have it printed? What does the cover look like? What does my client say to his family and friends when his work is over? How does he behave? I also ask him to put himself into the reader’s shoes – how does it feel to read this book? How does does it impact your life? Is there anybody else who benefits from the book?
It’s time for action steps!
As the picture in my client’s mind grows bigger and bigger and he can almost “touch” his piece of art and feel the taste of a victory, I continue asking: what are the steps you have to undertake to write your book? Since he has experienced the feeling of having the book written and printed in his mind, it is easy for him to list the number of steps to be done in order to achieve his goal. He is also able to name some of the obstacles which could slow down the whole process and to figure out what needs to be done to face them.
Practice makes perfect
The process described above will not bring an immediate effect. It takes time and hard work to learn this method. Some people will need a coach or a friend to practice, especially those who are not used to ask themselves questions. Nevertheless, the more you try, the more you learn about yourself. This knowledge is powerful and helps you to understand your behaviour and actions you undertake.
You know what is best for yourself
Although there is nothing wrong in listenning to other people’s advice, especially those who are an old hand at what they do, we shall always remember that the best solutions for us – unique, one of a kind human beings is to elaborate our own way of dealing with challenges. For who knows better what really works for us than ourselves?
(2) Oettingen, G., Kappes, H. B., Guttenberg, K. B., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2015). Self‐regulation of time management: Mental contrasting with implementation intentions. European Journal of Social Psychology.
Cover photo by Heather Zabriskie