Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?

time trap

We devote so much time and energy to improving our time management. There are websites, blogs, educational programs and entire shelves in bookstores dedicated to this very topic. After all, time management is the “holy grail” of happiness and success, right? We think it’s what allows us to do it all and do it well, take on more projects, get that raise and provide for our family. But what I’ve recently come to find is that the entire concept of time management is one big lie.

Controlling time, by any means, is simply not possible. There are things we do to make ourselves feel like we are in control. These things, like waking up early, working faster, skipping lunch breaks and staying up late may insulate our happy little bubble of managed time, but there are no more hours in our day and everything comes at the sacrifice of something else.

Technology has only aggravated this problem by making us feel like we can be ever more efficient with our time by being hyper-connected and multitasking every hour of the day. We think that if we can get more done today, that tomorrow will be less hectic, that tomorrow we will have time for our hobbies, that tomorrow we will be less stressed and more happy. But tomorrow is a moving target and every day is just as busy as the one before because we simply aren’t able to manage time.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few of life’s truths that have helped me to recognize the deadly traps of time management:

We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time.

As I said before, time management is a lie. We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time. We aren’t in control of time, but we are in control of our actions. How we choose to use the time we’ve been given every day is the most critical decision we have to make with our lives.

Rather than missing the forest for the trees by worrying about how we can answer more emails in a day, worry about why we even want to be answering so many emails in a day. Look at the bigger picture of your life and begin to prioritize what will matter most in the grand meaning of your existence.

You don’t “have” to do anything.

Another one of time management’s deadly traps is overwhelming ourselves with everything we “have” to do in a day. When I looked back at my Google calendar from a year ago, it’s interesting to see everything I packed into my schedule and marked with a star as a “must do” task.

What would have happened if I simply didn’t get to it that day, that week, ever? Minor consequences, if any. I have to constantly resist creating additional and unnecessary pressure in my life. We all do. If you feel like there is so much you “have” to get done today that you can’t meet a friend for lunch or take off an hour early to see your son’s soccer game, closely evaluate these tasks again and you’ll be surprised as to how this new mindset will show you how things can – and will – wait.

You will never have more time.

No one is able to “make time,” they must prioritize. We all have the same number of seconds every day so when someone says they’ll try and make time for that tomorrow, you know that it’s simply not a priority.

Another trap is saying you will take on a task when you have more time. You will never have more time. You must either do less or do it faster to make room for something else in your life. Again, it comes down to priorities.

It will never take just a minute…half hour…hour.

This time management trap is one of the most subtle and therefore extremely sneaky. It’s being unrealistic with how long it will take you to complete a task. We begin our busy day with a task list orchestrated by the minute only to find that we are constantly falling behind and chronically late. Does this sound familiar? It’s likely because you think a task will take half the time that it actually requires and so you overbook your day and scramble to get back on track. This is a frustrating and stressful life to live.

Start tracking the time it takes you to do common tasks to gain a better sense for how much time they require. This will help you to manage yourself regarding time.

Only in very rare instances does something have to be done “now.”

This final time management trap is the one that really gets under my skin because it’s the result of someone else trying to manage your time for you. Your boss, co-worker or spouse asks you to do something and insists it has to be done right now. Does this sound familiar? We all know that person who feels like everything they have going on is urgent and you should drop everything you’re doing to make it a priority. Yet, once we do complete the task, they don’t even touch it until the next day, or week, or at all.

Don’t get caught up in someone else’s urgent trivialities. It’s a power game and their effort to control you since they likely feel out of control with other aspects of their life. Directly question if it truly is something urgent; make them justify it. Then, push back. Let them know you have other things going on and matter of factly state that it cannot be completed until next week. I always say that if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Learn to identify those people who “cry wolf” with your time.

In the end…

What’s the moral of this life lesson? It’s that the time given to us each day and the number of days we’re given in our life is completely out of our control. We can continue to waste these precious moments trying to find time hacks and ways to cram even more into our days. Or we can stop living the lie of “time management” and starting actually living.

So how should we manage our time? We should take more naps, longer lunch breaks, a long walk and turn off work after reasonable business hours have passed. Yes, there will be tasks left to do, but there will always be tasks left to do. Even if you worked 24 hours a day, there would be something more to fill your time – or you would invent it. You are the only person who can and should prioritize your life. If you don’t work to find a balance, you will simply work and work and work until that becomes the only meaning in your life. And that is a very sad day, indeed.

So, have you fallen into the deadly trap of time management – working longer and harder in hopes that it will make tomorrow less hectic…but it never does? Share your own struggles and triumphs by commenting below!

12 thoughts on “Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?

  1. Stephanie,

    Many, many truthful points. Thanks and I hope many read and begin to put them into practice. Our relationships, with God, our family members, and friends are or should be a priority. When we face troubles, and times of distress we will need those relationships.

    If we have neglected them, in pursuit of other things, priorities, that have lesser meaning, we will be left wanting, wondering, then regretting why we make those previous choices. Our world, and the times in which we are living call out to us to make the best use of our time….because we only live once, there are no do- overs.

    Love should be a primary consideration in how we make choices for what is our priority list. From my perspective, whatever will pay forward should have top billing…for me that is my relationship with the Creator of the Universe, Jesus. Our love, our passion for living is also our purpose for for life, and this includes our relationships, our work, our service to others. They all conjoin to create the mosaic that will be viewed, flash before us, as we lie in the times and moments before our last breath.

    We are Loved, We are Blessed by the Creator of the Universe so share that Love and read the “good” book regularly to gain wisdom and understanding. And I like what Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things, the people you meet (and relationships you develop) and the books you read.”

    1. Thank you for such an insightful comment! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It was a very personal topic to write on as I am always trying to better about my own “time management.” I struggle to practice “nowness” and not let the troubles of yesterday or tomorrow bring down the moment I’m currently in. I enjoy the Charlie Jones quote very much as well!

  2. Hi Stephanie,

    That is very insightful. Certainly refreshingly different from most of most of what is written on this subject.

    I always like the old cliche ‘life is a journey – not a destination’! Too many people in this world are always ‘living for tomorow’ and forgetting to enjoy each day as it comes!

    Now Ian interested to know (after reading this), has your viewpoint changed on a comment you made a long time ago in your blog, that the best thing about being an entrepeneur, is that you ‘get to choose which 80 hours you work in a week’?

    Do you still put in those sort of hours? If so how do you reconcile that with the need for a work/life balance that you expressed in the blog?

    Anyway. Thankyou for your insights. They are very helpful.


    1. Hi Andy–thank you for commenting and for following along this journey with me! I’m pleased to say that I have found a pretty good balance between work and personal life. I really got this reality check when I had my son (now 17 months) and HAD to learn to balance. I now make time for myself and enjoy many days work-free (or just light email catch-up, like today). Certainly that comes from working very hard on the days I do have projects and client meetings. I like the balance of having both speeds in life and would get either bored or run-down if I was too far in either direction. Today I have my son at home with me and I plan to shut down work and head to a library class with him and probably share in his nap time this afternoon 🙂 I’m still learning to live in the moment, but I’m much better than I used to be!

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