From the August 1999 issue of Startups

Everyone knows time management techniques, right? Make long and involved "to-do" lists, keep your desk tidy by filing absolutely everything, work on one thing at a time, and use the word "prioritize" in every sentence.

If just reading the above paragraph brought a wave of procrastination crashing down on you and your messy workspace, don't despair: A new breed of experts says if you can't schedule your time down to the minute, the problem may be all in your head.

The left-brain vs. right-brain prizefight, fought in science, education and psychology, has now entered the arena of business. In one corner are the left-brained: logical, linear thinkers who delight in a well-ordered filing system and stick to agendas. Often, these are the people who teach time management. In the other corner are the seemingly inefficient right-brained: creative, nonlinear types who leap from project to project, dig out important files from beneath a paper mountain and push deadlines so fiercely they know the copy shop's closing time by heart.

Ann McGee-Cooper, author of Time Management for Unmanageable People (Bantam Doubleday Dell, $13.95, 800-323-9872), became a champion for nonlinear thinkers after years of trying to fit her "bad habits" into other experts' systems. Now she heads a business training and development company in Dallas, Ann McGee-Cooper & Associates, which teaches creative problem-solving and helps clients "achieve bold dreams."

"I taught traditional time management for 12 years," McGee-Cooper says. "I thought I could shame myself into getting organized. Then I saw that highly successful people broke all the rules, and it occurred to me that time management was written by the left-brained for the left-brained. If you're right-brained, you'll get excited by the techniques, but [it won't work] because it's the wrong prescription."

For proper attitudinal health, McGee-Cooper prescribes a regimen of trusting your instincts, pushing deadlines and recruiting left-brainers to handle the details and provide proper business balance. The best part: It's OK if your desk looks like the recycling bin exploded.

"If you can find most things in three minutes or less, your system is working," McGee-Cooper says. "Being a clutterer doesn't mean you're a hopeless slob--It means your memory is visual, spatial, kinesthetic. Linear people have an abstract memory, so they remember where things are filed. [Nonlinear people] remember things by seeing them."

Speaking from her office's creative outpost, a treehouse (seriously), McGee-Cooper says a Peter Pan outlook can eliminate any tendency toward beating yourself up. "Stay energized with childlike fun," she says. "If you get too serious, you lose touch with your genius and start procrastinating and rationalizing. If you don't trust your genius, it surfaces as bad habits."

Also a believer in the mind-business connection, Dave de Sousa, a professional speaker in Meredith, New Hampshire, who bills himself as "Mr. Time Management," emphasizes the importance of listening to your subconscious.

"Most time management systems are set up on a priority basis," De Sousa explains. "You pick the most important thing and accomplish that. But if you're always in linear mode, you're not taking advantage of the subconscious mind, where most of our creative thinking is done.

"Do you ever wake up in the morning and remember where some lost item is? Or wake up in the middle of the night and realize the solution to a problem?" De Sousa continues. "That's the subconscious at work, and if you keep it working for you--perhaps by writing a list of goals and looking at it once a week, then moving on to other things--you tap into that subconscious power."

Whether you draw on the creative right brain or the logical left, when put in perspective, that old joke "A messy desk is the sign of a creative mind" may be true after all. For a time-management strategy that fits your personality, consider tidying up your viewpoint, rather than that messy desk.

Contact Sources

Ann-McGee Cooper & Associates, (214) 357-8550, ann@amca.com

Dave de Sousa, (800) 770-6989, http://www.powerscheduling.com