“Just” – The Enemy of Time Management

Time management, Awareness of time and Procrastination

Just.  It’s a word that can get us into a lot of trouble, stress and disappointment.  Beware of “just” if you want to improve your time management and reduce your procrastination.

I first became aware of the significance of the ‘just’ word when I was a teenager.  I heard some-one talking about how it can be used to reduce the significance of a request by a farmer to his wife (in the days before couples were partners in farm work).  A request like “Honey, while you are in town can you just pick up the six 20 kg bags of grass seed I ordered this morning”.  Or “Honey, could you just nip down to the back paddock and let the sheet into the next paddock (and this was in the era when you didn’t just hop onto your quad bike or ute).  Both jobs required a lot of extra time, and likely a change of clothes for the latter.

So over the years I have been very aware of the dangers of “just”-ing.

Dangers That Arise When We “Just” Ourselves

1.        “I will just knock out a blog post before breakfast”.  Yes, it may be do-able, especially if you’re only thinking about the writing – but all the ‘extra bits’ such as proof-reading, sourcing suitable graphics, loading it onto the website, sorting out formatting glitches etc. may make this an unrealistic goal.

This danger occurs when we fail to take account of the amount of time that the many necessary small tasks take, as part of a bigger whole.  Another example – preparing my ‘Everyday Mindfulness for Peace, Perspective and Productivity’ course.  Yesterday I told myself that I “just” needed to record the script I had prepared for one of the lessons, and then that lesson would be finished.  And when I actually went to do it, I ‘remembered’ or again became consciously aware of the steps – record it, with pen in hand, in order to edit the parts of the script that don’t flow, then record it again, and often again and again.  Then listen through to the recording while following the document in ‘review’ mode in MS Word and notating each ‘bloop’ that needs to be edited out, to send to my tech guy who does my editing for me.  Then when he sends it back to me, reviewing the work one final time.  All in all, quite a lengthy process.

This meant that the list of tasks I’d thought I’d get done yesterday was quite unrealistic which potentially sets me up for a day of feeling rushed and stressed trying to get these tasks done anyway, and disappointed at what I didn’t get done, rather than fully acknowledging and appreciating what I did get done.

2.       Unfortunately, this unhelpful little ‘mind trick’ can also go hand in hand with not having a very realistic sense of passing time.  I also have had the tendency to think “Oh, I need to be in town by 2.00 pm and so as long as I leave by 1.30 pm that will be fine”.  And I get absorbed in my work and keep on working until minutes before 1.30 pm without being very aware of the passing of time, and also having taken no account of the many small ‘just jobs’ related to getting ready for my meeting in town – which again leads to the potential for lots of wild rushing around in a ‘headless chook’ fashion, and lots of stress and self-berating.

3.       When “Just” leads into non-intentional activity, time-wasting and procrastination

Equally dangerous to good time-management is when we get unintentionally caught into activities that waste a lot of time, or that take us away from a more important task for long periods of time.  Prime suspects include “I’ll ‘just’ check my email” or “I’ll ‘just’ check Facebook (or substitute your preferred social media sites) or “I’ll ‘just’ spend a moment on my favourite computer game of the moment”.

Imagine if you had a friend and every time you made an arrangement to spend time with her, as soon as her phone rang, she’d say “I’ll just answer that, I won’t be a moment” and then spend as long on that call as you tend to spend on checking email, facebook or games, unintentionally.  You would probably have worked out pretty quickly that you can’t trust that friend’s word when they use that “just” word.  So how is it that each time we say “I’ll just” do one of these tasks, we still believe ourselves.  Derr…  Time to become very suspicious of that word, and of ourselves when we notice that word is operating!

A brilliant tip for “justing” and unrealistic estimates of how long things will take: Substitute smaller units of time

Daphne Oyserman of the University of Southern California, in her research, found that it is helpful to substitute smaller units of time – for example instead of thinking “I have 2 hours to get this task done” think “I have 120 minutes to get this task done”.  It is easy to see how this could be helpful – a 10 minute distraction that I let myself get caught up in within 120 minutes seems more significant than ‘just this little 10 minutes’ feels within 2 hours.  I’ve started to experiment with this and am finding it helpful – would love to hear about your experience if you decide to try it out.

When others “Just” us

It is also helpful to be on the lookout for when others “just” us.  “Could you just mind my children for the morning” (when you know that his or her ‘morning’ often stretches into the afternoon, or you know that his or her children are little terrors or very demanding).  Or, “Could you just help me to sort out this computer problem” (a real gamble – may be simple, but may take ages).

Of course there are many other skills that are necessary here, when others “just” us, such as being able to feel comfortable to say ‘no’, reflecting back the request with more of the details specified to more accurately reflect the scope of the request, and  being comfortable with negotiating quite specific parameters around our ‘yes’ when this is warranted.  But even ‘just’ being aware of our ‘justs’ can make a big difference.

So, you have been warned!  Beware the ‘just word’ and improve your time management.

Image credit: Dollarphotoclub.com

Please comment:

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).

Are there other instances where the ‘just’ word causes problems in your life?  If so we’d love it if you would share your examples.  And we’d also love to hear what you notice if you start to experiment with substituting smaller units of time, if you have a tendency to ‘just’.

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

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