Time Management is a System Failure – Not a Character Flaw

January 15, 2024

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If you’re struggling with time management, a critical thing to realize is that your time management struggles are not a character flaw – they’re just symptoms of you using a system you likely learned around middle school to manage your ever-more-complicated life. Let’s talk about it – and what to do about it. 

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Full Transcript

Episode 37. Time Management Isn’t Something You Naturally Just Know

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey hey, and welcome back! So today’s episode is a little less practical but very critical. Especially if you are someone who feels like you are struggling with time management right now, I really, really want you to listen to this and absorb it, truly absorb it because I think it will save you a lot of angst and stress and shame and so much more. It’s something that I really wish I could go back in time and tell past me when I was struggling with time management because, again, I think it would have saved me a lot of hassle, and it’s this. Time management is not something you should just naturally know how to do on your own.

Time Management Isn’t Inherently Known – 1:06

When I was struggling with time management, and I’ve shared this before, I felt pretty organized until I became a practicing attorney, and then suddenly I got really overwhelmed, and I spent a couple years there just feeling stretched way too thin. I didn’t like how I felt, and it really came down to time management. I understood that. I was like how I’m managing my time, where my time is going, how I’m doing all these tasks, how I’m managing all these cases, how I’m hitting all these deadlines, how I’m adulting from home and dealing with personal email and bills and all that, all of it feels like it’s too much, and I know that it comes back to my time management. I felt a lot of shame around that.

Underlying that shame is an assumption that I should have known how to do it on my own, just inherently. I should know how to manage all of that. And partly because everyone else seemed like they did. I remember feeling like I didn’t get this how-to-adult memo that everybody else seemed to have, and I beat myself up a lot internally for not knowing how to do all this stuff.

I think, sidenote, there’s an additional element as a woman because society kind of views women as being better organized and things like that, and I think that is wrong in a lot of ways because it leads to a woman taking on more of that admin-type stuff at work because of that assumption. But, setting that aside today, I do think that assumption also exacerbates a bit of the shame because, as a woman, you should be “more organized,” and so, when you’re not, there’s even more shame because the delta between expectations and reality is bigger, and so, we beat ourselves up even more which is great.

Where Our Current Time-Management Approaches Stem From – 2:48

So, today, I kind of want to examine where this assumption and our current time management approaches come from and then what we could do instead, because what I want you to do is just take a step back right now and identify kind of where are you managing your time and your tasks right now just high level and where did that system — because it is a system, it is a time-management approach — where did it come from?

Because, if you’re like past me, essentially what I did is, long story short, I had my events in a calendar. It was partly digital, partly a paper planner, and then I also had my tasks on, essentially, to-do lists. I had a lot of to-do lists on my desk at work and then a lot lived in my head at home. There were post-it notes and things like that. But in short, I was just capturing to-dos in somewhat of a list format, just writing them down, and they were scattered across lots of places. But in short, they were just a list format. They were not in my calendar for the most part. Maybe a couple here and there, but for the most part, my events lived in my calendar and my tasks lived on to-do lists.

Just to be really clear in this context, you could think of to-do lists as post-it notes (which I also had), phone notes apps (which I had going), my email inbox (I would email myself some things), a lot of things lived in just my head. So all of these types of things I think of as like kind of an umbrella term of to-do lists, even if they’re scattered across a lot of places. And so, where did we learn to do that? Where did that approach come from?

The Events on a Calendar and Tasks on a To-Do List System – 4:18

I don’t have a clear memory of being taught this, but my guess is, looking back, I think paper planners entered my own world maybe around middle school, that’s my guess. Maybe a little earlier, but it’s roughly around there. Essentially, that’s when I started using a paper planner, and I think I used the paper planner to also write a to-do list, but I wasn’t tying tasks to time. It was just like a list of to-dos in my paper planner along with my paper planner.

That is a system that many of us, including myself, use going forward. That, essentially, events in the calendar, tasks on a to-do list, or some form of a to-do list is what we used to carry us forward through the rest of high school, through college, through any grad school you have, and even into a career for a really long time. It’s that – events in the calendar, tasks on a to-do list.

So in short, that system works for a lot of people and for a really long time. It has legs. It has traction, and so, that’s great, and I don’t want to diminish that at all. The tricky part is when that system stops giving you the clarity and that organized feeling and the confidence around your time that it used to. What I want you to think about is how different our life is from basically that middle school life through, as long as it worked for you, to now. And for some people, you fall off earlier than others in terms of the system serving you, so you can kind of think of the last place it worked for you. But I want to even just go back to middle school.

Let’s look at middle school. We learn this paper planner approach, to-do list approach, and our life then was far more simple. I wouldn’t say it was easy. I found middle school challenging socially and things like that, but it was a more simple life. You have a set number of classes. You have a set amount of homework. On the whole, usually, adults are overseeing the amount of homework you have and the amount of work you have so it’s relatively manageable. You have sports that you sign up for. People drive you to and from all your sports. People cook you meals. Maybe you do your own laundry; maybe someone does it for you. Maybe you clean your room; maybe someone reminds you to do those things for you. You’re not paying bills. You’re not managing your finances in a serious way. Yes, you’re managing your friendships and your social life. But that’s pretty much it, typically. Again, it’s not an easy life always, but it’s a relatively simple life. There’s just less on your plate.

Our Adult Plate – 6:38

I kind of want you to think about the middle school plate of things you have and just adding things onto this. Since then, as you become an adult, you add a lot more onto that plate.

You have to take care of your own body, which means you have to feed it, you have to move it, you have to go to medical appointments. If you have medical complications, which become more frequent as you get older, you have to deal with those.

You typically have a home, so you might pay rent or a mortgage. You pay your bills. You fix things around the house. You decorate to make it a home for you, and so much more.

You manage your finances, everything from standard bank accounts to investments to 401ks and all that kind of stuff.

You have a whole career that you’re juggling that takes up the bulk of your awake hours. Then you’re dealing with internal things like being on committees and doing performance reviews and then the substantive work itself like managing teams and clients and projects and deadlines and patients and all those types of things.

If you have a pet, you’re managing that. You’re feeding them, you’re walking them, you’re taking them to vet appointments.

If you have kids, you’re feeding them, clothing them, dealing with medical needs, figuring out schools, figuring out camps for the summer, figuring out childcare, figuring out coverage and care when the kid is sick, managing their friendships, managing their extracurriculars, helping them with their homework, and so much more.

And then you have your own friendships. You’re not seeing your friends like you did every day in middle school or high school or college, so you have to follow up with them and stay on top of that if you want those friendships that fill us up in so many ways.

So you can just see all the things that get added to our plate since we, likely, first learned the system that a lot of us are continuing to use into our ever more complicated adult life. There is just so much that we’re juggling that it almost feels crazy to expect a system that we learned in middle school to help us as a modern, professional, working woman manage it all.

In some ways, I want you to think of it like having a little kid bike. I have a five-year-old. It’s like a little kid bike like that. It’s small. It’s relatively simple. It’s designed for kids. It’s great. And when a kid is small, that bike works awesome. You cruise around. It’s a smooth ride. The kid has a lot of control. It’s great. But as more and more is added to it like we’re talking about, the weight that it’s carrying becomes heavier. The load itself is wider and taller, and in addition, you suddenly need to bike up mountains and hills and go down valleys and so much more.

And so, suddenly that little kid bike, the wheels are overworked. They’re overtired. You might get a flat tire. The ride is not smooth. You can’t start and stop in the ways that you want to. You can’t even turn in the ways that you’re used to. You might have a breakdown. Things are falling off because it’s a bumpy ride and you can’t hold it all while you’re on this little bike. It just stops working. And what’s hard about it is, from a time-management perspective, I feel like the person riding the bike, the solution that they see is just to blame themselves like, “Why can’t I hold all of this onto this little kid bike and keep going up and down all these mountains?” Instead, we need to trade in the bike for one that’s designed for an adult to go up and down mountains, to hold a lot more, that has shock absorbers, and so much more.

Misdiagnosing The Time Management Issue – 9:54

My point is, here, that when we struggle with time management, I truly believe we are misdiagnosing the issue. We blame ourselves. We view it as some sort of, essentially, character flaw with us, that we’re no longer able to do this. We don’t recognize it for the system failure that it is. That’s important, both from how we talk to ourselves internally, but it’s also really important for the problem we’re trying to solve, kind of like the person on a bike analogy I was just trying to use. I’m not great with analogies, so I’m sorry if that was hard. The person riding the bike can’t just beat themselves up like, “If I just worked harder. If I just tried harder. If I just had more discipline this would work.” It’s not gonna work. Instead, we have to stop solving as if the problem is us, and instead start recognizing that the problem is the system (it’s the bike), and if we can just fix the bike in the system and trade it in, then that’s where the solution comes from.

That is something I did not appreciate for years as an overwhelmed, young attorney, and once I did, once I accepted, “This is just my life now. I need a system that can keep up with it. It’s not my fault. I need to look outside of myself,” that’s when everything changed for me.

So I hope it clicks for you too! I hope you decide, whether you want to work with me or someone else, that you upgrade your system, you upgrade your bike so it can keep up with this new, complicated life that’s wonderful but is more complicated than the life that you had when you learned the system you’re likely using.

Join The Bright Method Program – 11:30

And if my time management approach that you’ve listened to up until now in this podcast resonates with you, and you would like my help, and you want your new system taking you off and running by spring of this year, which will be here before we know it given the clip that life is going, I would love to work with you!

My next program closes for enrollment this Thursday, January 18th. It will run from later in January (January 25th) through mid-March, and I won’t run it again until late September of 2024. So there’s just a break in there. So if you want to learn it, jump in now! You can learn all about it at www.kellynolan.com/bright. You’re also welcome to email me any questions at ke***@ke********.com, and I hope to see you in there!

I really would love to help you trade in your system for a time management system that’s designed for professional working women and can keep up with their life, because life has a way of just getting more complicated, not less, and you need a system that can keep up with your life. 

So jump in now! Let me know if you have any questions and thank you for being here. I’ll catch you in the next episode!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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