BREGMAN P., The biggest myth in time management. Harvard Business Review, January 2012

Abstract

Brad* is as hard a worker as anyone I know. He’s not just busy, he’s keenly focused on getting the right things done. And it pays off — he is the largest single revenue generator at his well-known professional services firm.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Brad flew from Boston to Los Angeles with his family. He was going to work for the first few days and then relax with his family. During the flight, he decided not to use the plane’s internet access, choosing to talk and play with his children instead. A five-hour digital vacation.

When they landed, Brad turned on his BlackBerry and discovered that a crisis had developed while he was in the air and he had close to 500 email messages waiting for him.

So much for a digital vacation.

The truth is, we can’t ever really get away from it. There is no escaping the nonstop surge of email, text, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — and that’s just the technology-based stream. How can we ever catch up?

We can’t.

The idea that we can get it all done is the biggest myth in time management. There’s no way Brad can meaningfully go through all his email and there’s no way any of us are going to accomplish everything we want to get done.

Face it: You’re a limited resource.

Each day only has 24 hours and we can’t sustainably work through all of them.
On the one hand, that’s depressing. On the other hand, acknowledging it can be tremendously empowering. Once we admit that we aren’t going to get it all done, we’re in a much better position to make explicit choices about what we are going to do. Instead of letting things haphazardly fall through the cracks, we can intentionally push the unimportant things aside and focus our energy on the things that matter most.
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