Why it’s so hard to change habits?
Higher education leaders have heavy workloads and responsibilities that often cause them to work long days. It is common for leaders to attend conferences, participate in training, and read books and articles on time management but struggle to implement what they learn.
Most of them realize the value of prioritizing, setting daily goals, using project management tools, delegating, doing the most challenging tasks early, providing training to their staff to empower them to work more independently, and keeping themselves accountable, but they don’t do it.
Their struggle with time management is not caused by lack of knowledge but inability to change their behavior. They may be unaware of the reasons why they continue to repeat old habits instead of implementing new practices, or they may understand their reasons but not know how to change.
Typically, they blame themselves for their lack of organization and self-discipline, or they blame other people for the interruptions they create, or both. They look at their situation from a highly pragmatic perspective and often feel discouraged or even stuck.
Time management is emotionally charged and the first step to making improvements is to deal with emotions. People don’t always know consciously what drives their decisions and behaviors. In a nutshell, individuals are programmed to do what they expect to bring pleasure and avoid what they expect to create pain. This evaluation of pleasure and pain is rarely conscious and is highly subjective, as it is based on the person’s past experiences, beliefs, fears, and needs. Here are some common unconscious obstacles to effective time management.
1. Seeking perfection
Seeking perfection will cause managers to spend an excessive amount of time on each project. They may attach too much importance to small details that no one else will notice. They might check their work too many times, start doubting themselves, and add complexity that doesn’t bring more value. The unnecessary time spent perfecting one task will be sorely missing for another task, creating unwarranted delays. Seeking perfection can also increase pressure, inflate the level of difficulty perceived, and cause procrastination.
2. Needing control
Some people have a strong need to feel in control and are reluctant to delegate because they believe the best way to get something done correctly is to do it themselves. Instead of using their human resources strategically, they take responsibility for more tasks than they can handle. They will create delays and even bottlenecks when they micromanage their staff and insist on reviewing other people’s work. They may also over-complicate projects by requesting modifications that are their personal preferences but don’t objectively add value to the tasks.
3. Task avoidance
Managers are likely to keep themselves busy with comfortable tasks and procrastinate on an intimidating one such as writing a report. Avoidance can be caused by various reasons including (1) too much pain perceived in completing the task, (2) lack of intrinsic motivation and interest in the task, (3) lack of external pressure to complete the task, (4) rationalizing why it is acceptable to wait, (5) attaching more importance to other tasks than this one, (6) focusing on what is urgent rather than important, (7) being intimidated by the size of the task instead of tackling it in manageable chunks, (8) not feeling creative or energetic enough and choosing easier tasks instead, or (9) choosing a task that meets the individual’s emotional needs (e.g. meetings or phone calls to meet the need for interaction and connection or answering e-mails for instant gratification and sense of being productive).
4. Fear of failure
Lacking confidence in one’s ability to successfully complete a project will create fear and procrastination. The intimidating project will be pushed to the last minute, creating more stress and pressure. This pattern is common for people who (1) worry too much about how they are perceived and tend to focus more on criticism than service to others, (2) are new at their jobs and don’t feel competent enough, informed enough, or prepared enough to complete the tasks successfully, (3) have a critical supervisor who is very difficult to please, (4) exaggerate in their minds what is at stake and create unjustified anxiety, (5) work in an environment that is unsupportive and feels unsafe, or (6) have been treated poorly in the past and still carry the fear of being criticized or punished, even if their current work environment is healthy.