Time Management is a Myth and it is Killing Your Entrepreneurial Dreams
There are several other productivity practices that better serve the unique needs of knowledge workers
Every morning you open your laptop, only to be greeted by an ever-increasing number of unread emails. You somehow struggle through them and clean up your inbox. But then a similar scenario greets you in the office. A huge pile of memos, letters and bills to sort through. Probably your secretary has taken the day off.
By the time it is 10 of a fine Monday morning, you are already overwhelmed, exhausted and wishing it was Friday.
If the rising instances of stress among people across the world are any indication, you probably live this story.
The Most Useless (and Potentially Damaging Thing) You Say to Yourself:
“I wish I had more time. I would be able to juggle my commitments and really make progress on my entrepreneurial dreams.”
As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to delude yourself with the theory that more time is all you need. Do you know what would happen if you were miraculously given 28 hours a day?
You would fill it up with more distractions, more urgent items blowing up in your face and just more noise. The problem isn’t the clock ticking too fast. It is your mind being pulled in too many directions.
Look at people like Elon Musk, Azim Premji and Bill Gates. They accomplish a lot more than those who look up to them.
They run successful businesses, sit on boards of large companies and support charities.
If time was the real constraint, they would be in the same boat as everyone else. Time can’t be stretched. The secret to their success is something else.
The art of attention management
Studies have shown that the human mind is like a sieve. It can detect patterns, hypothesize and make sense of incomplete data. But it is a terrible office. The moment there are more than three things fighting for your attention, you start losing track of the what, who, when and where of important commitments.
In reality, your attention, or your ability to focus on stuff, is one of your scarcest resources. What you do focus on gets done. What you don’t focus on becomes a discarded project.
As an entrepreneur, it is vital you know what you must focus on and then get rid of distractions so that you can devote 100 per cent of your attention to it.
Be strategic in efforts
Once some kids went camping with their parents. They were so excited to be out in the open. Should they hike? Should they just plain run and scream? Should they paddle the boat that’s tied near their camping site?
The opportunities had them frazzled.
At last, they decided to go boating.
In the dark of the night, they boarded the boat and began to paddle. After a while, they realized that it was very cold and their arms were aching. They decided to fall asleep in the middle of the lake and row back in the morning.
When the first rays of the sun touched their faces, they woke up, rubbed their eyes and saw ---- the boat was still tied to the bank of the lake. They had paddled in vain.
Not a typical fairy story.
The kids didn’t get a happy ending. And neither do most entrepreneurs.
Because they choose opportunities in the dark, paddle without a game plan and then give up mid-way when they realize that entrepreneurship is hard.
The five steps to entrepreneurial success
Stop filing information in your head. Your brain doesn’t understand the difference between now, tomorrow and a year from today. For it, anything that has your attention needs to be done right away.
If you don’t acknowledge these open loops - you can’t sleep well, you feel exhausted every morning and most importantly you don’t even know how much you already have on your plate. It’s just like paddling in the dark. So sit with a pen and paper and dump everything - big and small - that’s in your head.
Ask “What’s the Next Action”. If you look at your list in step 1, you’ll probably see stuff like “Call ABC @ Marketing”, “Organize Birthday Party for Son”, “File Taxes”. Some are tasks you can complete in one step. Others require several steps to finish. These are projects. And for projects it is essential to take one bite at a time. The bite is the question, “What’s the Next Action”. What is literally the smallest thing you can do to make progress on your project? This gives you a starting point, kills procrastination and turns plans into reality.
Make contextualized lists. There is little use in remembering things out of context. If you’re on a call with your Web developer and all you can think of is that bright little idea to reduce ad spend, you can’t share exhaustive instructions or get the most value out of your website investment.
This is why it is crucial to have lists for different settings of your life. A list for your ideas, a list for agenda items to discuss on calls, a list for your office, a list for your home… and so on. This way your brain knows it has filed stuff in the right place and trusts that you will get to it at your pace.
“Am I making progress?” This is a vital question. Every week you should take stock of the projects you’ve started, the tasks you’ve completed and the opportunities you’ve embraced to constantly update your inventory of things to do. This habit lets you say “yes” to inspiration, say “no” - without guilt - to things that don’t serve you and re-negotiate agreements with those who depend on you to deliver. As you learn to trust yourself and your ability to stick to promises, you dream bigger dreams and achieve them too.
Just do. The final step is to do. By the time you’ve covered the four steps discussed above, you will know exactly what to take action on, how to move forward and will be able to block out distractions. In this decluttered space of calm, you can drive innovation and embody excellence. Something entrepreneurs really need to set their brands apart.
Time management is a myth.
And it takes a while to wrap your head around the concept that attention is the resource you need to be jealously guarding.
Mohammed Ali Vakil is a co-founder of Calm Achiever. He's a Master Trainer & Coach in the Getting Things Done® methodology. He coaches CEOs and top executives in the art of stress-free productivity & enables organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world