The 3 Obstacles to Productivity and Time Management
If time management feels like a continual challenge, it can be easy to think that this must simply be the way things are for you. Even those who are pretty good at time management often run into snags and challenges that create drag, and it can be tempting to think that this also is the way that some things just have to be.
But the good news is that there is hope. I think the main reason good time management can feel elusive is because we simply haven’t sat back to identify the causes of time management ineffectiveness.
When you bring clear definition to what causes your time management challenges, you can actually see a way forward in addressing them.
Julie Morgenstern, in her book Time Management from the Inside Out, helps us here by providing a “three-level diagnostic” that helps you zero in on the causes of your time management problems.
The Value of Identifying What’s Holding You Back
Here is how she introduces her diagnostic:
When people struggle to manage their time, they very often jump to the conclusion that they are internally flawed somehow, that they are born incompetent in this area of life. Or they throw their hands up in resignation, convinced that “out of control” is just how life is supposed to be in the modern world. Both of these perceptions are totally inaccurate and self-defeating.
Once you learn the skill of diagnosing time-management problems [emphasis mine], you will stop wasting time and energy beating yourself up or working yourself to exhaustion. You will simply run the problem through the following three-level diagnostic, accurately zero in on the cause, and get to work on the proper solution. Swift, clear, accurate. Now, that’s a time saver! (p. 19)
The Three-Level Diagnostic for Time Management Challenges
Morgenstern explains that there are actually three possible causes to our time management problems. Sometimes, of course, more than one are at play. But having these categories in mind helps us diagnose the cause so that we can actually see hope for a solution.
The three levels are (pp. 20 – 21):
- Technical errors
- External realities
- Psychological obstacles
By knowing these three levels, we can then know better where any inefficiencies are coming from and thus how to effectively address them.
These are easily resolved mechanical mistakes. You need a skill or a technique you don’t have… Once you understand these errors, you simply make the appropriate adjustments to your approach and you’re all set. Problem solved.
Technical mistakes are not always so easy to resolve — I think that there are a few involved right in the basic GTD methodology which I’ve been trying to resolve for years, and the path to identifying solutions was challenging.
But most of the time it is easy to make a few tweaks to our mechanical errors or inefficiencies. Often, the case is simply that we don’t know the process for managing a certain type of task or input most effectively. Once we learn that, the problem is solved. That is one of the things that this blog exists to help out with. And even the technical snags where solutions don’t come easy at least have the hope that there is a solution out there to be figured out.
External realities are “environmental factors that are actually beyond your control. You didn’t create them, and they put a limit on how organized you can be.”
It is nice to realize that some challenges, indeed, originate from outside of us! When it comes to external factors, we need to first stop blaming ourselves and then find a way to mitigate them through tactical system approaches and strategic mindsets (like “first things first,” and so forth) as effectively as we can.
Psychological obstacles are
hidden, internal forces that prevent you from achieving the life you desire. If you have conquered all of your technical errors and external realities and are still feeling out of control, it’s likely that you have a psychological force working against you.
In other words, sometimes we are our own worst enemies! But there is still hope here: “When you realize what’s causing certain self-sabotaging habits, you can begin to break free of their control.”
Applying the Three Levels
Applying this diagnostic is simple. “Each time you look at one of your time-management problems, as yourself, ‘Is my problem technical or external or psychological?’” You can then begin to address it based on the actual cause and come up with an appropriate solution.
Since it’s often a “combination of forces that create time management problems,” note that you need to “consider all three levels of errors and obstacles when diagnosing what is going wrong.” If you don’t do this, we might end up with a partial fix — for example, “you will remove the external reality that’s preventing you from accomplishing certain tasks but the psychological obstacles will remain.”
In sum, when you encounter obstacles in your time management — both persistent and occassional — don’t just accept it or immediately jump to a solution. First, identify the cause — is it technical, external, or psychological (or a combination)? Then, half the work of creating an effective solution will have been done, and the rest of the path will often illuminate itself.