Why time management is ruining our lives
December 23, 2016 5:08 AM   Subscribe

All of our efforts to be more productive backfire – and only make us feel even busier and more stressed. [SLGuardian]
posted by forza (39 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Now you f---ing tell me.
posted by spitbull at 5:13 AM on December 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


This has absolved my creeping guilt over never being quite able to stick with any such productivity plan. Yay!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 AM on December 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


I saved this article to Pocket. At my current pace with my current queue I should get to it around 2021.
posted by srboisvert at 5:55 AM on December 23, 2016 [39 favorites]


At work, I write anything I need to do to a list and scratch it off when it's done. My personality is such that I really, really want to invest in some complicated organizational scheme, but sadly I have not found one that works better than my list. I have to redirect those tendencies to making the most perfect D&D DM binder.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:06 AM on December 23, 2016 [30 favorites]


Like most things in life, time management taken to excess is harmful. The article makes an excellent case that it's far too easy to be seduced by desires for efficiency and productivity without -- especially in our personal lives -- much examination of what the desired goals actually are, and what costs we're accruing. But, left to my own devices, I have pretty high inertia and the careful use of some time management strategies over the past year or so has led to marked increases in personal productivity when looking at outcomes like "arranged visiting friends in another city", "carved out time for frivolous hobby", "complete a few more serious hobby projects", etc. I'm sure it sounds daft but I'm really not kidding: increasing one's "productivity" can be an excellent thing given a bit of thought about the very real values of relaxation and play.

Nice to see that they address one of the big complaints about all the drives we see for "efficiency" in the NHS, which I'm sure it's true for all large organisations. Surely there are problems to be solved, but too often "cutting waste" means paring back resources such that a well-run department has just enough to keep up with typical demand, and so naturally any unexpected hitch or spike in demand can't be accommodated, and everything goes to shit until the magic combination of favours, luck, and acceptance of missed targets is met to restore balance. Any system where downtime is costly (in this case: lives and wellbeing of many people) absolutely must have "inefficient" slack and redundancies built in.

Which, now that I write it out, is also a fair description of what happens when I schedule my hobby and social plans up to capacity, in a bid to "make the most of my free time".
Instead, as the efficiency of housework increased, so did the standards of cleanliness and domestic order that society came to expect. Now that the living-room carpet could be kept perfectly clean, it had to be; now that clothes never needed to be grubby, grubbiness was all the more taboo.
Apparently I've been in the vanguard of a revolution all my life and never knew it. You're welcome, world.
posted by metaBugs at 6:07 AM on December 23, 2016 [32 favorites]


A similar problem afflicts any corporate cost-cutting exercise that focuses on maximising employees’ efficiency: the more of their hours that are put to productive use, the less available they will be to respond, on the spur of the moment, to critical new demands. For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.

This! I have seen the exact same argument made in the context of the electrical grid: increased efficiency makes the system more brittle and prone to surge-induced cascading failures.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:07 AM on December 23, 2016 [42 favorites]


Without reading the article, was going to say that this is "this isn't the answer either", but I see there's more good and funny stuff there which... I'll get to soon. FWIW, the only helpful thing on time management I've ever seen is from Le Carre's A Delicate Truth: If a decade of diplomatic life had taught Toby Bell one thing, it was to treat every crisis as normal and soluble.
posted by hawthorne at 6:13 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


This is what I've been saying this all along.
—a lazy person with a fear of lists.
posted by rodlymight at 6:22 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like – but eventually you’ll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren’t really about technology. They’re manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas.

I have a 3 year old, and at his preschool during their morning circle time they practice "setting an intention" and then go on to their "intentional play." Guided by the teacher they each take a moment to think about what they want to do, and how they will do it, and what tools they might need to do it. Then they get to 'work.'

I was so inspired by this. Having burned through endless articles of productivity tips, app recommendations, different approaches to various methods, the thing that really worked for me was meditating and setting specific intentions about the projects I'd work on and my goals. Everything I need to know about productivity, I learned from my 3 year old...

The personal dilemma for me, was working from home and seeking connection with others - so being on reddit or facebook or whatever all day - but then being disappointed in how little I achieved during the day. This created a sort of cognitive dissonance, a cycle of dissociating from my growing to-do list because of the pressure and self-blame, using social media as a bandaid for the lowered self-love, and then the to-do list grows. My daily meditation helps me to remember what decisions will result in being proud of myself, and intentionality helps me form the path to being proud of myself.

Now my allotted 30 minutes for tea and internet has ended, and it's time to begin!
posted by ramble_on_prose at 6:33 AM on December 23, 2016 [63 favorites]


I hate the modern cult of productivity, because we're more productive now than ever. In my work life, I do the work of at least three employees in an office from 50 years ago despite goofing off all the time. In my home life, machines have largely freed me from the drudgery of carrying water, making fires, washing dishes and clothes, so I probably have more free time than 99% of people who have ever lived. The reward for that should less worrying about Getting Stuff Done, not more.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:34 AM on December 23, 2016 [54 favorites]


So Frederick Taylor was fired by Bethlehem Steel in 1901 because his time study BS didn't actually work, yet I was still learning how to do time studies in college in the 1980s.
posted by COD at 6:36 AM on December 23, 2016 [23 favorites]


a text editor that deletes the words you have written if you don’t keep typing fast enough.

I was describing the shuddering horror of the life that awaits me in the next world where I pay for my wicked sins. After the screaming subsided I noticed everything I wrote was deleted, and ramble_on_prose was at the top of the screen.
posted by adept256 at 6:56 AM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Most of my time management skills have been culled from forums like this which are dominated by habitual procrastinators. My wife is amazing at time management, she's never heard of Metafilter.
posted by any major dude at 7:26 AM on December 23, 2016 [29 favorites]


Laziness, luck, and privilege have worked better for me than any productivity system ever could. I'm not proud of this, but I am grateful.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:29 AM on December 23, 2016 [17 favorites]


Any time I see enterprise productivity suites and team meetings and mandatory off-site events and such, I shudder. I could get things done in 1/2 the time and do better work if it wasn't constantly interrupted with progress reports, boss meetings, team meetings, evaluations, time/productivity sheets, various hovering managers, etc.

Doesn't Google still have the "20% of your time is your own for any project you would like" ethos? Always admired that one....
posted by CrowGoat at 7:30 AM on December 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


A similar problem afflicts any corporate cost-cutting exercise that focuses on maximising employees’ efficiency: the more of their hours that are put to productive use, the less available they will be to respond, on the spur of the moment, to critical new demands. For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.

A point most excellently illustrated in Eli Goldratt's Goldratt's workplace novel The Goal.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:05 AM on December 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.

That's why firemen sit around most of the time. The faster and more reliable the response needs to be, the more slack you have to build in.
posted by clawsoon at 8:13 AM on December 23, 2016 [22 favorites]


[clearly I didn't have enough slack time for proofreading my post above]
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:29 AM on December 23, 2016


The faster and more reliable the response needs to be, the more slack you have to build in.

Counterpoint: me. I'm built of slack, and yet...
posted by maxwelton at 9:05 AM on December 23, 2016


I used to worry about stuff like this, but then my whole summer got sidetracked by Stage 4 cancer. Merlin Mann can stick his productivity plan right up his magical ass. Get a life.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:15 AM on December 23, 2016 [14 favorites]


As sympathetic as I am to the guy who said, "why should we have to justify life in terms of the economy? It makes no sense!” I have to think that the only way any of this changes is that people in charge of organizations realize that it's not just that the Taylorization of work makes people unhappy (because by and large they don't care about how their employees feel), but that it actually makes the organizations worse. Employees are exhausted and ineffective, things get missed or skipped because of time pressure, and even the slightest issue throws everything into chaos. It's honestly kind of baffling that we've thoroughly accepted the idea that stress makes people better at anything, because I know when I feel stressed is when I'm mostly likely to make a mistake or overlook an important bit of information.

As it stands, Taylorism is so conceptually popular that the article had to spend a bunch of its time pleading that we stop voluntarily introducing it into our life outside of work. I hope our society does manage to draw the line somewhere, because a life of ceaseless personal efficiency sounds utterly miserable to me.
posted by Copronymus at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


I was struck in the article about the parallels to financial budgets. If you never even examine your spending then you likely aren't going to ever be able to do a good job aligning it to your actual goals in life. But, if you pre-occupy yourself with tracking every expense to the penny and doing multiple reconciliations and cross-checks daily, you also aren't helping yourself. Like so many things in life, there are opportunities to check in, and good habits to be had, and ways you can take a good habit or idea and overdo it.

The best time management skill I've ever learned is pretty similar to what ramble_on_prose mentioned above. Being willing to set aside enough moments together to really consider the question "What do I care about?" and the follow-up question "What will I do about that?" So long as my daily actions approximate responses to those questions frequently enough, I'm satisfied.

The rest is just tools for getting there.
posted by meinvt at 9:39 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


The most - heck, the only - effective efficiency step I've ever taken was to eliminate as many tasks as possible from my "to do" list. Of course, as sandettie light vessel automatic mentions, laziness, luck, and privilege has helped a lot with that effort.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:39 AM on December 23, 2016


Doesn't Google still have the "20% of your time is your own for any project you would like" ethos? Always admired that one....

Apparently on the decline, according to the always reputable BusinessInsider.
posted by pwnguin at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2016


Over the years I have come to realize it's more about energy management than time management.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


As others have said, the act of writing things down and marking them off once accomplished is extremely effective. Spending a lot of time on the list itself, however, is a waste of time.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:29 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


The whole cult of Dave Allen/Getting Things Done, Stephen Covey, et al. have made this much more complicated than necessary. I've kept simple to-do lists for 35+ years. When I complete something, it's checked off. If not, I move it to another day. I've been using a simple Bullet Journal for the past four years, and it works well for me. Everything in one book: to-do lists, lists of all sorts, notes, sketches, addresses, etc. No fancy notebook is required, though I use a hardcover Leuchtturm, since I'm hard on my notebook. These are sturdy and have good paper. One lasts me a year or more, so the $19.50 is affordable.
posted by Sassenach at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


...during their morning circle time they practice "setting an intention" and then go on to their "intentional play." Guided by the teacher they each take a moment to think about what they want to do, and how they will do it, and what tools they might need to do it. Then they get to 'work.'

Good lord. That's approximately the exact opposite of "play."
posted by Thorzdad at 2:44 PM on December 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Thorzdad, sounds like there's a misunderstanding we can resolve. Why do you think a child communicating what they want to play, inviting friends, getting the toy(s) and then playing isn't anything like playing?
posted by ramble_on_prose at 3:15 PM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is what I've been saying this all along.
—a lazy person with a list of fears
posted by erattacorrige at 4:34 PM on December 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Why do you think a child communicating what they want to play, inviting friends, getting the toy(s) and then playing isn't anything like playing?

Possibly because play is inherently unstructured and improvisational. Making it prescriptive seems antithetical to the concept.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:37 PM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Possibly because play is inherently unstructured and improvisational. Making it prescriptive seems antithetical to the concept.
That's a rather narrow definition of play, no? Isn't a game of tag a form of play? And doesn't that have some structure? In fact, don't most things we play at have some structure?

And doesn't improvisation benefit from structure? Improvisational theater has "yes, and." Jazz has meter and harmonic progressions within which the players improvise. In fact, isn't it a common understanding that having some structure in place is what allows for the improvisation to happen?
posted by santry at 8:12 PM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


That's a rather narrow definition of play, no? Isn't a game of tag a form of play? And doesn't that have some structure? In fact, don't most things we play at have some structure?

If we want them to.

If.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:00 PM on December 23, 2016


Jazz has meter and harmonic progressions within which the players improvise. In fact, isn't it a common understanding that having some structure in place is what allows for the improvisation to happen?

Depends on whether one is avant-garde or mouldy fig.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:56 PM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


In fact, isn't it a common understanding that having some structure in place

Yes, but.

Children don't have a fully developed system of relating to other people. Having an artificial system of interaction imposed on them may be limiting.

Figuring out hard stuff, like how one relates to others, is... hard, and the process of figuring it out is important to intellectual and emotional development.

Structure is important in that it facilitates interactions, but rigid structures can stifle naturalistic relationship development between children (especially when inherent bias is involved; ime, kids nastiness to each other is heavily modulated by how nasty one of their parent is).
posted by porpoise at 2:14 AM on December 24, 2016


The fact that children don't come with this process fully formed is why I'm glad one 20 minute segment of these children's day is spent helping them learn to do it, personally. Development of these skills - learning to plan, learning to invite others (if they choose), thinking about the materials needed to make an XYZ (if that's what they choose) etc. - is valuable to me. Utter free form play has its place, and part of the day, but it's nice to see the way thinking ahead and planning have become a thing my kid can do, and as I said I've been inspired to take more time to think ahead about my day too. I believe these skills facilitate play and facilitate my work. It's nice to think all play should be a free form unplanned instinctual thing, but if the play a child chooses desires materials or participants, I think it's needlessly rigid to criticize it as subpar play on the basis that children are learning how to plan for that.
posted by ramble_on_prose at 5:22 AM on December 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


I personally wish my coworkers had been taught to spend five minutes thinking about what they need to do and what they need to do it before tackling a project.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:53 AM on December 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


The original comment Thorzdad replied to referred to "intentional play" as "work" and sounded a lot like a methodology for grooming future capitalist participants. From what the media tells us kids are over-scheduled and over-structured these days. This may or may not actually be the case, of course, but when "letting your kids bike around the neighborhood" has become "radical free-range parenting" it seems like unstructured play (or at least activities which help kids develop autonomy) is maybe in short supply.

Of course, IANAP, so take this with a jar of salt.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:11 AM on December 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I assumed it was intended as satire but these days, who knows. As for all this productivity crap - the sooner we drop it the better. We don't need to optimise our workloads, we need the bosses to hire more people. Cheapskates.
posted by Acey at 9:47 AM on December 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Haaa, haaa, ha ha ha ha haha ha ha...   |   Homosexuality in Dutch debates on Islam and... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments