Memoirs of an Intern




Why is it so Difficult to Manage Time?

Abstract: If you understand how the human brain perceives time, you can use that to your power when planning out your work and managing your time. Time management is a skill that can never be perfected but two little psychological tricks may help a lot. 

Developing useful time management skills can have profound effects on both your personal and work life; meeting deadlines, producing higher quality work, operating with more efficiency in the workplace and stress management. “It never feels like there are enough hours in a day”, is a commonly shared sentiment. There are numerous time management strategies out there to help get more juice from that squeeze, but everyday people often still struggle to plan out their schedules effectively. Understanding how the human brain works, particularly, how it perceives time, will better help you approach time management. Here are a couple psychological tricks to help you overcome those work obstacles. 

A 2003 research journal titled “Temporal Construal” laid out evidence that the human mind struggles to manage time the more prolonged the timelines are.

Think of it like this: When beginning a project, the middle and end will always be further away in time than the initial steps. This means that your brain will think about them more abstractly and overlook potentially crucial details.

When the brain begins thinking about the future abstractly, two significant problems arise in planning. Firstly, people often underestimate all the various steps needed to reach a particular goal. Most tasks seem a lot simpler than they will turn out to be and therefore, less time is allocated to them. The second issue is that people often fail to anticipate variables outside of their specific work goal which will take up time. There will be emails that need to be addressed, co-workers that require help, and unexpected circumstances that effect deliverables.

Therefore time after time, goals take longer than initially expected. Despite how time effective and experienced you may be; frustration always arises around meeting work deadlines.

A 2004 study around “procrastination from the University of Belgium revealed the brain’s relation to aspects of upcoming tasks versus those farther in the future. If a projects focus can shift onto details of future work, the completion of the project feels less distant and more attainable. Therefore, one method to prevent procrastination is to look at your project as multiple mini-projects. Lay out all the small necessary tasks and build the foundation to accomplish the work.  

  • Create a task timeline and set reasonable deadlines- there are project management tools helpful in structuring time and team involvement- Trello is one example.
  • (When applicable) Bump up the project due-date.  This may increase the pressure but will force problem solving factors required to complete your work. 
  • Manage expectations- Occasionally- Adding 10% - 25% of the overall time budgeted to the due date may be the trick. This built-in padding provides people with comforting leeway when those unexpected emails, employees, and uncontrollable circumstances that do come up.

Time management is an active practice- the more we train ourselves to focus in on tasks the easier it gets. If all of this seems overwhelming- start small and try the Pomodoro technique. It’s a tried and true task timer method- the beauty of managing time is managing the time for breaks as well. We are only as good as our mentally restored selves.

Alex Gannes