The Tough Truth About Time Management

Our perceived reality: life is crazy, and if only I could better manage my time, I could reach all of my goals and feel good about my decisions.

The tough truth: time management is not a “thing.”

Feeling loss-of-control over time is a symptom of a few other things that need managing.

Falling behind on projects? Not getting to the gym as much as you should? Not able to prep meals for the week? It’s all time’s fault!  That pesky time needs managing!

At least that’s what we tell ourselves, don’t we?

In reality, isn’t time management a bit of an oxy-moron? After all, how are we supposed to manage something that is intangible, absolute, and essentially…unmanageable?

Managing a schedule may be one thing, but the schedule only matters if we’ve developed a habit of sticking to it.

So what’s really going on here? If it’s not time we’re trying to manage, then what is it? Could it be that we are looking for yet another scapegoat for our apparent complete lack of discipline?

Here are three substitutes to the phrase “time-management” that may help us treat the disease instead of focusing on symptoms:

Choice Management

Some of us make more “seasoned” choices than others. Heck, even if we’re “adults” in some areas, we may be underdeveloped in others – see: person who makes six-figures a year and never has any money. They call this kind of condition: house-rich, cash-poor, or in the south: big hat, no cattle.

When it comes right down to it, the problem isn’t time. Really, the problem can be traced back to the man or woman in the mirror. The cumulative affect of the choices the person in the mirror makes is what can give us an out-of-control feeling, so we have to name a culprit (not us) that needs fixing. In this case – time.

Dave Ramsey said, “If we could just get that person in the mirror to behave, we’d all be skinny and rich.” If choice management could be put into an equation, it might look like this:

choice management
The grace piece is the most important, because it allows us to pick ourselves up after a “mistake” and get back to making sound choices.

The good news about choice management is that adults typically make thousands of choices a day. A study done by Cornell University showed participants underestimated their daily food decisions alone by an average of 220 choices.

In other words, there are a lot of opportunities to make a change.

Priority Management

Even if we make choices that positively influence one are of our lives, we can be over-balanced in that area to the detriment of others.

Zig Ziglar said, “Show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I will tell you what is most important in your life.”

That’s just it.

Time-management is just another tool we can use to force our priorities to get in-line with what:

a. We think they should be or
b. What society tells us they should be.

Look at your budget. What are the top three expenditures for last month? If unplanned shopping sprees come in somewhere in the top three, and you are spending more on shopping than on your child’s college fund, it follows that you value shopping more than your child’s future education. That might make you mad to hear, but there’s absolutely no emotion in that statement – it’s based on numbers.

This doesn’t mean that shopping is bad, and that it can’t be part of a healthy budget. What this example does ask us to do is to stop looking at behavior like overspending in a vacuum. Remember: money, food, and emotional bank accounts are a zero-sum game. When money is spent on one thing, it physically cannot be spent on another thing. You cannot make withdrawals from your loved ones’ emotional bank accounts and simultaneously be filling them up with acts of love – it’s just not the way it works.

If you believe your priorities are out of whack, try some priority-management. Drive your monthly expenses in things you want to value more up, and things you are just using as crutches down. Try this for three months and re-visit.

Choice management feeds priority management and vice versa. One can be shaped by the other, but both can also be affected by external influences if we’re not careful.

Boundary Management

We certainly don’t make things easy on ourselves when we don’t “train” others how to treat us based on our values.

In his book “Boundaries,” Dr. Henry Cloud talks about the absolute need to cue others in on what you require from a physical and emotional standpoint:

Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. “I only like it when you do what I want.”

Whether they intend it or not, people around us can be like those Velociraptors in Jurassic Park – constantly testing our fences for systematic weaknesses.

This ends up being a you-problem too.

How are our friends and families supposed to know that we are trying not to eat as much sugar, or that we’re not drinking, or that we’re spending less, if we don’t tell them?

The answer is that they can’t know, and that it is our responsibility to share these things by practicing a little “Boundaries-Management”.

Time management is not a “thing.” Time can’t be managed, but our choices, priorities, and boundaries can.

Take a look in the mirror, pull out the checkbook, test your fences.

Get about the business of managing you – it’s about time.

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