Don’t manage time, manage goals

Susan Robison

Susan Robison instructing conference attendees on how to manage their workload, not their time, to complete tasks.

While you can’t actually manage time – because it operates independently of you — you can manage your goals, said Susan Robison, a psychologist and faculty development consultant with Professor DeStressor, during her 2009 TAA Conference session, “Time Management: Why You Don’t Need It, Can’t Do It Anyway – And What To Do Instead.”

“One of the things that the research on time management workshops show, is that they don’t work,” she said. “What happens to people emotionally is they come out of the workshops feeling absolutely overwhelmed by a thousand techniques they’re not going to do, and so they’re not going to manage their time any better.”

If you find that you don’t have enough time to do everything on your to do-list, said Robison, you may have too many goals: “What you really need to get under control are those goals. Learn to manage the control of the tasks or goals and how to sequence them, what to do, when to do it, and so on and so forth. Those are things you can control.”

Robison shares five things you can do to begin managing your goals:

  1. Anchor your tasks to a sense of meaning and purpose. “No more trivial tasks unless those trivial tasks are in support of things you are deeply, deeply moved by and want to do with your lives,” she said.
  2. Prioritize which tasks are worthy of your resources of time, talent, energy, and attention. “Although there are tasks we all have to do because they support what we want to do — such as filing your grades from the last semester — you should be spending most of your time doing things you choose to do and that are fun to do,” she said. “Develop a Dream Book or Wall to keep all of your goals parked so that you can pick and choose which ones get your attention and other resources. Procrastinate creatively so you can make time, energy, and space for professional activities, including research and writing. Plan backward and estimate time-to-completion more accurately.”
  3. Allocate tasks across units of time. Use tracking sheets to keep track of all your goals, not just writing, and apply the “strive for nine-or less rule” so that your to-do lists are realistic and achievable. “Here’s how the strive for nine-or-less rule works: You choose to do nine things a day. You decide which nine things by choosing three things that move your vision forward, three things that avert disaster (pay your bills, show up at a meeting your dean is going to be at), and three things you’re going to do to take care of yourself (your bedtime, your exercise routine, and what you’re going to eat, etc.). If you finish all nine of them, you get to start on tomorrow’s list. If your to-do list is all of the things you choose to do that day, you will get all of them done. I guarantee it.” Use the “focused 15” to develop work habits that lead to flow, engagement, and fun. Do this by making sure that each of the nine tasks are 15-minute segments of your important goals.
  4. Accounting for the results of the allocation. “Your accountability to yourself includes your tracking sheets, Dream Book, and Strive for Nine,” she said. “Your accountability to others includes finding a buddy to work with, a ‘Mastermind group’ (a whole group that reciprocally helps each other), or a Coach (a non-reciprocal relationship — someone who helps you either informally or someone you hire formally).”
  5. Build and broaden your resilience and happiness while you do the above things. “Resilience is your ability to handle stress,” she said. “If you don’t build in some credits, when the debits come along, you’re depleted. Some people live right at the edge of their threshold, and when something comes along, they flip out. The key to doing stress better is to actually purposely choose to stress yourself in ‘choiceful’ ways, so you can build your capacity for stress.”
About Kim Pawlak

Kim Pawlak is Director of Publishing & Operations for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). She has been writing about the textbook and academic authoring and publishing industry for 20 years.