Deborah Mackin

Article Summary:

The roots of some time management difficulties can be found unresolved personal issues.

Time Management: Are Personal Issues Holding You Back?

A number of years ago a friend gave me a two-inch Time Maker notebook. I meticulously recorded a year's worth of birthdays, phone numbers, projects and goals. I stuck with the notebook for two months and then let it collect dust for the remaining ten.

As someone who trains others in time management, I had to ask, "Why don't these gadgets work for me?" "What does work for me?" and "Why do I manage some of my time and not all of my time?"

There are hundreds of books that teach techniques to help people reduce interruptions, handle meetings effectively, shorten phone conversations, set priorities, etc. In all the current reference materials, the authors make the assumption that we're ready to manage our time and take full responsibility and control of every minute. One of the reasons that we have only short-lived success with the time management suggestions is that we often aren't ready: To begin with a band-aid approach before we have addressed some key personal issues, starts a cycle of failure that only serves to reinforce our earlier belief that managing time is impossible. The obvious next question: What are those personal issues that prevent us from getting things done?

We must go back to a point in our lives when we were taught two fundamental fears: the fear of failure and the fear of rejection. As young children, we learned the fear of failure whenever we were told by influential adults, "You can't handle the responsibility, make your own decisions, do a task your own way, etc." While the intent was honorable, the result was a learned response pattern: "I can't" based on the fear of failure if I tried. As adults, we trigger the same response pattern: "I can't manage my time," "I can't make decisions" The assumption: If I do, I will fail.

The second fear -- the fear of rejection -- was taught early on when we were told: "You should obey your elders, be nice to people, do as you're told." We learned that love and acceptance were conditional, based on what others thought of us, not what we thought of ourselves. Today, that same inner voice of rejection says, "People won't like me if I say no, if I set my own priorities, if I do what I think is best rather than what others think is best." The assumption: Unless I do what is acceptable, people won't like me.

Psychologists have called these fears negative inhibitive behaviors. These behaviors cause the negative emotions of doubt, worry, guilt, and resentment. The negative emotions result in anger. The anger is directed either inwardly -- "Why am I the only one who can't get things done?" or outwardly -- "If Harriet didn't interrupt me every minute, I'd be able to finish." Once we understand the root source of our own fears and are willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, we can manage not only time, but all of our resources.

If the primary job of a manager is to manage and not to do, the process of taking responsibility for time involves more managing than doing. The key here is to create a "to manage" list rather than a "to do" list. Managing, by definition, is planning, organizing, directing, controlling, and communicating. Using this definition, let's compare the time manager to the time mismanager:

Work Overload: The time mismanager avoids telling a superior that the situation is out-of-hand. He fears that delegating to others will be perceived as a failure to be able to handle it all or that others will do the task less than perfectly. The time manager, on the other hand, identifies the tasks to be completed, the hours available, and the people capable of assisting. If a problem arises, the manager communicates the need for clarification of priorities to superiors.

Interruptions: The time mismanager needs to feel indispensable and determines personal worth of the organization based on the number of times he or she is interrupted. The time manager recognizes that dependency is self-limiting, and controls and limits interruptions.

Paperwork: The time mismanager believes that the one paper thrown out will be the one that will cause his or her failure. Consequently, nothing is thrown out. The time manager takes responsibility for a piece of paper by organizing and controlling it, throwing out the worthless, sorting, labeling and prioritizing the worthwhile. Often he will ask: Why have I touched this piece of paper more than once?

After we acknowledge the source of our fear and identify the worst possible outcome, we are ready to take control of our time and accept the responsibility for the consequences of our choices.

Deborah Mackin is founder and president of New Directions Consulting, Inc. and author of teambuilding books, including the 2nd edition of the Team Building Tool Kit (Fall, 2007). As an international consultant and trainer for 20+ years, Deborah is a widely recognized authority on teams, quality service, productivity, and leadership. For more information, visit New Directions Consulting.

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