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How Busy Are You? - A Great Tip For Effective Time Management

Are you “time management obese?” With this one simple tip, Bob Selden suggests how to manage the “comfort food” of time management so that you can achieve your work goals and still enjoy the food!

You receive a phone call from the CEO who asks whether you’d be interested in taking on a special assignment. In this assignment you would report directly to the CEO and participate in making some of the important strategic decisions facing the company. This assignment would provide you personally with major growth and career opportunities. The offer has only one catch; because the assignment is only part time requiring about one day per week, you would have to do your present job in the remaining four days. Would you take the assignment?Before reading any further please answer “”Yes” or “No” – Would you take the assignment?

HBR (October 2002) reports that this question has been posed to hundreds of managers, most of whom believed that they already lacked the time to do their jobs properly. Yet, ninety nine percent of them take the assignment. Why?

Are these managers (and perhaps we could include ourselves):

  • Admitting that if the motivation were powerful enough, they could eliminate or do in much less time eight to ten hours worth of current activities each week without negative consequences?
  • Currently spending time performing unproductive, time wasting activities (that they could easily drop) to avoid or escape job related anxiety?Like the other 99% of managers, did you answer “Yes”?. If so, what activities that you currently do, could you eliminate or do less of to free up some of your time for the more important things you need to do?

As the HBR article points out, almost all managers escape some job-induced anxiety through a variety of unproductive, often unconscious, psychological mechanisms – rationalization, denial, blaming and so forth. One of the most costly is busyness; the escape into time consuming activities that managers find less threatening to perform (though much less productive) than the tough aspects of their jobs. I call these “comfort tasks” – comfort because they are generally mindless and easy to do. However, having done them, have we progressed any of the major tasks we need to achieve? The answer is almost certainly “No”. And like good food, “comfort tasks” make us feel good, but if we have too much, we feel bloated. The trick is to keep the comfort tasks to an enjoyable minimum and thus not become “time management obese”.

So, how do you reduce the amount of time spent on “comfort tasks”?The first step is to become aware of how much time each of us spends on these comfort tasks. Remember, for most of us, these comfort tasks are done unconsciously, so we need to find out what they are.

For the next week:

• Place a very bright post-it note somewhere visible with a large question: “Is this a comfort task?” (You will quickly learn to identify them because they are the things that you start to do when your mind wanders AND you find yourself not working on the required major goals, tasks or activities)

• Take a note of the things you do that are comfort tasks (i.e. they are not progressing your major goals or activities)During the following week:

• Make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of time you spend on identified comfort tasks.

• Keep in mind, that some time spent is ok (and healthy), but overdoing it is overdosing!In the future, should you find your mind wanderingFeature Articles, remember the “comfort task” trick and get back on track. This simple technique is bound to free up some of your time to focus on the really important things either within your job or private life.

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Bob Selden, of the National Learning Institute, has previously taught time management techniques to managers with varying degrees of success. Over the years, he has found this one simple technique outperforms all others. If you have another time management idea that you’d like to share with Bob, or pose him a question regarding time management, he can be contacted via

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