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Time Management Doesn’t Work

Late in the nineteenth century, Frederick Taylor grabbed a stopwatch, stood next to a worker, and instructed him to pick a chunk of iron and move it using a specific set of movements. He then timed him. 

He did this repeatedly until he had the perfect combination of movements for moving the chunk of iron efficiently.

Taylor then taught those prescribed moments to other workers in the yard of Bethlehem Steel. As a result, the productivity of the plant quadrupled.

This was the birth of “time management.”

The concept swept through the industrial world, and productivity became the aim of each industry. 

Before Taylor’s stopwatch measurement of performing a task, no one thought of the time that way. 

Most people worked on farms. They were decided what to do and when to do it based upon the movement of the sun rather than the movement of hands on a dial. Their schedules were determined by the sun, moon, and seasons rather than the watches and calendars. 

The truth was most people didn’t even know what day or time it was.

Taylor’s big contribution to productivity was that he thought of time as a “production unit.” 

Add more time, get more output.

Do more work within that time, get more output.

Today we still think of time as a “production unit,” this attitude is so ingrained in our culture that we are hardly aware of it.

For more than a century, “time management” has dominated our psyche. 

We wake up to alarms. As we drive to work, our navigation system calculates exactly how long it will take. We work from nine to five. We estimate project cost based on how much time it is going to take to finish it. 

We diligently fill our timesheets so our employers can bill clients for our time. 

As you opened this article to read, you probably checked the time it would take you to read it.

Everything around us is set up with the assumption that time is precious. 

Whatever is your goal, if you reached it in less time, that’s a good thing. 

Time is money. That is the mantra.

But there was a major problem with this concept.

The time as a production unit has its limits. 

Even Taylor observed that if he tried to fill all of his worker’s time with efficient movements, he didn’t get what he expected. After a while, the worker gets tired and does less and less. 

This concept in economics is known as the “point of diminishing returns.” That is when each additional production unit doesn’t get you the same output as the previous production unit.

If Taylor wanted to get a full day’s work out of a worker, Taylor needed not only to prescribe movements to that worker; he also needed to prescribe rest to that worker.

The “point of diminishing returns” is more evident in knowledge workers.

In today’s world, where creative thinking is the key to being productive, you can’t get more output simply by optimizing time.

Yet this is what we try to do all the time. We cram our schedule, multitask, and always in a hurry. Any opportunity we can find to do things faster, we take it without realizing time is not the only factor we need to take into consideration.

There is another factor in play — energy.

While time is precise, our energy level is not the same throughout the day.

Time management works well if every hour were identical in terms of energy. 

But our energy levels go up and down all through the day. So we recharge them either by taking breaks, naps or taking a walk, or watching mindless TV. 

The way to work with your energy is to make sure you know when your energy levels are at the peak and use them well. 

I divide my energy levels into three categories:

  • Peak Energy Level. It is when I am well-rested, emotionally sound, and at peace with myself. This peak energy is the creative energy, when I conceive new ideas, can go deep into a topic, and learn new things. Usually, for me, it is mornings. This is when I do most of my fresh writing.
  • Medium Energy Level. This is when I am a bit tired and not in a mood to tackle heavy thinking work. But I am still quite alert. My afternoons and evenings are like that. I use this time for researching, editing, sketching, and painting.
  • Low Energy Level. Each day I reach a point of exhaustion when I can’t do work that involves thinking or concentrating. At these times, I don’t push myself to write or do anything that involves heavy thinking. But surprisingly, I am still good to read a book or watch a Masterclass video. This is the best time to wind down watching TV, surfing the net, or checking social media. 

Now that I am aware of my energy levels, I am well equipped to manage them.

I am very vigilant of my peak energy periods and don’t waste them doing tasks that I can do with medium or low energy levels. That is why doing research or checking social media in the mornings is a big no-no. 

Sometimes both “time” and “energy” are not enough to be productive. 

I have been trying to write an ebook for a long time now. In fact, I have several in draft mode. But, unfortunately, every time I make time to work on those, and I have selected peak energy hours, I hardly make any progress. 

It is not the lack of time or energy that stops me from writing those books (it is not even the skill level). It is the mindset. 

Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them. — Constantin Brancusi

I have no problem writing an article a day now. Just a few weeks ago, that was an unthinkable proposition. So when I announced my intention to write 100 Articles in 100 Days, I was in the right mindset to take the challenge. 

Nothing changed between that day and one week before other than my mindset.

I am sure one day I will be in the right frame of mind to tackle the ebook. 

Sometimes our mind is better suited to think creatively. Other times it’s better suited to think analytically. Sometimes we’re in a mood to do some research. Other times, we’re better off taking care of little details.

Manage your creative energy so that instead of going through a to-do list in order of priority, tackle it in order of mood priority. Ask yourself, What work am I in the mood to do right now?

In Summary

Time Management is an outdated concept. It only takes “time” as the production unit and assumes your energy levels are the same at all times during the day.

But we have all fallen into energy black holes.

Rather than managing time, manage your energy.

Do the tasks that require thinking and a high level of concentration when your energy levels are at the peak. 

Make sure you don’t waste them; otherwise, you will feel crappy, and it will create a doom loop of lower energy.

Mindset is the third factor of productivity. Our mood dictates what is the optimum thing to do at a given time. So rather than fighting it, how about we listen to it. After all things, we do wholeheartedly turn out to be our best creation.

Photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

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