I love a good time management system. I have drawers full of colourful highlighters, markers, and sticky notes. I have calendars where I can track my commitments and write lists. I have visual planners on my wall to keep me on top of everything. And I use none of them.
Beyond a mild addiction to office supplies, I’ve fallen in and out of love with about 10 different approaches to managing my time, all in the hope that one of them will magically mean I get everything done and can finally relax. All that these time management tricks have really done is sucked up my time and made me feel bad for failing to get the results I so desperately wanted. Time management techniques are touted as the solution to workplace stress, so it makes sense to use them. But while they can be useful tools for improving productivity, they may not give you the results you need when it comes to lowering stress levels. In fact, relying too heavily on time management techniques can sometimes intensify stress and lead to burnout.
One of the reasons why time management techniques may not always be effective in reducing your stress is they tend to focus on efficiency and productivity rather than wellbeing. While it's important to be efficient and productive at work, these goals shouldn't come at the expense of your physical and mental health. When you become too focused on maximizing your output at work, you may neglect other important aspects of your life, such as:
Another reason why time management techniques may not always work is because they don't take into account your unique needs and circumstances.
Time management techniques may also not be effective in reducing stress because they often involve prioritizing tasks based on their urgency or importance. While this can be a useful strategy for managing your workload, it can create a sense of pressure and anxiety when you have a long list of tasks that you need to complete urgently. Instead of focusing solely on urgency and importance, consider factors such as your energy level, your motivation, and your enjoyment of different tasks. You’ve been highly effective in your career so far, which points to the fact you likely already have strong time management practices. Case in point, adding to my time management regimen did not net me ANY gains, but it did ratchet up the pressure I was putting on myself, which is something to watch because that kind of pressure can lead to stress and possible burnout.
While time management techniques can be helpful tools for improving productivity (and a bit of fun to set up… what with all the new office supplies, coloured sticky notes and crisp planners), they may not lower your stress levels. To reduce stress at work, prioritize your wellbeing and individual needs by considering a more holistic approach to managing your time. Things that did work well to manage both my productivity and stress levels at work were prioritizing tasks, taking breaks, checking my expectations, holding boundaries with others and (when really stressed) deep breathing techniques. I also found focusing on activities that brought me joy and fulfillment away from work, as well as at work, helped a lot.
Ultimately, reducing stress requires empathy and self-compassion. If doing compassionate things for yourself at work is a struggle, consider asking for help from a career coach who can support your stress management, rather than focusing solely on time management.