Time Redesign

Attacking Five Common Enemies of Efficiency

Part 1 of this Week-Ender series (“The Science of Time Management”) drew the distinction between controllable and uncontrollable aspects of our existence. Readers can review my recommendations for making deliberate choices that maximize control and happiness here.

What are your time-management obstacles?

But what happens when we intend to make a choice — such as mowing the lawn before watching the game on TV, or cleaning out the closet before shopping for new clothes — and we fail? What does that say about us? We may feel guilty, but that feeling doesn’t tell us what went wrong.

In Part 2 of this series, I review five common enemies of efficiency, along with realistic solutions.

We all procrastinate, but you’ll notice that procrastination is not on my list of obstacles. Why should it be? Procrastination is just a synonym for inefficiency. It doesn’t help us understand why we didn’t complete the intended task.

Remember, when you procrastinate, you are performing a task. You just aren’t performing the task that some part of you thinks you should do. Procrastination is not an obstacle; it’s a description of what happens when we encounter obstacles to good time management.

The central question is: Why do we intend to do A but end up doing B instead? Here are the answers.

Obstacle #1: ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

The biggest obstacle to improving time management is neurogenetic. People with ADHD have a disconnect between their knowledge of skills and their ability to perform those skills. In other words, they know what they need to do.

They say things such as “I just have to write a to-do list” or “I just need to get organized.” However, they cannot perform these necessary time-management strategies because they cannot sustain goal-directed behavior. (Sustaining goal-directed behavior is the essence of what are called “executive function skills.”)

Someone with true ADHD might look as if he is not trying, but he is. He lacks the capacity to self-regulate in a planful manner.

If you feel that you have a chronic inability to sustain goal-directed behavior, then you should get an evaluation with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of ADHD.

A combination of medication and behavior therapy effectively alleviates the most significant symptoms of ADHD in 80 percent of those with the disorder.

Obstacle #2: Old Habits

It is true that old habits die hard. Your established behavior patterns have built-in reinforcements. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have lasted, right?)

It takes humility and serious introspection to figure out what has been reinforcing an old habit that you don’t like. In most cases, you’ll discover a short-term reward that is thwarting a long-term goal.

For example, it may be fun to watch Netflix now but that pile of bills and mail will be even larger later.

Establishing new habits, such as standing over the recycling bin with today’s mail, will take time to sink in. Most new habits are uncomfortable and unrewarding at first.

We experience this as effort. Therefore, we have to push ourselves to behave in a new way. Over time, the new habits become rewarding and are easy to maintain. The commitment is always heaviest at the start.

Obstacle #3: Priority Perjury

If you keep calling something a priority but keep not doing it, then it’s not really a priority. You are lying to yourself to serve some secondary purpose, such as postponing the guilt that might go along with jettisoning a pet project or making yourself feel important by having important-sounding tasks on your to-do list.

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