November 23, 2014

Source: Shutterstock

Someone must have noticed that I waste a lot of my time, because I received today, through the Internet, an offer of a new method of something called personal time management. The new method was necessary, apparently, because the old methods “€œno longer work in a networked business world that never stands still.”€ 

I was not aware until now that I had ever managed my time. Every day I think of what needs urgently to be done and then do something else, like a mouse confronted by a cat. This is not quite as foolish or inefficient as it sounds, for eventually the urgent thing becomes so urgent that it concentrates my mind wonderfully (like hanging in a fortnight, according to Doctor Johnson), and then I work at maximal speed and brainpower. 

The new method on offer would allow me to “€œidentify and switch off personal stress causes and time thieves,”€ “€œre-organise my daily work according to my personality,”€ “€œefficiently prioritise tasks and delegate if needed,”€ and “€œget back on top form with successful self-management.”€ 

Ah, top form, what is it in my case? I haven”€™t a clue, unless it were the absence of the low back pain from which I sometimes suffer. And is the self an entity that can or ought to be managed? Surely the self and its manager in this case are one and the same. Or must I appeal to my inner department of human resources?

“€œSurely the self and its manager in this case are one and the same. Or must I appeal to my inner department of human resources?”€ 

“€œEfficiently prioritise”€“€”what a beautiful phrase! Poetic, don”€™t you think? As for switching off my personal stress causes and time thieves, I am reminded of a remark made by a professor of medicine, who said, when the British government decided to promote something it called clinical governance: “€œThis is a phrase that is untranslatable into any other language, including English.”€ 

There must be a market for this kind of thing, I suppose; otherwise it wouldn”€™t exist. In fact I know it exists because airport bookstands are full of it, and have been ever since I started to frequent airports almost 50 years ago. Calls to efficiency are like calls to virtue: they are perpetually necessary because man is a fallen creature who fritters away his time and does not prioritize properly. Surely the reflection of Richard II, that “€œI wasted time, and now doth time waste me,”€ is true of the vast majority of us. As for management books, they recall another of Richard’s reflections:

Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot

Unlikely wonders …

If you need to read books about how to be a successful businessman, you will never be a successful businessman. The entire genre is bogus, the modern equivalent of 19th-century patent medicine. 

From curiosity I looked up time management on the Internet. This, I suppose, was a waste of time, and indeed the first site I found confirmed it. “€œChances are good,”€ it said, “€œthat, at some time in your life, you”€™ve taken a time management class, read about it in books, and tried to use an electronic or paper-based day planner to organize, prioritize and schedule your day. “€˜Why with this knowledge and these gadgets,”€™ you may ask, “€˜do I still feel like I can”€™t get everything done I need to?”€™”€

You might think that more than one answer was possible: if, for example, I imagine that I need to read every book ever published, no system of organization on my part is going to help me meet this need. But the author, with the superb confidence of the practiced charlatan, says:

The answer is simple. Everything you ever learned about managing time is a complete waste of time because it doesn”€™t work. But do not despair. Help is at hand:

The good news is that real time is mental. It exists between your ears. You create it. Anything you create, you can manage. It’s time to remove any self-sabotage or self-limitation you have around “€œnot having enough time,”€ or today not being “€œthe right time”€ to … manage your business properly.

So what should you do with your time?

There are only three ways to spend time: thoughts, conversations and actions. Regardless of the kind of business you own, your work will be composed of those three items.

This seems to be a somewhat restricted list, unless the word action is used in so wide a sense that the sentence becomes even more vacuous than at first reading. Among the “€œtips”€ on time management that really work”€”by contrast, presumably, to Everything you ever learned about managing time [that is] is a complete waste of time because it doesn”€™t work (what on earth could that have been, one wonders?)”€”is the following:

Plan to spend at least 50 per cent of your time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of your results.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!