Most Time Management Tips Are BS, But Not These 3 Hacks will only get you so far, but they won't lead to true success
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"My Fixation on Time Management Almost Broke Me"
The above title is one of the most honest and striking stories I read in 2021. Not because it was controversial or revealed something deeply surprising, but because it affirmed a long-held belief I've been a proponent of.
The article was penned by Harvard Business Education contributor Abbie J. Shipp and spoke to how managing one's time well isn't about discovering new time hacks, but learning better practices that won't jeopardize one's health.
She writes: "In 2019, I hit a wall. To the outside observer, my career was successful, my family was happy and I seemed to be living the dream. What people didn't know, however, was that I was struggling with chronic insomnia, malnourishment, a pinched nerve in my neck and a wicked hormonal imbalance," she adds with candor. "I would later discover that, ironically, time management was to blame."
I've been CEO of my business for the past 16 years, and let's face it: As entrepreneurs, we've all been in this exact same position at some point or another. Whether in the beginning stages of our startup or whether we've spent decades in the industry — we all hit a wall trying to tackle our next big project.
That's when we're most prone to trying out all the hacks; when we end up reading all the self-help books, and when we do everything in our power to make ourselves as efficient and productive as possible.
Until burnout hits us.
As a leader, one of the most important things for me is setting a healthy and conscientious example for my team. I know my employees look to me for an example of guidance when it comes to workplace practices — and this is why it's been vital for me to walk my talk about prioritizing wellbeing.
3 Non-BS time management tips
The tech industry, in particular, is overwhelmingly focused on 24/7 hustle culture; in other words, the more you can get done in the shortest amount of time, the more you win.
I see entrepreneurs everywhere trying a new hack each week — and I promise these are not dissimilar from fad diets that promise to help you achieve your goals, only to leave you starved and malnourished by the end of the month.
"It can be easy to absorb messages in our society that time is a limited resource — a commodity to be managed rather than squandered," Shipp writes.
That's why I want to call BS and talk about how to truly manage your time with zero hacks. In short: I'd like to offer three tips that will help you preserve energy and keep your focus on what matters most.
1. Quit the hard deadlines
Whenever I tell one of my peers that I don't give my team members hard deadlines, their jaw drops. "How do you get anything done on time?" they ask.
In the case of my company, Jotform, I offer employees some leeway for turning in a task by avoiding getting overly specific about a date. And if they're facing a particularly big project, I give them some wiggle room as well, which allows teams to set their own intermediate milestones. I've found this approach not only serves to help create a sense of momentum and autonomy, but it also keeps their focus in check.
"That's just not realistic," I've heard more than once from opinionated peers. But I assure them I'm also a pragmatist and have contingency plans in place like time buffers by asking for a task earlier than when I need it due.
And I apply this same principle to myself. I don't set hard deadlines because in truth, doing so would only fuel my perfectionistic tendencies — leading to full-blown procrastination on my part.
Sometimes time management isn't about learning how to space out all of your tasks but about removing the pressure that prevents you and others from moving forward.
2. Spend the bulk of your time on purposeful tasks
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg Mckeown explains that this mindset isn't about getting more things done, instead, it's about how to get the right things done. "[Essentialism] doesn't mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential."
The problem as you may be thinking to yourself at this very moment is, How can I determine what purposeful tasks are compared to other kinds?
In my experience, what's essential will always lead to growth and self-improvement in some way or another — even if work-related. When a project motivates you rather than depletes you, for example, that's a purposeful task in my book.
3. Seek meaning over efficiency
In order to understand what most requires our attention at a given moment, it's important we constantly ask ourselves the following three questions, according to McKeown:
- "What do I feel deeply inspired by?"
- "What am I particularly talented at?"
- "What meets a significant need in the world?"
The trouble with time management hacks is that they don't take the above into account. As Shipp concluded with her research "The most impactful and energizing use of time comes when we view time as a symbolic choice between the meaningful and the meaningless."
That's why, in my opinion, hacks are often focused on outcomes; whereas real meaning expands our energy and creativity because we're motivated by internal factors rather than trying to manage our every hour.