Time management techniques are meant to help you be more productive and have a better work-life balance. But guess what? Not all those time management techniques work all the time. So how can you be productive when your ability to manage time is hampered? These days it is the Internet that is interfering with time management more than anything else.

Time management techniques use diaries like this one

Five ways in which the Internet interferes with time management

Here are five things that happen to you when you use the Internet and how they impact upon your ability to manage time.

  1. Altered sense of time. Using the Internet appears to distort our sense of time. In studies where people have been asked to perform an online task and report how long it took them once they had finished, they regularly underestimate the time taken. What people believe took them “about five minutes” tends to last about 25 minutes.
  2. Repetitive working. People tend to do the same thing more than once when using online technologies. They read an email. Then go back to it some hours later to read it again and deal with it. Or people visit a web page, save it as a bookmark and then go back on another date to read it again. The Internet encourages “double work”.
  3. Poor searching. Around one in three people who search for something never click on any of the results provided. They realize that these search results are not what they wanted and so revisit their search engine again to search for different words. Even when a search result is clicked on, around 80% of people revisit the search engine to perform another search as they were not satisfied with the results. Repetitive searching due to poor search behaviour is estimated to be taking most people an hour each day.
  4. Lack of concentration. The Internet is one of the main providers of “sensory overload”. This can happen when our senses just find it difficult to cope with any more input. Sensory overload can lead to a range of symptoms including irritability, restlessness and poor sleep. However, one of the main effects is a difficulty to concentrate. The more you use the Internet the less capable you become at concentrating on your work, plus it hampers your ability to remember things.
  5. Sleep deprivation. Internet users are frequently sleep-deprived. Often they are checking for messages late at night, which can make the brain’s timing mechanisms prevent the start of sleep. When sleep does come, it is generally poor quality and the next day the Internet user is too tired to pay proper attention to things or to make good decisions.

Why time management techniques won’t work

Time management techniques include the need to set priorities and to timetable activities. However, when the impact of the Internet is taken into consideration this is not always easy. For a start, the effects of sleep deprivation and lack of concentration caused by sensory overload mean that it can be difficult to set priorities. As a result, people are prioritizing things without much in-depth thought, which in turn means that some things may be inaccurately prioritized, inevitably messing up the time management plan.

Timetables also face pressure when people underestimate the amount of time taken to complete online tasks. It’s no good having a neatly laid out diary or online calendar if the Internet tasks you undertake then interfere with your timetable. Indeed, that appears to be leading to another phenomenon of the Internet – constantly re-timetabling.

Trend data from Google shows that we are twice as interested in the concept of managing time now than we were at the beginning of the 21st Century.

That suggests that more people are beginning to realize that their time management efforts are not working, or that they need to find out how to manage time better because their day never really works out as planned.

The way we use the Internet is at the heart of this issue.

Coping when time management techniques do not work is not about finding some kind of time management app (another popular search) or taking yet another time management training course or watching another YouTube video on the topic. Instead, coping starts with understanding our personal motivations for the way we use the Internet.

How do you use the Internet and is it hurting time management techniques?

Consider the person who is sleep deprived and who cannot pay attention or make good decisions at work. They are sleep deprived because they suffer from “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO). As a result, they keep checking and re-checking “just in case”. This FOMO behaviour is because they do not have a routine. If you create a habit of checking social media, for instance, at the same time every day, your brain doesn’t know when it will get its next “fix” so it constantly prompts you to check. You don’t get such prompts to clean your teeth, because your brain knows you have a lifetime habit of doing that first thing every morning and last thing at night. You don’t have a fear of missing out on toothpaste – and that’s because you have a habitual routine. If you do that for social media or email, FOMO disappears.

Another issue with attitudes to the way we use the Internet is assuming that search engines will find whatever we want, however, we search for it. That simply is not true. Search engines need you to be quite detailed with your search term. The algorithms are good but they are not psychic. Understanding that search engines are comparatively weak means you are more likely to use advanced search techniques which will ultimately save you time. If you continue in the false belief that search engines can find exactly what you want, then you will spend more time searching than you appreciate, impacting upon your time management.

Time management techniques require you to be relatively organized in the first place. The way we use the Internet and the impact of the technology on our behavior means that our ability to manage time is hampered, no matter which techniques you use. Only by getting to grips with the way we use the Internet will we be able to use time management techniques effectively in our digital world.