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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The value of time management ...

After I blogged about the value of getting things done, @johanlindberg asked me to look at a couple of other time management practices - Burn-Down Charts and the Pomodoro technique.

There must be hundreds of time management practices, and thousands of self-help books and websites encouraging people to organize themselves better. Some of them even tell you to stop reading and get on with stuff.

Why are there so many? Is it because they all work, or because none of them do? Is it because there isn't a single approach to time management that suits everyone, so we all need to read dozens of these before we find one that provides just the right combination of common sense and quirkiness that chimes with our own lives? Or is it because people who have difficulties with time management are always looking for further displacement activity - as if reading just one more book, or buying just one more iPhone app, will suddenly change us from muddled procrastinators into smooth and effective operators?

I cannot see a simple way to evaluate and compare these time management approaches as practical methodologies. Clearly there is enormous subjective value in organizing oneself, just as there is in coordinating a team, and we can certainly see the costs and risks associated with the lack of organization or coordination in particular situations, but organization and coordination are generally valued because they help us achieve our goals, rather than being primary goals in their own right.

What about judging a person or team in terms of achievement? There are levels of achievement that may be relevant here. Firstly, efficiency or productivity in handling a fairly uniform stream of events and tasks. Secondly, effectiveness in handling small variations in the event-stream - small adjustments that represent a continuous improvement loop - (in other words, single-loop learning to maintain a stable set of outcomes with variable inputs). Thirdly agility in anticipating and managing change (in other words, double-loop learning, where the desired outcomes may change as well as the strategies).

"Best practice" time management may help people become more efficient and effective in narrowly defined areas or known tasks. But sometimes the reason for procrastination is that people aren't sure whether that's the right thing to do. Sometimes it really is better to stop and think; and a time management practice that inhibits reflection may ultimately turn out to be a handicap.

Perhaps we should think of time management not as a best practice (which everyone needs all of the time) but as a kind of therapy (which many people need sometimes). In which case, it's not about getting everyone to adopt some standard technique, but having resources available to help people and teams when they experience a certain kind of stuckness. Sometimes true intelligence is knowing when you need help.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard,

    I think you may have misunderstood my reasons for tweeting about your previous post. Either way it is interesting to read your thoughts on time management techniques.