clocks

As a leadership trainer and organizational development facilitator, I get lots of requests for training. Usually the requests are in the form of “those idiots working for us need training,” because many executives believe they already know everything. I don’t bother to point out the obvious need for self-reflection, but instead dig deeper to find out the real needs and figure out what training (if any) is truly needed, within the bounds of the general thrust of the client’s request.

Over the years I have taught all aspects of leadership, management, communication, collaboration, group dynamics, diversity, strategic planning—you name it, I’ve probably taught it. But there is one topic I avoid like the plague.

I’m talking about Time Management.

If you want to learn how to organize your files and clean up your inbox, there are plenty of books that will help you do that. If you want a comprehensive appointment system, there are competing companies who will be happy to sell you all sorts of tracking tools and devices to help you feel like you’re really on top of the time thing. But until you absorb one fundamental concept, all the day-timers and Stephen Covey facilitators in the universe won’t help you.

The concept is this: time management is a choice. Your choice. You choose how you manage your time.

The reason why I resist teaching time management is that most people strongly object to the idea that they have a choice in the matter. They whine about the 2000 emails in the inbox, about the additional duties they’ve had to take on due to staff cuts, about the unreasonable demands of upper management that must be met and about the unreasonable clients who want everything yesterday.  They want somebody to give them a magic wand to make it all go away.

They conveniently forget that perception involves choice. We select perceptions from the thousands of stimuli at any given moment and ignore the rest. If you’re worried about the 2000 e-mails in your inbox, that is because you choose to focus on them and get your knickers in a twist. You aggravate the problem by keeping thousands of emails whose only purpose is CYA. The work continues to pile up, at least in your mind.

The common wisdom, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority” is true. Unless you have sufficient self-awareness to know when you’re responding from fear rather than from your native intelligence, no one can help you manage your time. Unless you develop the awareness that many so-called priorities are symptomatic of insecure people making a mountain out of a molehill, you’ll be trapped in reaction mode forever. And unless you have a clear idea of your purpose, both in your work and in your overall life, the stimuli generated by organizational fear and dysfunction will leave you helplessly flailing to manage priorities that aren’t really priorities at all.

So, stop playing the victim of the information explosion and take responsibility for your time. Organizations abound with fake priorities that have nothing to do with the alleged mission of the organization. Constantly ask, “Is this trip really necessary? Is this really worth our time, given all of the other things on our plate?” If the task is important, ask, “What current priorities are going to have to fall by the wayside? What additional resources will be available to help us with this new priority?”

I repeat: time management is a choice. Empower yourself and embrace that responsibility.