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The Problem with Time Management

If you’ve been living in the corporate world for some time, you’ve probably attended a training session where one of the exercises was to conduct a “time spent” analysis in order to increase your efficiency. You cracked open your calendar, reviewed how you spent your time for the past week, and identified black holes that were wasting your energy. Maybe you even went so far as to break your activities into categories, separating the “urgent” things from the “important” things and both of these from the “insignificant” things.

Time management studies like these can be interesting, but the findings are almost always the same. Virtually every manager who works through the exercises discovers that he or she is spending too much time on “putting out fires”—dealing with the daily dramas and emergencies around the office—and not enough time thinking and planning for long-term projects that really matter. E-mails, instant messages, phone calls, and that guy from Purchasing who drops in “just for a second” and chews the fat for 45 minutes undo our best-laid plans—not to mention the endless, interminable, usually pointless meetings.

We know all this. Why doesn’t it ever change?

The problem lies in our approach. Time management programs usually focus on your personal productivity, analyzing how you choose to spend your time. This is all fine and dandy, but it misses one essential truth: In an organization that’s devoted to banging pots, you better bang pots or have a damn good reason for not banging them.

That’s why, after the PowerPoint presentation had ended and the trainer went home, you fell back into your old, unproductive rhythms—not because you didn’t agree with the time management expert’s analysis, but because you returned to normal life in the world of The Middle... which means doing what you think your boss wants you to do. Bang! Bang! Bang!

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