Why Time Management is Not the Answer

CaptureTime management isn’t the answer if the question is “Mark, how can I be brilliant?” Or brillianter if you are already brilliant yet still full of beans. Or “I know I am better than this, but things just aren’t bloody happening for me.”

Or some variant thereof.

I read a blog post the other day…

…about time management.

The problem with time management is that it’s a waste of time.

To be fair, there was some good stuff in the post, like “timeboxing” – a stupid made up word for do-one-thing-at-a-time-you-dope. And some sound advice on email, e.g. schedule discrete periods to deal with it, do not play with it all day until you get sudden onset ADHD.

But there was a lot of drivel. A lot of drivel…

Drivel #1 – Use productivity tools.

A huge list of apps then followed, all designed to help you with your essential tasks, e.g. Tempo – a calendar app that has “amongst its time-saving features…one click notification to let people know you’re running late.”


Don’t be late. It’s either a sign that you cannot manage yourself like a grown up or a non-verbal statement that you do not value the activity for which you are late. Yes it does mean that. That’s what they’re saying to you when they don’t come to your thing.

It goes on…

Drivel #2 – Use keyboard shortcuts.

Yes, you too can escape the soul-crushing toxic wasteland of normal life if only you knew that control-C/reposition cursor/control-V is the fastest way on earth to cut and paste. The world will be your oyster. You will travel by executive jet. Your assistant will be delicious. Your men will be yes men.

Give me strength.

I could go on but I won’t.

Time management is a waste of time. It’s about efficiency, which is effectiveness’ poor relation. You know, the one that always wears trainers.

Efficiency only matters if there’s real money in it. I mean if you’ve just spent two billion quid on a production line to make your sexy new Jaguar, let me tell you that one car coming off the line every 60 seconds versus every 15 seconds leads to two very, very different outcomes for your shareholders, boss and hence you.

But being the fastest cut and pasterer in the free world has no value.

Because it is what you do that delivers your results, not how efficient you are. You know I call these critical activities high-payoff activities. The problem you have if you’re not where you want to be is not your lack of efficiency which can be fixed with time management.

It is your lack of effectiveness.

And you don’t become effective by shortening the length of time it takes to do stuff if the stuff you’re doing isn’t the stuff that’s going to get you to where you want to be.

In the realm of your personal effectiveness (as opposed to say, manufacturing processes) there is no strong link between efficiency and effectiveness.

In personal effectiveness, time management-derived efficiency has a small incremental benefit at best but is probably valueless.

Efficiency is doing things right, as Drucker said. He went on…

Effectiveness is doing the right things.  

The greatest personal impact most people can have today, right now, right now, on their own future outcomes is to question what they are doing, not how they are doing it.


3 Responses to Why Time Management is Not the Answer

  1. Mike Hughes April 22, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    An excellent article. Very thought-provoking, especially the last line. Perhaps we have tendencies to get caught up in “stuff” rather than focusing on key priorities. A good book to read on this is “mojo” by Marshall goldsmith though your hpa approach is similar. First things first.

  2. Dave Verburg April 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Ahhh Mark how ive missed the High Pay Off Activities phrase you used to verbally beat me over the head with! I thank you so much for doing it too as its helped me no end. I am much more effective in how I manage my actions now that ive stopped worrying about managing my time, which of course is a waste of time!

  3. Keith Plumb May 27, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Good stuff Mark. The do one thing at a time point is very valid, so called multi-tasking (actually task salami sliciing) is a real time waster, but the important point to me it take the task to a natural stopping point, usually when it is complete or when you can pass it on to some one else.

    For e-mails I go for the triage approch. Divide e-mails into three, Ones that take one line to answer – so answer them straight away. Those that do not apply to you so delete them, The rest – put a flag on them and come back to answer them as a block.

    I agree that doing the right thing is great idea but you then need to ensure that you do the right thing right. Doing the right thing wrong is rather a waste of time.

    Of course we could have long discuss about what is right!

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