Everyone seems to be obsessed with self-improvement, personal productivity and time management these days. This might seem counterintuitive, but the pursuit of those crazes can actually be self-defeating. In other words, they may actually do you more harm than good.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s great to be productive. And Kaizen, meaning “continuous improvement,” is a powerful Japanese business philosophy that’s a key reason for the enormous success of Toyota and other companies.
It’s the compulsive aspect I find problematic. Our national obsession with self-improvement and personal productivity bears remarkable similarities to the self-help genre and our endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.
It’s also more than a little ironic that the same people who pursue those particular fads often waste enormous amounts of time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, not to mention trolling the blogosphere.
Doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, does it? Actually, it does, albeit in a not-so-obvious way. It’s all obsessive, compulsive, addictive behavior that futilely attempts to fulfill a bottomless need for instant gratification, attention, and distraction. And, among other things, it’s an enormous waste of your precious time.
I’m not just talking about wasting your time in the short term. I’m talking about the finite time you have to earn a living and save enough to support yourself and your family in retirement. I’m talking about your time to love, learn, and enjoy life. I’m talking about your time on this planet.
Make no mistake -- your time is the most precious thing you have. Whether it’s business or personal, if it’s fun, if you love what you’re doing, if it works for you, then I say, “Go for it.” Otherwise, don’t waste your precious time doing the following:
Searching for a 4-hour workweek. Yes, I know, Tim Ferris’s point is to outsource non-critical activities so you have more time for what matters. There is some sense to that. Just don’t take it too far or you’ll end up chasing a myth. There really are no shortcuts in life. You can probably skate by without working too hard, but if you want to do great things, you need to work your tail off. You get out what you put in.
Being a slave to your phone and inbox. Unless you’re waiting for something important, the reason you respond quickly is because it feels good. It reinforces your ego. It makes you feel important, wanted, needed. No kidding. When I’m working, the ringer on my phone and the volume on my computer are off. I deal with that stuff later. I didn’t learn that from a book on time management. It’s just common sense.
Trying to be organized. My desk looks like a tornado hit it. It always has. It isn’t organized chaos. It's just chaos. And you know what? It works. Turns out you don’t need to know where anything is, not anymore. Your whole life is in the cloud. You can search for anything. My inbox goes back to 2004 and I have no trouble finding whatever I need. Go figure.
Trying to be a morning person. If I see one more article on the 42 things successful people get done before breakfast, I’m going back to bed and covering my head with a pillow. Not only am I not a morning person, I don’t think I’ve ever had a coherent thought before noon. I don’t know why. No matter. I’ve still had great career, but it helped a lot to stop feeling guilty and trying to be something I’m not.
Trying to be productive. I decided early in my career that, if work stopped being fun, I would quit and do something else. So I mixed work and pleasure and, while the hours are a bit long, they’re satisfying and relatively low stress. I don’t always work as hard as I should, but I always work as hard as I have to, to get the job done. That philosophy has served me well.
Doing what everyone else is doing. Fads are insidious. So are cultural norms. The tug to conform can be enormously powerful. Besides societal peer pressure, there’s actually an addictive aspect due to neurotransmitters in your brain that reinforce certain behavior. It was supposed to help early humans survive but, in the modern world, it’s sort of gone off the rails. No, I’m not making this up. It’s real.
Online. That’s right, I said it. Look, life is a game with a time limit. You only get so many minutes and it’s game over. You know the old saying, “People on their deathbed never say, ‘I wish I spent more time at work.’” I seriously doubt if any of us will ever say, “I wish I spent more time online.” Something to think about.
Steve Tobak is management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive of the high-tech industry. As managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, he's been a trusted strategic advisor to executives and business leaders for more than a decade. Contact Tobak.