Can time really be managed?
I’m not at all sure that it can. Unless you approach the speed of light or get too near a black hole, time doesnt speed up or slow down, and strictly speaking its direction is always and ineluctably towards ever greater entropy, or randomness – the diametric opposite of what time-management tools promise. Time management is a trope of course, a kind of flood defence we erect against the tidal wave of data to which knowledge workers in the connected economy are exposed. But like flood defences, the MS Outlook solution to digital time-management can only be temporary, because the tide of data continues to grow and sooner or later will cancel out the temporal gains we thought we’d made by managing our time a bit better.
I think we need a more radical rethink of our approach to work in the knowledge economy.
Instead of inventing tools to keep the ocean of data at bay, we need to learn to live with it – in fact to swim in it like fish. To do this we need a new skill: the ability to effortlessly sift through vast quantities of information, evaluate it, and extract the bits that are relevant to the job in hand. And I think the people who are best at this new skill are those who (at the risk of sounding a bit eastern/mystic) can empty their minds of all kinds of management clutter and let the sea of data flow through them.
In his book Getting Things Done David Allen puts it like this:
You can .. be faster, more responsive, more proactive, and more focused in knowledge work. You can think more effectively and manage the results with more ease and control… Before you can achieve any of that, though, you’ll need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind. And the way to do that.. is not by managing time, managing information, or managing priorities… The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any one point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions.
(Allen D, 2001)
In order to keep nothing on their mind knowledge workers need reliable, accessible external systems in which to store all their to-do lists, project plans, schedules and calendars – all the management clutter that would otherwise be filling up their head and stressing them out. And this is where network technologies come in, enabling workers to store their commitments, lists, plans and documents online, access them at any time, wherever they are, using mobile devices if they’re on the move, and share them with colleagues whenever they need to.
Allen D, 2003. Getting Things Done: How to achieve stress-free productivity. Piatkus, London