Is Time Management Really Ruining Our Lives?
Back in the day, before all the noise and smog of the industrial revolution, things were less complicated. You’d get up, sort the kids out, then pop off to work the fields—if you weren’t tending to things back home. A tad oversimplified? Maybe, but something along those lines.

The modern world, however, presents us with much more fluid societal roles and an endless stream of things to do—be it in business or in leisure. Problem is, there’s no time compensation to help us do them all. Our burdens increasingly eat into what little free time we have and leave us panicking about whether we can really afford those eight hours of sleep. Stress ensues.

And so, “time management” was devised — back in the 19th century actually — to help us with our inefficiency at multitasking. A means of quantifying all the things we have to do, working out their importance and scheduling them accordingly.



Some now argue that time management, in and of itself, could be exacerbating the issue of stress—highlighting a mounting to-do list which we feel inadequate to tackle. On the flip side, we might be making ourselves so super-efficient that one set of completed tasks is immediately replaced by new workload. But the counter-argument to this might be; “Sure. But only if you’re not managing your time management properly”.

Lack of time and its effect on stress

The upshot of having too much to do—at work or at home—is that we begin to feel overwhelmed, out of control and, ultimately, ill. So how important is it that we learn to manage our time better? A recent gov.uk survey on workplace stress found that up to 44% of those suffering stress symptoms listed ‘unmanageable workload’ as the main cause. Last year, this work-related stress translated into 12.5 million sick days, and the sectors said to be “feeling it” the most were public health, defence, and education. A tangible measure of the ever talked-about resource (people) stretch on our NHS and school systems [1].



And, though work’s not the be all and end all, if we’re squeezed here, then we’re sure to start feeling the pressure elsewhere too. The Physiological Society’s 2017 stress survey cited planning a wedding, the arrival of a new child and moving home as some of the biggest things that niggle at us into the wee hours. These aren’t new pressures, of course, but underpinned by longer working weeks and an environment full of distractions, they sap our remaining free time and leave us on our last nerve [2]. Not to mention savings, which we then feel pressured to work longer to recuperate.

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So how can we use time management effectively?

There’s another argument that time management ends up managing us—through obsessional list-checking, scheduling, and Googling; “how to manage my time”—and that may be. It may also be true that super-efficiency breeds more work. But that all comes down to how we use time management as a simple tool, and how rigidly we can remind ourselves that it’s there to hone productivity so that we can free up time for the things we really want to do.

The Journal of Educational Psychology found that student populations who mastered the art of prioritising their time felt more satisfied with their work and, most importantly, their lives at large [3]. And the majority of leading health bodies suggest employing some form of time management to reduce stress levels and stay healthy and happy.

So, where the Baby Boomer version of time management was about trying to have (and do) it all, perhaps the new version is more about revisiting what’s fundamental to our happiness and shelving the rest, so that we can enjoy life a bit more?

We could start by saying ‘No’ to the things we know we don’t have the capacity to take on—in work and in our personal lives. We could lower our standards a bit at home and, instead of cooking a dinner from scratch every night of the week, we could order a takeaway or treat ourselves to a cheap dinner. If we’ve got a hectic week we could try trimming the chores, if they’re not desperate, and see what happens. Nothing, probably! This isn’t to say that we should all become slobs but many of us could afford to be a bit easier on ourselves in at least one aspect of daily life.


So how can time management benefit us?

Learning to manage our time is a skill which allows us to re-order and prioritise any kind of task—in all areas of life—and it can help to:

●        Ease the feeling of being overwhelmed: When we have too much on our plate we start to lose focus—we’ve all experienced that whirring brain that just won’t seem to switch off. If we can organise our priorities it brings back clarity and gives the brain a place to focus, which is where real productivity begins.

●        Reward us by showing our progress: We all respond well to ticked boxes and crossed off tasks. It’s a real measure of the progress we’ve made and it drives motivation.

●        Give us back our control: Instead of drowning in a sea of demands, we can assess the importance of the things we need to get done and learn to push back—or save for a rainy day—those things which aren’t a priority. We’re no longer just blindly saying yes to everything, we’re taking charge of our time.

●        Shift us back into a healthy cycle of ‘work’ and rest: Ever crammed for exams? Pulled an all-nighter to get a project done? Better time management can allow us to draw a distinction between time for work (or tasks) and time for rest. And better rest leads to better productivity in the long-run.

So to answer the question; ‘Is time management really ruining our lives?’—well, probably not. It’s our inability to juggle modern demands which leads to stress and shortens lifespan. Time management is just a tool in the kit that can help us get better at dealing with those demands.

P.S. In case you're not sure about how good your own time management abilities are, we have a free, personalised test that you can take and finish in about 5 minutes, which can be found here.

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Sources:

[1] Understanding Stress Related to Time Management

[ref tool] How to manage and reduce stress
[ref tool] How Time Management Can Help Reduce Stress