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Bad news – We can’t manage time.

Good news – We don’t have to manage time, only ourselves.

By Harold L Taylor

Effective time management is a difficult process since it involves resisting four of the following five natural tendencies of people. Effective time management involves managing ourselves, not time. We must build self-discipline if we want to increase our personal productivity.

1. We tend to spend more time on the things we enjoy doing at the expense of those tasks we find distasteful. Writing call reports may be instrumental in expanding sales and planning future calls, for example. But if we hate writing reports, we tend to do other things less productive and delay or skip the report writing. If the enjoyable task is also the most important task, all is well. Frequently, this is not the case.

2. We tend to work on the easy tasks before we start the difficult ones. It’s only natural to take the path of least resistance. If something is complex or will take a lot of time to complete, it is likely to be delayed. So if we have to write a book as well as an article, guess which one gets tackled first? If the article can be polished off in a few hours, it gets the priority treatment, even though it may not be the priority, nor lead to the largest gain.

3. We tend to work on other peoples’ priorities before we spend time on our own. This is the “nice guy” attitude, which really reflects a lack of respect for our own time. For example, if someone asks to meet us at a time when we were planning to work on a task of our own, we frequently agree, delaying our own priorities rather than disappoint the other person. Since our personal priorities encompass our families, this could result in missing family activities as well.

4. We tend to work on projects that bring an immediate reward — whether it is money or recognition — before we work on those that offer an even larger reward sometime in the future. We are living in an “instant” generation, putting off things we want most for things we want at the moment. Although ineffective, it’s a natural tendency. After all, we like to feel good, so it’s tempting to work on something that will provide that reward quickly. Similarly, urgent items tend to take priority over important items.

5. We tend to work on those things that are scheduled in our planners before we start the things on our “to do” lists. Lists of things to do are intentions; but scheduled blocks of time in our planning calendars are commitments. Rarely do we forget or delay appointments or meetings that are scheduled for specific times. But things included on a To Do list are often overlooked. Frequently, those missed activities are far more important than the scheduled appointments. We can take advantage of this last tendency by scheduling the important tasks in our planner rather than relegating them to a To Do list.

Use your willpower the next time you have the urge to act out a natural tendencies, and instead, act out a new behavior that is more reasonable and more productive. You can break bad habits and replace them with more productive ones – those 20% that yield 80% of your results – by strengthening your willpower. Neurologists seem to agree that every time you make a conscious effort to practice willpower, your willpower becomes stronger.

The key is to focus on the new behavior. The more you focus and follow through with the new behavior, the sooner this new behavior becomes the new habit. The old habit will fade from disuse. The reason this works is that by acting out a new behavior again and again, you are re-wiring your current neurons to form new circuits.

Of course it still takes willpower to start the process in the first place. And since willpower consumes energy, you must get plenty of sleep, eat well, avoid stress as much is possible and avoid marathon work sessions without taking regular breaks.

You could further assist your brain by scheduling the tough tasks in the mornings – those tasks that require deep thinking, problem-solving and creativity. Your energy is generally higher in the morning. That’s probably why people seldom break from their healthy diets early in the day; but grab snacks and cheat on their diets before bedtime.

Time-management involves self-management. The good news is that, unlike time, self-management is completely within your control.

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