Don’t Let Your Ego Manage Your Time

0812011646-e1313193215599Typically when we think about time management we focus on the structural aspect of time — the practical and organizational implementation of how we manage our paperwork, files and to-dos. What we don’t often recognize is the impact of our unconscious behaviors and beliefs on our ability to be productive. Here are three behavioral aspects of time management that undermine even the best-intentioned time management structures.

Childhood Mantras

Many of our beliefs or fears come from childhood. For example, growing up I always heard, “do your chores before you go out to play.” As a result, I often find myself spending an entire Saturday doing errands and household to-do’s. One of my colleagues heard the mantra, “if you do it, do it well.” As a result, she will work overtime or through lunch, just to put that extra 10% into a project.

You can see that, even with a perfect structural time system in place, if you are not addressing the underlying issues, you may still be challenged to manage your time.

What are the typical mantras about time you heard in your childhood? Identifying them can help liberate you from living them.

Self-Sabotaging Time Drivers

One of the most insidious of these drivers is our hidden fear about what other people will think of us. For example, one executive I work with says yes to everything without measuring it against the reality of his calendar. He overcommits himself constantly. This creates overwhelm, chaos and an unmanageable amount of to-dos. He tells himself he’s just wired that way, he can’t help it.

He recently realized in a seminar that he would rather be seen as chaotic and overwhelmed than viewed as ineffective. He discovered that all the chaos swirling around him is, in reality, protection from someone potentially pointing out a mistake on his part. For example, he uses the excuse, “How can I possibly have done well on that project when I have all these other things going on…?” And who of course can argue with the piles of paper on his desk, the overflowing in-box, and the backed up emails? He has created a system that protects him from someone finding fault with his actions, or risking potential failure.

What time traps have you set up that protect you from potential failure or criticism?

No Time For People

Another type of sabotage is the leader who has a very rigid time management system in place. She is totally structured and on track, almost to the point of being inflexible. The unconscious behavior driving her is also a fear of failure, but her response is the opposite of our overwhelmed leader in the previous example. Although she is very effective at getting the job done, she often doesn’t listen to others or take their feelings into account. Idle conversation is a time-waster in her book. She will focus on the agenda in a meeting and see her teammates as either a help or a hindrance to getting the job done. Although she may be effective in her individual work, this leader is not always effective with her time, because others may not be aligned with her ideas or feel the desire to collaborate with her.

In both cases, once these executives took the time to examine the anxiety driving their time management behaviors, it became clear that they were avoiding an unpleasant feeling by procrastinating or working manically on something.

These behaviors take a tremendous amount of time out of our lives since, instead of focusing on our most important and authentic goals, we spend precious moments bouncing between avoiding something we fear and running after something our ego desires, like others’ approval.

Now most people are not running around all day long saying, “I need acknowledgement.” But unconsciously, they are doing things in the hopes of earning it.

Quite often the real issue is a fear of failure or fear of being seen in a poor light.

What are your underlying drivers about time? How has this impacted you at work? In your personal life? We would love to hear your comments.

  1. Kathleen says:

    Ahhhhhhhhhh…. you have caught the hidden foe! or at least flushed it out! This is an AWESOME article about the shadows that drive us. The tricky part, is seeing our own. In some cases, we may need to ask those around us to give us some insight… if we/they dare! haha!

    I find time management to be very tricky. I swirl around in chaos working many creative projects when the inspiration for it arises. If the inspiration or stimulation from the outer isn’t there, it falls to a lower rung. Until! a time demand is placed on it! Then focus arises, and everything comes together in a scramble. My early family life was super duper chaotic! lots and lots of people and emotions and activity. it was very difficult to stay focused. Honestly speaking, I don’t know what my driving story is… and how to change it. What would you say it is? what am I protecting myself from? I would LOVE to know the answer to that! I have chalked it up to being a right-brainer with a slight neurological derrangement! haha!

    Love the post! thanks!

  2. Laura, these are great tips! I work with a system of personality called the Enneagram which elegantly maps the core beliefs and adaptive strategies that frame the childhood mantras you describe. Are you familiar with it?

    There are 9 core Enneagram types and each has adopted a particular cognitive and emotional strategy that forms beliefs and motivates behavior. As an example, Type 3 is especially focused on achievement and the unconscious childhood message that was internalized is: “I am loved for what I do, for my successful achievements”. Another example: Type 1 is focused on doing things right and measuring up; the unconscious childhood message that was internalized is: “I am worthy or good if I do what is right”. Essentially the Enneagram points to nine different ways the Ego can get in our way. And although all nine types can experience challenges with time management, your post reminds me that different types may be challenged for different reasons. The childhood mantra offers some clues and the Enneagram is also a useful map that can fill in some blanks. Thanks for letting me share and for the great post!

  3. Laura Gates says:

    Kathleen, great questions, what do YOU think it is??

  4. Kathleen says:

    Hahaha! I KNEW you were going to do that!! hmmmmmm…. going to let this one roll around abit, now that its been asked, no doubt some awareness will show up. Thanks!

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