The Productivity Institute

Personal Productivity Solutions to Leverage Your Impact


The Time Management Myth

By: Dr. Donald E. Wetmore

Having made more than 2,000 presentations on Time Management and Personal Productivity during the last thirty years, I have had the good fortune of counseling with thousands in their quest for increased results in their daily business and personal lives.

I frequently ask two questions during my presentations and they are posed to you now.

  1. “How many would like to say that each and every night, when they are going home from work, that they “got it all done”?”
  2. “How many can actually say that each and every night, when they are going home from work, that they “got it all done”?”

Typically, the answer to question #1 is unanimous. The silence to question #2 is most often deafening. Almost everyone says they “want to get it all done,” but when pressed, all but a handful reply that, in truth, they “don’t get it all done.”

Stress is caused in large part by differences between our expectations on the one level and reality at a lower level. This incongruity causes a disappointment and that disappointment breeds stress.

As a simple example, you have parked your car in the company lot at 8:00 a.m. You probably have an expectation that the car will still be there when the workday ends at 5:00 p.m. What if, at 5:00 p.m., you discover that your car has been “permanently borrowed” (stolen)? Might you be stressed at finding that your car missing? I should think so, because you had an expectation that the car would be there at 5:00 p.m., and reality fell short (it was not there) of that expectation and created a “mega-disappointment.”

Now, if at 5:00 p.m. you journey to the parking lot and locate your car exactly where you left it at 9:00 a.m., put the key in the ignition, and depart, you experience no stress over the event because expectation and reality are in line with one another, there is no disappointment.

Accordingly, most of us have an expectation that we are going to “get it all done” and a reality that we “don’t get it all done.” The result? “Industrial-strength” stress over these two competing assumptions. And it is a serious and pervasive condition. People everywhere are stressed out because they want to “get it all done,” when the truth is, they “don’t get it all done.”

The myth? It is the notion that we are going to “get it all done.” We never “get it all done” and even if somehow we could, there are 10,000 other things we could take on. You and I will leave undone far more than we ever do get done. We will only accomplish only a tiny fraction of what we “could have” done.

Our productive lives are like a sandy beach. Take one grain of sand and place it in the palm of your hand. Let that represent all that you accomplish in this life and let all the other billions of grains of sand represent what you “could have done.” You “could have” read a chapter in that book last night, you “could have” made those additional phone calls earlier this morning, you “could have” had pizza for lunch today, etc.

Our productivity is never measured by what we have left undone. We will always leave undone far more than we ever accomplish. Our productivity is measured only by what we do accomplish. But when the goal is to “get it all done,” we have a tendency to focus on the “quantity” to the loss of the “quality” and our productivity suffers.

It is instructive that when we go to the funeral home to pay our respects to a dear departed friend, the focus is always on what that person did in their lives, not what they did not do. We celebrate one another’s achievements and do not bemoan what they did not do. Yet, in our own lives many task themselves over what they are not doing, what they have not accomplished.

Shatter the myth. Stop focusing on what is not getting done. Direct your time each day to what is truly the most valuable use of your time to you in light of your commitments and responsibilities and life goals. Delight in and savor what you do accomplish, not what is left undone. The measurement of the success in your life depends on it.

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Dr. Donald E. Wetmore

Certified Executive Coach, Consultant and Trainer
Author, “Organizing Your Life” and “The Productivity Handbook”
Productivity Institute
Personal Productivity Solutions to Leverage Your Impact
127 Jefferson St.
Stratford, CT 06615
(203) 386-8062
(800) 969-3773
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