This week, I’m delighted to have a guest writer for the first time! Francis Wade is the author of the new book Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure, a charming novel about one man’s search to solve the puzzle of time management.
Perhaps the biggest discovery shared in my new book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure, is the idea that while we can’t actually manage time, we do manage “time demands.”
A time demand is simply an individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Bill, the book’s main character, discovers this distinction while struggling to improve his own time management skills. He’s under some pressure – a failure to improve his productivity will result in him joining the list of those to be laid off. Defining what a time demand is appears to be important, and during the book he comes up with the following characteristics:
1. Time demands are born in the mind of an individual who is prompted or triggered to do so by an internal or external event.
If there’s no trigger, then no time demand gets created. Some people can visit a library without it triggering a single time demand while others feel guilty even if they only drive by, believing that they should be reading more books.
2. When a time demand is created, the action to be taken is defined, as well as the time required and when it will commence. At the moment of its creation, the individual makes an estimate and stores it in their minds.
3. Time demands cannot be touched or seen – they are psychological creations. They are discrete, and finite in number.
4. Once the planned action is completed, they disappear. This is part of what’s known as the Zeigarnick Effect, named after the Russian researcher.
5. They have a particular, inescapable flow into and through our lives, moving from one “location” to another. Examples of locations include to-do lists, electronic calendars, email Inboxes, etc.
6. They have physical properties. When they are not managed well, they accumulate in the mind. When they ARE managed well, they leave the mind free, even if the total number is high.
This final point is worth repeating as it’s supported by research conducted by Zeigarnick in the 1920’s, and more recently by Masicampo and Baumeister. Essentially, they discovered that when a time demand is created and then assigned a specific start time, place and duration for completion it disappears as a source of distraction. In other words, when we make specific plans to complete time demands, they leave us alone to go on with our lives.
This makes sense and adds to our need to be able to observe time demands very clearly, and our role in creating them. It also helps us see what we should do in order to manage them if we truly want to attain peace of mind.
Most people, however, don’t see time demands but only see “stuff.” This leaves them in a state of overwhelm and confusion as it’s hard to manage “stuff.” For example, you may receive 500 pieces of email in a week, but they may yield only 5 actual time demands. The amount of stuff receive is a poor estimate of the number of time demands that your mind creates.
In the book, Bill shares his discovery of time demands with others, and eventually helps train his team members to see them. I am hoping that future generations will also receive this kind of instruction early in their lives so that some clarity can be created. It should change our relationship to information overload, and even help us see what’s important… making us less “stupid.”
This little idea of time demands is that important.