Are Time Management Skills Really Effective?


If you had asked me in your 20s to describe to you the secret to a fulfilling life, I undoubtedly would have found all the right answers: strong relationships and rewarding work, lots of sleep and exercise. , plus time spent in nature, maybe mindfulness practice. But a hidden camera in my apartment would have revealed what I really thought was the answer: schedules and schedules, color-coded to-do lists, daily routines and weekly goals, all written in sophisticated hardcover journals. using expensive markers.

In short, I was a productivity geek. Do you know how passionate some people are about rock climbing, poetry or clothing design? Productivity geeks are passionate about finding more efficient ways to navigate our to-do lists. So it’s a bit the same thing, except infinitely sadder.

But no matter how many time management systems I’ve tried – dividing my activities into A, B, and C priorities, breaking the workday into 25-minute Pomodoros or two-hour focus blocks – none of this ever really worked. I often felt like I was on the eve of organizational perfection – almost in control, almost on top of everything, almost able to effortlessly cope with any request that might come my way. But then an impending deadline or an unexpected drop in motivation would derail me, and I would once again be forced to concede that my last productivity system was not The One.

Once I reached that long-awaited state of having my life settled, at least that’s what I apparently believed, I would be so efficient at handling the things to do that I would never feel insecure about anything again. my performance at work. In addition, I would be so calmly in control of my future that I would be able to face the big decisions of adulthood – regarding marriage, children and more – without the feeling of panic that I had no idea. of what I was doing.

I remember sitting on a bench in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park one winter morning, feeling even more overwhelmed than usual with the chores that lay ahead that day and wondering what a neat planning trick. I could deploy to succeed them all, when I was suddenly struck by the thought that none of this was ever going to work. I was never going to find the technique of time management that would allow me to finally have my life in order, nor the limitless reserves of self-discipline that such methods always seemed to require.

Surprisingly, I found myself exhaling in relief. The reason my schedules and goal lists never got me there is because no one ever gets there. This kind of mastery over time is just not something we humans experience. We are finite creatures, confronted with an indeed endless supply of potential experiences to live, of people to date, of obligations to fulfill, of career paths to explore, of emails to respond to – and therefore of. Classes No single productivity approach can provide us with a way to manage them all.

As for those terrifying decisions of adulthood? For almost all of us, fear is a non-negotiable part of the package. You never really know what you’re doing, and you have to choose your path anyway.

In fact, leaving my productivity geek was a much more gradual process. Indeed, if I’m being honest, this is the one that continues to this day. (Show me a well-designed cloth diary, or a sleek new timeboxing app, and see me tremble with desire.) But this epiphany of the park bench gave me a new understanding of what my obsession with being. time management, psychologically speaking. I had used it to hold on to the fantasy that I might one day control my time enough that life wouldn’t be scary anymore.

Therapist Bruce Tift argues that much of life’s suffering stems from the struggle to avoid “consciously participating.[ing] in what it is to feel claustrophobic, imprisoned, helpless and constrained by reality. We desperately wish that human existence was not the limiting, uncertain, imperfect, and emotionally distressing experience that it is. We are therefore trying to conceive of psychological loopholes from the truth.

Looking back, my productivity geek was a classic example: a way of trying to feel that the universal human situation didn’t have to apply to me. You will always find me making to-do lists and blocking schedules every now and then, but with a completely different spirit: simply because they can be a useful way to organize the day-to-day organization. by day, rather than as part of some futile quest to escape the inescapable vulnerability of being alive.

There is a popular saying among Alcoholics Anonymous that all is required of you to “do the next right thing”. These are tips for dealing with a crisis. But in fact, that’s all any of us can do. And it’s a particularly useful reminder for those of us prone to obsessing over our plans and to-do lists:, is the very next action you take.


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