Who Time Management Hurts the Most

I’ve been teaching time management seminars for the past 24 years – close to 3000 classes.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

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    1. You can’t really manage time (we all have 24 hours).  You only manage the choices you make during the passage of time.
    2. Most time management courses focus on getting everything done.
    3. It’s better to focus on getting the right things done.

partial clockOver the years, I’ve watched people get excited about time management.  They learn new tools and techniques for accomplishing stuff and getting more check marks on their to-do list.  And it actually works.  Their piles get smaller, their desk gets cleaner.

It feels good to get more done.  We feel more productive, which makes us feel more valuable, which makes us feel better about ourselves.  

It can be addictive.

When we see these techniques working, we think, “If I just work a little harder at them, I can become even more productive.”  So it begins to filter into other areas of our lives.  We develop a mindset of productivity, and look for ways to do everything faster, more efficiently, and get quicker check marks.

But there’s a downside to being efficient — one are of life where productivity can be counterproductive:

Our relationships.

The more efficient we try to be with our closest relationships — the more we try to rush through issues — the longer it takes.  

The thing that makes relationships effective is the opposite of efficiency.  Relationships don’t become close by having quick, planned conversations.  

They happen on the porch – in quiet times – slogging through life’s “stuff” together — simply being present in another person’s life.  Caring is demonstrated through the calendar, not the clock.

Time is the fuel for relationships.

My wife and I just spent the better part of 5 days with my three grandchildren while their parents took a trip together.  Normally, we get to see them every couple of weeks for a few hours.  But this time, they woke up in our house and went to sleep at our house.  They were with us 24/7.  In that time, I learned something:

When we’re with them for a few hours, we’re catching up with them — hearing about school, their friends, and seeing the pictures they’ve drawn.  We love those times.  It’s a chance to touch base again.

But when they were with us all the time, we got to hear their heart.  It wasn’t a planned conversation where we asked questions.  It was just being together in the same space for an uninterrupted time.

It’s valuable to ask our kids and grandkids what they’re thinking.  We learn a lot that way.

But when we’re simply there, we’re available when their heart is ready to speak.  

I understand how tough it is to have uninterrupted, quality time with kids and spouses when the demands of life suck us dry.  Work demands long hours, houses need maintenance, and obligations keep us in constant motion.   I’ve been there . . . and still live there.  

But I need to discern what I’m doing that really adds value, and which things are simply noisy or shiny.

Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

I love that.  It needs to be on our walls, our screen savers, and on our dashboards.  

I think it would make a seriously good tattoo.

It doesn’t provide an easy answer, but I need to be constantly reminded of the need to make the right choices.

Time management tends to fill every moment with productivity.  That means we get more done.  But if we fill every available moment trying to get another check mark, we’ve given away those moments where we can simply be available to the people who matter most to us.  Without that space, it’ll be a lot harder to hear their hearts.

Life doesn’t happen on schedule.  If we keep our schedules too rigid, there’s no margin to allow for those human moments.

What tends to pull you away from your most important relationships?  What have you learned to do about it?  Comment below . . .

  • Mina

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and humor! Tell the truth I have never kept a list and maybe I should.. I suppose I keep a mental list! It works most of the time but my kids have been recently telling me I need to make a list and I just cringe…. just not who I am. This is a great reminder for me to take more time to just be with my extended family… which is extremely hard for me but I need to make the effort! “it’s about hearing their hear beat” Been reading about MT ” A Simple Path” I love what she says here:

    “In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East — especially in India — I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving — it is not in the result of loving. ”

    • Great insight, Mina — I guess the issue isn’t really whether we should have a list or not. It’s about what results we’re getting in our relationships. If whatever we’re doing isn’t getting us the right results, it’s probably time to consider doing it differently . . . right? Either way, the most important relationships deserve the most (and best) time. Love the quote you mentioned — thanks!

  • Jim Hale

    Great post, Mike! A fantastic reminder of the importance of time well spent on the important.

  • Lonnie Shields

    Hey Mike! Excellent insights and reminders about the important things – although often the “productive things” also involve the needs of people. For example, I’ve found that people rarely die at the most convenient times for me, and there I am with competing demands for my time from a grieving family and MY family… Thankfully, Diane is on the same page with that sort of thing and we take some extra time together later – which helps decompress from the grief associated with funerals… (sorry about the stars thing – I couldn’t figure out how to get it to go in the right direction…)

    • Yeah, death is seldom convenient. I don’t know too many people that are able to schedule their demise in Outlook. I think your perspective is a great reinforcement for the quote – “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” You’ve found a good balance. (Have you gotten your tattoo yet?)

  • I was glad to read your post this morning so I could check it off my list. I was reminded of Antoine St Exupery’s classic, “The Little Prince” in which the fox points out that it is the time wasted on the Prince’s rose that makes her so important.

    • Love the connection – I can always count on you for citations from fine literature (usually Calvin & Hobbes). Thanks!

  • Best post so far! Loved this and needed this reminder.