There is certainly no shortage of advice – books and blogs, hacks and apps – all created to boost time management with a bevy of ready-to-apply tools. Yet, the frustrating reality for individuals trying to improve their time management is that tools alone won’t work. You have to develop your time management skills in three key areas: awareness, arrangement, and adaptation. The author offers evidence-based tactics to improve in all three areas.
Project creep, slipping deadlines, and a to-do list that seems to get longer each day – these experiences are all too common in both life and work. With the new year resolution season upon us, many people are boldly trying to fulfill goals to “manage time better,” “be more productive,” and “focus on what matters.” Development goals like these are indeed important to career success. Look no further than large-scale surveys that routinely find time management skills among the most desired workforce skills, but at the same time among the rarest skills to find.
Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks
So how do we become better time managers? There is certainly no shortage of advice – books and blogs, hacks and apps, all created to boost time management with a bevy of ready-to-apply tools. Yet, the most frustrating reality for individuals trying to improve their time management is that no matter how effectively designed these tools might be, they are unlikely to work. Simply put, these tools presume a person’s underlying skill set, but the skills comprising time management precede the effectiveness of any tool or app. For example, would anyone seriously expect that purchasing a good set of knives, high-end kitchen equipment, and fresh ingredients would instantly make someone a five-star chef? Certainly not. Similarly, using a scheduling app without the prerequisite time management skills is unlikely to produce positive time management outcomes.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of research that delves into the skills that undergird time management. Here, time management is defined as the decision-making process that structures, protects, and adjusts a person’s time to changing environmental conditions. Three particular skills separate time management success from failure:
- Awareness: thinking realistically about your time by understanding it is a limited resource.
- Arrangement: designing and organizing your goals, plans, schedules, and tasks to effectively use time.
- Adaptation: monitoring your use of time while performing activities, including adjusting to interruptions or changing priorities.
Of these three skills, arrangement is probably the most familiar, especially considering that the majority of apps and hacks deal with scheduling and planning. However, there isn’t the same widespread recognition of awareness and adaptation skills. This raises key questions about how these skills play out from a developmental perspective: Are they equally important? Are some more difficult for people to master? And, are some rarer than others?
Measuring Time Management Skills
To answer these questions, I examined the results from more than 1,200 people who participated in a 30-minute microsimulation designed to objectively assess time management skills. Participants were given the role of a freelance designer, and they had to manage tasks and relationships with clients and colleagues within a communication platform complete with emails, instant messages, cloud drive files, and so forth. Problems they had to confront included dealing with scheduling conflicts, prioritizing client demands have a peek at this web site, and deciding how to use (or not use) their time.
First, all three skills mattered equally to overall time management performance. Therefore, only improving one’s scheduling and planning (i.e., arrangement skills) ignores two-thirds of the competence needed to effectively manage time. This might explain why it’s so disappointing to try a new tool and then feel like we’ve never really moved the needle toward being great overall time managers.