Time management is probably one of the most misused dream engines. It can create the dream of performance. A dream Frederick W. Taylor introduced when devising his ideas of scientific management. He assessed that studying the time individual actions are taking in a process allow to optimize workflows. An optimization leading a hope to enhance individual performance.
While these ideas provided a new perspective on how work can be organized they never answered how to optimize knowledge work. Nor did they find an answer to the optimal performance possible.
Time management could also be based on the dream of being free. Free to do what we like to do and possibly let go of the hard work. The hard work of doing the things that need to be done too, that make the fun work complete and possible.
While I believe in organizing oneself, I’m much less sure about the idea of time management.
Organizing oneself means to know what type of work to do. To know when we do something because we want to do it. And to know when we do something because it makes our work complete.
Time management, on the other hand, seems to create the idea to force work into the available time, instead of seeing the work that can be done within a specific amount of time.
I’ve found two laws described by Cyril Northcote Parkinson inspiring in this context.
Parkinson’s Law describes how work will fill the time available in a similar manner as gas will fill the available container. This also means, that there must be some possibility to “compress” work into a smaller time slot. Not endlessly, but enough as to know that “I need more time” could be more often an excuse than we’d like to know.
The Law of triviality adds an important detail to Parkinson’s law. It describes how trivialities receive disproportionate attention compared to the main aspects of a work to be done. It means for example that choosing the color of the letterhead might take up more time than the writing of a million dollar contract on that very same letterhead.
I can see, how I’ve been able to be more productive on days during which I had less working hours available than on others. Knowing that I only have a very specific amount of time available helps me select what’s trivial and what’s important in my work. Doing so, moving forward has become faster.
And it’s not about being simply faster. It’s faster because I organize myself with the question “what’s it for?”. It’s a powerful question to see the work I want to be done.
Reversing Parkinson’s Law by compressing work into time, creates the boundaries allowing to use the law of triviality. It also creates space for things I enjoy doing, things elementary to give me the energy to do the boring parts of work.