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Time Management for Unmanageable People




Excerpted from
Time Management for Unmanageable People: The Guilt-Free Way to Organize, Energize and Maximize Your Life
By Anne McGee-Cooper

If It's So Great, Why Doesn't It Work For All Of Us?

It would be hard to find a person who has not read a book M or article on getting organized, or who has not listened to I a tape, been to a seminar, or. at the very least, thought about time management. Everyone is interested in learning how to use his or her time more wisely.

About twenty years ago, I was asked to teach a course on time management to a business group. If anyone needed It, I did, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to learn how to get my own life together while I was teaching the principles to the corporate group. It was fun getting all the course materials together, and it made such good sense! Plan, prioritize, schedule, do it ... even I could memorize those simple steps.

I discovered a very valuable lesson from teaching those first time management courses. The system seemed to work beautifully for half of the class, but in less than a week, the other half of the class (myself included!) again had dozens of projects in motion simultaneously, phone messages taped to every surface, and files piled all over the room. But I noticed something else, too. We managed to get as much done as our linear counterparts and sometimes we did even more.

As I continued to visit the offices of executives at every level in organizations and confessed my own sins of a desk stacked high with files in motion and yesterday's half-eaten lunch container of chop suey, they began to show me their own secret pockets of "disorganization." Not only was I not alone In my sea of stuff, I was in very respectable company. Somehow, these highly admired individuals had made it to the top of their fields without meticulously writing down all of the day's activities In a spiral-bound diary or work record or following all the other classic rules for getting organized.

Over the course of the next few years, I discovered that there was more to it than just giving us right-brainers permission to have a messy desk. It really wasn't a messy desk at all - It was a different way of organizing. There was a system to those piles of stuff. The stacks by the phone were things I was waiting for people to call me back on. The stacks on the top of the desk were projects in motion I needed to remind myself about so that solutions could Incubate. The files above the wastepaper basket were things I was 80 percent sure I could toss but I needed to look through one more time. The new phone list was taped lo the pull out drawer so that I could find it easily and so that no one else would be able to walk away with it!

But this approach went beyond the "messy desk syndrome." As I Interviewed successful people, I found that many of our so-called bad habits were instead essential to our success. In my case, juggling several projects at once allowed creative insights to leap from one project to another; spending extra minutes talking through a problem with a team member might make me a few minutes late for a meeting, but it helped to restore a relationship between two key people on my staff. Daydreaming in the middle of a meeting or a project seemed to rest my mind so that a great idea could be born, and going off on mind tangents, though it confused some people, seemed to be part of the way my mind wove together a creative new pattern of opportunities. But In all of these examples, I would have gotten bad marks in effective time management because I didn't follow the rules.

I became convinced that somewhere down the line people had created a bunch of great time principles that worked for the factories and Industries of the nineteenth century, but that needed revising for the creative worker of the 1990s.

In Part One of this book, my partner Duane Trammell and I will be asking you to rethink your own perception of time. We'll show you how our understanding of time has evolved, and how we have discounted Important ways of viewing time that fly in the face of clockbound efficiency.

In Part Two, we'll help you to assess your personal time management style and will give you ways to make lime management work for you. We will also explore a neglected key to good time management that is usually noi seen as a vital enhancer of productivity and quality - play.

Finally, in Part Three, you will learn how to add more quality time into every aspect ol your life by changing how you think about time. And you don*t have to be limited to only twenty-four hours a day. We'll show you some amazing ways to slow down, get curious, regroup, and learn new skills. As a result, you will be able to accomplish much more while improving the balance in your life. This book will help you focus on and improve your "top line" - Inequality and joy in your life - as you improve the bottom line and become more productive.

How Clocks Became King

Traditional time management was created to make factories more efficient. Creative thinking was seen not only as unimportant, but also as counterproductive. It would slow down the assembly-line output if workers stopped to ask questions, make suggestions, or simply vary their routine. Thus, workers' efficiency was evaluated on the basis of their conformity.

Factory efficiency introduced the importance of clock time. Since everyone had to be in place for the assembly line to begin, workers wore watches, punched a time clock, and learned to think in terms of units of time - seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, vacations, holidays, sick time, and so on. Monochronic time was born. The clock was the single measure of how time was "kept."

The goals of today's business are not only efficiency and productivity, but quality, flexibility, market differentiation, and innovation. These goals require thinking that is not timebound - they happen when they happen, not according to the hands on the clock. They are polychronic in nature, with many complex factors affecting the way time is used. As robotics and high speed computers master the "efficiency" part of business, people's minds and creative ideas are becoming the appreciating asset of the 1990s. Yet we are still ascribing the same value to monochronic time skills instead of valuing people who are skilled at polychronic time management.

Creative thinkers are diver-gers by nature. In order to get the best of their innovative thinking ability, we must allow and encourage them to use time differently to generate and nurture the breakthrough ideas. This will require a reengineering of time management with a newly understood appreciation of some lost time skills.

We take our current sense of time for granted, assuming that we think of time as people have always thought of it. But in fact the Industrial Revolution also brought with it a revolution in the way people in the West think of and respond to time. The growth of factories meant that people needed to be in place at a particular time ready to join together in a single operation. Before this, people who worked together coordinated themselves in different ways. Much earlier, people sang as they rhythmically pulled on the oars of large sailing vessels. Or they may have swung a scythe to a harvesting song to make the work go easier. Sometimes field-workers sang together as they walked out to the fields or home to the hearth. Adding song, which often expressed deep feelings to the rhythms of monotonous labor, was a natural way to create balance.
Factory Whistles and Pocket Watches

With the Industrial Revolution, we not only decided that everyone must be in place to begin work at the same time, but that to be efficient, work must be done without distractions. If your job was to put identical widgets into identical holes hundreds of times each day, you did it to the clang of machinery. Such routine bores, hypnotizes, then ultimately atrophies the brain. When this kind of work became widespread, people accepted routine jobs as a necessary evil - as they accepted the importance of learning to be prompt.

Pocket watches became common. For the first time in history, many people owned and carried watches. As long as the economy was primarily agricultural, people lived in rhythm with the sun's rising and setting, the seasons, their own bodies' signals, and the needs of the environment. With the rise of the factory, they were encouraged to ignore what their own bodies, intuition, and common sense told them. They were given the message, "You can't stop because your back is tired or your brain is bored." For the factory to function efficiently, every worker had to keep pace.

In his book The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler writes that public schools, which developed at the same time as the Industrial Revolution, supported this new mentality by rewarding five behaviors essential to good factory workers: be prompt, be mindlessly obedient, don't question authority, learn to tolerate repetition, and don't expect to enjoy your work - work is simply what must be done.



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