Many time management systems say that you should block out time on your calendar for everything you need to do. This means that if you need to take out the garbage, you should schedule time on your calendar to do so. However, this sort of planning can be counterproductive, stifling and rigid.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have better time management with goals.
I’m not talking about the project-based goals, or life goals or finish-line goals here. I’m talking about a targeted list of things you would like to get done.
I’m talking about setting your sights on a few things to accomplish during the day, without sewing yourself into a calendar so tight you can’t sit down.
Why Plans Suck
Every time I read a time management “guru” who says they put everything on the calendar, I remind myself they are either lying to themselves, or they only deal with things that require largish amounts of time.
But for the rest of us who have a multitude of things to do, putting them on a calendar just creates a whole bunch of noise.
There are two main reasons why the approach of everything on the calendar doesn’t work well: in the first place, it crowds the calendar so that we can’t see what we are truly scheduled to do. In the second place, it requires a degree of accurate task time management that most of us don’t possess.
So let’s say that you have all your tasks on the schedule. You are down to the 10 minute level, and you are going full tilt. But one of your tasks requires you to look up the details for a meeting you had two days ago, which are on your calendar. Your calendar is so full you can’t see the meeting for the tasks. Or even worse, you take one look at that full schedule, and your brains shuts down because you are too busy.
Now let’s look at the other pitfall: accurate time management. Let’s say you have your tasks on the calendar, and you have scheduled from 2 to 2:15 to collect all the garbage in the house. But you get out to the garbage can and a neighbor hails you and wants to chat. Do you blow them off? Look at your watch as you realize all the things you are missing? Or go with the flow and try to make up the time on your calendar later?
Either way, putting tasks on your calendar leads to rigidity and stress.
Can you imaging this working with your loved ones? “Sorry, honey, I can’t sit and listen to your day now because I am scheduled to clean the refrigerator.” or “Sorry, son, I can’t play catch with you now because I am scheduled to weed the garden.”
Why Goals Are Better
Goals, on the other hand, allow for flexibility. We can choose our next task based on our time constraints, our energy level, even our interest! We get to pick the task that is most able to be done and move forward with it. We are able to take into account small changes in our day to embrace human connection, and to notice that there are roses there for the smelling.
Goals are about flexible possibility, not rigid structure.
How I Use Time Management Goals
I don’t make a massive task list that travels from day to day. Nor do I put tasks on the calendar. Instead, I have a master list of tasks that need to be done, and each day during my planning session, I look at the calendar for a reminder of how much free time I have, and then I choose a list of task goals. Then from those goals, I pick three that I will commit to getting done that day ala Baubata’s MITs (see this article for more information.
Since my work day starts at 6:45 and I am not a morning person, my committed tasks are not accomplished until after work, but they are ones that I will do before just about anything else.
Once those are done, I start working on the rest of my target list.
Some Common Questions About Time Management Goals
Do you get more than your committed tasks done? Unless I am physically not functioning (sidelined with illness or a broken toe or something), I get much more than those committed tasks done.
Why use the committed tasks at all? Why not just work from the targets? I find that making myself pick those three commitments makes me prioritize the target list. My highest priority tasks might not make the committed list, but at least I am aware if there is something in my task list that could bite me in the nether regions.
Do you always get your targets done? No. But I know that if I don’t get them done, it’s because of my choices, not because of poor time estimation or a crammed schedule.
What is the key to targets? The only downside is that you have to plan every single day. If you don’t set those targets and commitments, you simply won’t get as many things done.
A Gentler Approach to Time Management
All in all, I prefer the goals (targets) list simply because it is a gentler approach to my life. I still get a lot of things done, but I also have time to enjoy life and take advantage of small opportunities for connection that crop up daily. If I were rigidly bound to a schedule, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
How about you? Calendar or task list? Targets or ranking tasks? Share below.