Why does it seem so difficult to manage our time well?
You know this: You’re late. You’re still sitting in this meeting, it’s overrunning, it should have ended like 10 minutes ago, but the discussion is still going on. Finally, the end.
You arrive at your next appointment 20 minutes late. You say: “I’m so sorry, they just couldn’t find an end. How I dread these never ending discussions.”
Now let us stop here and take a closer look.
How tightly did you schedule your appointments?
How did you contribute to the discussion so that it overran? How did you not contribute so that it overran?
How much did you care about the following appointment?
We rarely say “I didn’t manage the meeting well so it overran.” or “Our appointment has lower priority so I don’t mind being late.”
Why don’t we say this? Because we don’t want to admit those kind of truths, definitely not to others and often not even to ourselves.
We have a certain image about ourselves. Everything we name after “I am” is part of this self image. Everything after “I should be” also. And everything we name after “I’ll never”.
It took us quite some effort to built this self image, this “I”. It still takes quite some effort to be who we think we are, to conform to this image, doesn’t it.
That’s where self deception comes in.
“One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others of that truth” (Wikipedia on self-deception). Or as Robert Trivers (evolutionary biologist, sociobiologist) describes self deception: “Hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply from others.”
Images we hold dearly about ourselves give us an (often) existential sense of security and safety. We (try to) manifest those images by making others believe in them. The self image drives our behavior mostly unconsciously.
To stay with the example of running late. Potential self images keeping us running late might sound like: I’m able to manage it; I’m fast; This shouldn’t take that long; I don’t need to prepare; I can complete all these to-dos in one day; My time management would work if it weren’t for the other people.
I’m sure you can add some more :)
To maintain our self image we built stories around it. We make ourselves believe in what we want to believe. Most of the time the stories involve that we are the ‘good’ one and the others are the ‘bad’ ones. After all, everything we exclude from self image and yet still experience has to have an explanation. Since it’s definitely not us it has to be the everyone else.
Let me give some options on how we could deal with overrunning meetings if self deception didn’t hinder us:
- Scheduling appointments realistically; by now we all have learned how long tasks take. It’s our claim and pretense that they shouldn’t (!) take that long that lets us wrongly schedule tasks and meetings.
- Leaving a meeting when it overruns. Rude? Maybe, maybe not; isn’t it rude to let a meeting overrun in the first place?
- Addressing and managing the potential overrun; we have the option and skills to do that.
- Taking the responsibility for being late.
There’s a chance that thoughts are appearing on why all these options are not feasible. Listen to those thoughts. You might listen to self deception at work.
Think about the last few days.
What do you do to manage how others perceive you?
What do you tell yourself in order to be more convincing about the image you want others to have about you?