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“My fixation on time management almost broke me”
The above title is one of the most honest and touching stories I read in 2021. Not because it was controversial or revealed anything very surprising, but because it confirmed a long-held belief that I’ve been an advocate of.
The article is written by Harvard Business Administration contributor Abbie J. Shipp and talked about how managing your time is not about discovering new time hacks, but about learning better practices that don’t put your health at risk.
She writes, “In 2019, I hit a wall. To the outsider, 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 struggled with chronic insomnia, malnutrition, a pinched nerve in my neck and a bad hormonal imbalance,” she candidly adds. “I would later find out that, ironically, time management was to blame.”
I’ve been CEO of my company for the past 16 years, and let’s face it: As entrepreneurs, we’ve all been in the exact same position at one time or another. Whether we’re in the early stages of our startup or we’ve been in the industry for decades, we all hit a wall when tackling our next big project.
That’s when we’re most likely to try out all the hacks; when we end up reading all the self-help books and when we do everything we can to make ourselves as efficient and productive as possible.
Until the burnout hits us.
As a leader, one of the most important things to me is to set 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 – which is why it was vital for me to deliver my speech about prioritizing wellness.
3 non-BS time management tips
The technology industry in particular is overwhelmingly focused on a culture of 24/7 hustle and bustle; in other words, the more you can do in the shortest amount of time, the more you to win.
I see entrepreneurs everywhere trying a new hack every week — and I promise you these aren’t much different from fad diets that promise to help you reach your goals, only to leave you starving and malnourished by the end of the month.
“It can be easy to absorb messages in our society that time is a finite resource – a commodity to be managed rather than wasted,” Shipp writes.
That’s why I want to call BS and talk about how to really manage your time without hacks. In short: I would like to give you three tips that will help you save energy and keep your focus on what is really important.
Related: Feeling Burnt Out? Maybe you’re not selfish enough with your time
1. Stop with the hard deadlines
Whenever I tell one of my colleagues that I don’t give my team members hard deadlines, their mouths drop. “How do you get something done on time?” they ask.
In the case of my company, Jotform, I give employees some leeway for submitting a task by avoiding getting too specific about a date. And if they’re facing a particularly large project, I’ll also give them some wiggle room, allowing teams to set their own interim milestones. I’ve found that this approach not only helps to create a sense of momentum and autonomy, but it also keeps their focus in check.
“That’s just not realistic”, I have heard more than once from stubborn colleagues. But I assure them that I am also a pragmatist and have contingency plans in place such as time buffers by asking for a task sooner than I need it.
And I apply this same principle to myself. I don’t set hard deadlines because in reality this would only fuel my perfectionist tendencies – leading to complete procrastination on my part.
Sometimes time management isn’t about learning how to divide all your tasks, but about removing the pressures that keep you and others from moving forward.
Related: The most important hour of the day for entrepreneurs is not what you might think
2. Spend most of your time on goal-oriented tasks
In his book Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less, author Greg Mckeown explains that this mindset isn’t about getting more things done, but about getting the right things done. “[Essentialism] does not simply mean doing less for less. It’s about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy to work at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
The problem, as you may be thinking to yourself right now, is, HHow can I determine which goal-directed tasks are compared to other species?
In my experience, what is essential will always lead to growth and self-improvement in some way – even if it is work related. For example, when a project motivates you instead of exhausts you, that’s a purposeful job in my book.
Related: Dear Brit: ‘How do you juggle multiple projects at once?’
3. Seek meaning over efficiency
According to McKeown, in order to understand what is most demanding of our attention at any given moment, it is important that we constantly ask ourselves the following three questions:
- “What makes me feel deeply inspired?”
- “What am I particularly talented at?”
- “What fills a great need in the world?”
The problem with time management hacks is that they don’t take the above into account. As Shipp concluded with her research, “The most impactful and stimulating use of time comes when we view time as a symbolic choice between the meaningful and the meaningless.”
Therefore, in my opinion, hacks are often focused on results; while real meaning increases our energy and creativity because we are motivated by internal factors instead of trying to manage every hour.
Related: Should You DIY or Outsource to an Expert? Here’s how to decide what’s best for your business.