Conventional time management often is ineffective in combating overload and reducing stress. Its focus on working more efficiently only leads us to take on even more tasks. A better approach is to reduce the number of tasks we take on in the first place, institute concrete principles for deciding what categories of things you won’t do, and create structures such as instituting a day when no meetings will be held.
A major source of stress for many is the pervasive feeling that there is never enough time. In response, many of us turn to time management. We try to squeeze hour-long meetings into half-hour sprints by being “more efficient” or we slot smaller tasks into gaps in our calendar to minimize unproductive time. And yet, paradoxically, time management often increases the stress we face instead of reducing it. As we become more efficient, we make room for even more tasks and feel even more pressure. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we are better served by attacking the root causes: the sheer volume of tasks, decisions, and distractions.
The move to remote work following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic provided an interesting natural experiment that illustrates the paradox of time management. More than three-quarters of people report that working from home saves them time, typically related to commuting and business travel, and about half of remote workers report that they are more productive.