Time management systems have become exceedingly popular in recent years… and with good reason. The ultimate potential benefit of such systems is the ability to optimize how you spend your time in order to extract the best possible results in the shortest period of time. Such systems do come with a price, however, and that price is the time you must spend first learning and then maintaining the system. Generally speaking, the more complex the system, the more costly it is to use. The more time you spend managing your system, the less time you’ll spend reaping the rewards of increased productivity.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve studied time management extensively, both by devouring existing knowledge on the subject and through first-hand trial and error. I’ve read a shelf full of books on time management, listened to hundreds of hours of time management audio learning, and read dozens of articles on the subject. I’ve used a variety of time management
systems including Franklin-Covey, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and Anthony Robbins’ Rapid Planning Method (formerly called OPA for Outcome-Purpose-Action). I’ve used PC software like Microsoft Outlook, Palm computers, and paper-based planners. If there were such a thing as a Ph. D in time management, I’ve gone through the curriculum many times over.
Studying time management has been an extremely worthwhile endeavor. While the claims made by people selling products in this field are often exaggerated and overhyped, I did realize some genuine productivity benefits from applying the best ideas. As I wrote in the article “Do It Now,” I was able to earn two college degrees in only three semesters, largely by applying a variety of time management techniques, some of them to the extreme. I took the same classes in 1.5 years that other students took over a 4-year period, but I was able to compress them into a much shorter period of time by taking about triple the normal courseload. However, I don’t consider this to be an extraordinary achievement. I think someone else who studied time management as much as I did could achieve similar results. The sad truth is that most people are so incredibly bad at managing their time that rock-bottom personal productivity is simply accepted as normal. So anyone who can consistently invest 80% of their time each day in intelligent, productive activities is going to look like an overachiever by comparison. The average college student in particular is probably operating at only 20-30% of their capacity, and I’m referring to their social life in addition to academics. Most people are completely unaware of just how poor they are at time management until some “overachiever” enters their lives and makes them look bad by comparison.
Time management systems
It’s tempting to say that excellent time management is a result of having a great time management system. But I have not found this to be the case. I think the general mindset of time management is far more important than any system. And the mindset of time management is simply that you value your time. It’s really a self-esteem issue. If you see your life as valuable and meaningful, then you will value your time as well. If you find yourself wasting a lot of time, you probably don’t have a strong enough reason to manage your time well. No system you use will make much difference until you address the underlying issue of self-respect. If your life has no meaningful purpose, then you don’t have a compelling enough reason to improve your time management skills.