The time management myth

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 15th February 2022

I was a participant at an online conference last week. During one of the sessions we were put into breakout groups for a discussion activity. I did not know the other people in the breakout group well, and some not at all. One of the group, unaware of the fact that I specialised in what many people label ‘Time Management’, disclosed that she was working on a new dangerous idea! ‘Time Management is a myth’ she said. Energy Management was the way forward for productivity in her view.

While this is not a new particularly line of thinking, it definitely has some merit. But we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as my mother used to say. Some people see productivity enhancing systems such as Smart Work as constraining systems that just stress you out even more as you try to follow them, and believe they focus the individual too much on clearing Inboxes and ticking boxes on task lists rather working on the important priorities.

People who hold this belief sometimes shift their focus away from trying to manage the challenging resource of time, to managing their energy levels and their state. Rather than scheduling their work in a time-based system, they observe their energy levels and do the things that feel most appropriate in that moment.

I think energy management is important, and I am exploring this topic for my next book, but we cannot ignore the fact that time is usually our most limited resource, therefore it is the thing that we should manage most closely. Maybe our organising systems should have a healthy dose of both time and energy management driving them. Here are some ways that I combine time and energy when organising my work:

  • I have a reasonably heavy meeting schedule, but I try to protect before 10am for my priorities as this is when I have the most energy
  • I always create space between meetings so I can reset my focus and energy before the next meeting
  • I have a task list prioritised for each day, but I often choose the next priority to work on based on my energy levels
  • I am always clear about my ‘must do’ priorities versus my ‘nice to do’ priorities. I know what I can leave until another day if I don’t have the energy to do everything
  • I have turned off all email and MS Teams alerts so that my energy and focus is not drained through the day by distractions

So, in my view, managing energy is useful. But you can only manage your energy effectively if you are organised and have a good Time Management system in place. Time Management is not a myth, it is sometimes just a bit misunderstood.

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