The science of productivity: why you should stop managing time

5 min read

Odds are good that you are only going to read the first paragraph of this post.

Something else will get your attention. A task you are supposed to complete. A call. Or maybe a meeting you are planning.

The bottom line is; you are too busy for yet another article on productivity. You could use the time for more important things, right? Wrong.

If you are too busy to read this, you should probably read it twice.

Still here? Congrats.

Let’s dive in.


If you ever feel that you never get much done despite your best efforts, it’s probably because you are going about productivity the wrong way – trying to manage time.

You can’t manage time. You can only manage yourself relative to time. Now that’s not just a contrived phrase I’m trying to beat you over the head with. Let me explain:

Time exists in two dimensions. The clock time and the real time. Deb Percival writing for Entrepreneur explains it better than I could have:

“In clock time, there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. All time passes equally.

In real time, all time is relative. Time flies or drags depending on what you’re doing. Two hours at the department of motor vehicles can feel like 12 years. And yet our 12-year-old children seem to have grown up in only two hours.”

In simpler terms; two hours spent watching the champions league final feels like a few seconds, but two hours in a Third Mainland Bridge traffic feels like an eternity. Now it’s the same two hours, but your mind processed them differently based on what you were doing.

You could try to manage the hours, or you could instead try to manage yourself to get the most out of the time you have.

Below, I’ll list six actionable tips you can begin to apply right away to do more with the 24 hours:

1: Put time to things

The longest-standing productivity tip is to “create a to-do list”. So start from there, but don’t stop there. When you create a list of things to do, put a time to them. Putting a clear deadline to an item on your list provides a limitation and will keep you laser-focused on your task. Limitations have been known to make us more creative and focused.

You will want to be realistic with your time, however. We often try to pack more tasks into a short amount of time, packing more pressure on ourselves in the process. Truth is, you are not a robot and there is only so much you can do in an inflexible amount of time (you can’t stretch the hours).

2: Always start with your goal (and keep it in mind)

“When you’ve made your point, stop talking.” I’m not sure where I first heard that quote, but I’m sure it’s not from my High School debate instructor.

The age-old wisdom helps in driving home this productivity point.

Before you start any task, spell out what you seek to achieve. Don’t stop until you’ve achieved the goal. And immediately you’ve achieved it, move on to something else.

Before any meeting or call (or anything else you do in your workplace) start with a picture of what success looks like and stop working immediately you’ve achieved that success.

3: Use a “do not disturb” sign if you have to

This explains itself. If you absolutely don’t want to be interrupted when in your zone, use a “do no disturb sign” and keep your productive window protected.

4: Block out social media and other distractions

Usually, I just turn on airplane mode on all my devices.

But if you can’t afford that, then turn off notifications on your devices.

While putting up a “do not disturb sign” is a great way to keep focused, it’ll come to naught if you are distracted by gadgets in your immediate space.

I can hear you ask, “how about distractions on my computer?” You can’t disconnect your PC from the internet because you need it to work, but if you can’t resist checking the baby pictures of your sister’s daughter cousin brother on Facebook, then install a plugin that can block social media. There are many of those online. I recommend Work Mode by Shreyas Tallamraju. Works for me.

5: Focus on your most important task

Some people believe this is the only productivity tip you will ever need. A lot of famous leaders and writers used this strategy. And it works because productivity is not getting more done in a day, but getting the most important things done. When you discipline yourself to clear out your most important tasks earlier in the day, you feel a better sense of accomplishment.

This idea is the cornerstone of Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog (which you should read, if you haven’t). According to him: “The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status and happiness in life.”

6: Delegate. Then delegate some more

If you look into your list of to-dos, you’d see there are tasks you don’t have to dive into yourself. Pick them off and hand them over to a trusted subordinate.

Yes, you are the only person that can do a good job with certain tasks. But no matter how much you try, you cannot do everything yourself. So, you’ll want to get comfortable with firing yourself every time from some work in your company and trusting other people to take ownership.

When you do this well, you will increase the morale and confidence of your employees. And more important: it will leave you time to work on truly important aspects of your company.

Have you used any of these tips to manage your productivity? How did it go? Let me know in the comments.

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Gbenga Onalaja

Gbenga Onalaja was the former Content Strategist at VConnect and He oversaw the VConnect Blog, an SME blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs start and run small businesses. He specializes in long-form content, email marketing, SEO, and reporting compelling brand stories. Follow him on Twitter @onalaja_

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