Understanding my Unconscious Time Management? (Part 1)

Since most of us are faced with an overwhelming amount of to-do’s every day, what is the most effective way to prioritize what ends up in our calendars?

The theoretical response: start with the most important items. That’s what I used to think I did naturally. But I discovered over time that the reality of how I choose what goes in my calendar is a lot murkier.

In fact there were many things that didn’t make it into my day that were more important then the ones that did. Many of our clients have reported the same issue.

Test it for yourself

First, make a log of one of your days. Break down every action that takes 2 minutes or more (including bio breaks).

The next day, make a list of all your important to-dos and prioritize them using A+, A, B, or C. For each item that you wish you had or were supposed to have already done, add a lateness amount with the lag time (2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years…).

Now, come back to your log and see if during that day, you have done something that was not a high priority — i.e., an A+ (or even A) — and think whether you could have replaced it with one of these extremely late A+ from your list. The amount of time that could have been spent on more essential stuff will likely surprise you.

When our connotations is what manages our time

One of the main factors that influences what ends up in our calendars is how comfortable we are with an item. For example:

  • Do we know how to do it easily and well, or is it new and undefined
  • Is this item something that will create tension with someone else?
    Infringe on someone’s territory? Generate reactions? Conflict?
  • Are we unsure where to start with the item and therefore avoiding it?
  • Do we feel a number of open issues are lurking under the surface?
    Unclear direction, policy, scope or ownership.
  • Does it carry with it the potential for failure?

This CEO was 1-year late in providing a couple of performance reviews to his two closest direct reports. No one thinks of him as a conflict avoider or a procrastinator, but in this case he kept postponing and each time rationalizing that he just didn’t have time, this time. But his coaching sessions helped him realize that he had feared raising some skill gaps and stressing these precious relationships. And yet, he also noticed that the cost of his avoidance was that their need for development wasn’t getting addressed on its own and was festering.

This is an example of our “Unconscious Time Management” — that is the unconscious ways in which our Ego prioritizes what goes in our calendar even if it is not the most important to us. And our Ego avoids what it fears, what it feels murky, where it may fail or anything that has a negative connotation to it.

Be the detective of your choices: find the real reason behind your rationalization

Track the items that are important to you, and yet that you keep postponing (or just not scheduling). For each of them, ask yourself: “why?”

Be honest with yourself; what is the real reason behind your resistance to doing it? If the answer is, “I don’t have time…” dig some more. Find the fear, the discomfort, the avoidance that is in your way. You will with it find great leverage.

The fear might hold some precious information

Fears don’t necessarily exist in a vacuum. In fact many times, I am afraid because there is something to be afraid about. Now our natural automatic reaction to fears is to flee or to numb, instead of acknowledging them and facing them.

For example If I’m not starting on a project because I am afraid of how my organization will respond to it, then maybe I shouldn’t move forward immediately. Instead it might be wise to stop and think about my fears (and what information they hold). Are they a clumsy expression of some steps I have missed?

In this case, I might realize that I could:

  • Look for a sponsor to support the project.
  • Find a mentor who has experience implementing this type of project.
  • Organize a discussion with various members of my organization to get a pulse on where they are and involve them in the process.

In conclusion

Whether our fears stop us from doing the things that matter to us, or whether we realize they’re holding us back and we decide to will through them, we are not facing what information they are holding for us including what actions we could take that would make a world of a difference.

Only by exploring these unconscious elements that drive us to avoid and stay comfortable, can we move forward on what’s new, challenging or even most important to us.

How have your comfort zones impacted your time management? We would love to hear your comments.

In part II of this blog, we’ll explore how running after recognition manages our time.

  1. Shashank Jha says:

    It’s so true that people tend to avoid conflict, in fact it can be a useful tool by forcing conflict upon people to actually get what you want.

  2. Karen says:

    I find myself a victim of this problem quite often, the question is how do I move past it?

  3. If it’s an unconscious motivation, how does one know when they are actually falling into a comfort zone and harming their time management and when they are actually being efficient?

  4. I think emails are actually a better way of communication, as you can ensure that you pick exactly the right words and have the ability to attach files, etc that ensure issues can be dealth with in greater totality. While not necessarily quicker initially, they can save time in the long run.

  5. Sandy Brewer says:

    Oh man, you hit the nail on the head, sometimes I shy away from things I know will make me uncomfortable as there is a alternate way to get it done, but I never really thought of the bigger picture issues.

  6. Suparna says:

    I hate people who will waste time shooting off tons of emails to talk about an issue that can be dealt with by one phone call.

  7. June Austin says:

    I realized this after reading this that my blackberry is used almost entirely for emails and BBM and rarely for actually making phonecalls.

  8. Ursula says:

    Sure, I think everybody does this kind of thing, but you also have to account for the that sometimes its necessary to reduce stress that comes work.

  9. Thomas Dowdakin says:

    So what’s the solution outside of saying you’re going to change?

  10. Heather says:

    I think you may have just changed my (work) life a little bit for the better with this…

  11. Lilian Ing says:

    I totally suffer from this, I send emails to avoid talking to people I don’t want to, I leave things until the end of the day to send out so I can avoid dealing with them until the next morning, etc etc etc.

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