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Jean Moroney – “You need a highly individualized scheduling infrastructure”

Jean Moroney, President of Thinking Directions, teaches managers and other professionals how to use targeted thinking to solve problems faster, make better decisions, and get projects finished. Ms. Moroney received a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from MIT and worked as a system engineer, project manager, and software consultant for 10 years. She has an MS in Psychology from Carnegie-Mellon and has been coaching and speaking on thinking skills since 1998.


1. Why does efficient time management make sense?

Moroney: “You only have so much time – and you have important things you want to do – both at home and at work. If you don’t use your time well, you don’t get the most important things done. That’s a prescription for regret.”

2. What is the biggest mistake impeding efficient time management?

Moroney: “Sometimes people think it’s all about following a particular system—the particular tools or programs you use for your calendar, “to do’s,” and project planning. But the real key is figuring out how to make the system work for you. That means changing the system to fit your life and/or changing your routines to incorporate the system. That’s where real change happens. Planning should take no more than say 5% of your time. It must not take up so much time that it interferes with getting top priorities done. To make planning your day and week that easy, you need a set of habits and procedures in place. That is what I call a scheduling infrastructure. The purpose of structure is to make the decision-making easier. By making high-level decisions about how you’re going to handle things, you don’t have to re-think every decision from scratch. Here’s is the basic infrastructure I believe you need for scheduling: A 15-30 minute planning session every day where you choose the day’s tasks. A reliable way to keep track of what you do during the day, so you can adapt your approach, as needed. An extra 30-minute planning session every week to choose weekly tasks and ensure they fit with your larger goals. The challenge in creating any infrastructure is that it has to be simple, easy to maintain, and worth every second you spend on it. That means it has to be highly individualized, based on your particular needs. An out-of-the-box standard solution might be a good place to start, but you will ultimately customize it.”

3. Where should I begin, if I want to keep my appointments better?

Moroney: “Where are you now? You begin from where you are. If you don’t keep a central calendar, that’s the first thing to do: get a calendar and start using it. If you have a calendar, but you aren’t using it regularly enough, you need to figure out when to look at your calendar so you won’t miss appointments. First thing in the morning? The night before? You need to figure out what works best for you. If you have a calendar and check it regularly, then your problem is a little more specialized. Why aren’t you keeping your appointments? That’s a question to ask—you might start keeping a record to figure out what the problem is. Once you know the problem, you can solve it.”

4. What are the basics for meeting all my deadlines?

Moroney: “This is a huge topic, and I’m not even sure I agree with the premise. Sometimes it simply is not possible to meet all your deadlines. You need to prioritize, because otherwise, by meeting a lesser deadline, you’ll put a more important one in jeopardy. With that caveat, here are the basics: a) Be hardheaded and realistic in setting deadlines in the first place. Do the best you can to give yourself enough time, given your other commitments. If there is not enough time, scale down the goal so it can be met in the available time. b) When you’ve finished an acceptable version of your report or project, stop tinkering and ship it. Then get started working on something else. c) Notice as soon as the schedule starts slipping, and adjust the task so you can fit it in the available time. The earlier you adjust, the better the result. (I call the process you need, “Planned Evolution.” It’s an iterative approach. You get a basic version done first, then improve—“evolve”—based on time available.) d) Be longer range. Every day, try to spend most of your time on things that are due in the future, to avoid that last-minute panic. This is a shift in mindset that takes time.”

5. How can I strengthen my willpower to follow my plans?

Moroney: “Stop trying to rely on willpower! Sheer brute force willpower is the least effective way to become better at time management. Relying solely on willpower is a prescription for burnout. You use all your emotional energy to make yourself do things. This makes the doing of them unpleasant. In the future, it will take more emotional energy to do the same thing—because you will dread it! It is much more effective to increase your emotional energy for doing the right thing than to use it all up on willpower. You can increase the emotional energy available by focusing on positive motivation, and by decreasing negative motivation. These are learnable skills that take time to master—but the first step is to commit yourself to motivating yourself by values instead of duty.”

6. What can I do if others complicate my own time management?

Moroney: “Recognize that other people, with their own goals and interests, are not per se the problem. You will always be working with other people, and you cannot expect them to do what you want. If you want them to help you or enable your work, you need to persuade them. With the right people skills, you can do that. Here’s the secret that you may not know: if you unilaterally start using effective people skills, you can turn the people you deal with into allies. You do not need them to have the skills—your skills are enough. There are three area to develop: First, you need to take total ownership of your contribution to any “people” problem. If someone interrupts you, why did you let that happen? If someone talks you into doing something, why didn’t you say “no”? Learn the skills to stay focused on your goals, in a friendly, open way. Second, you can learn conflict resolution skills. Learn how to raise and deal with difficult issues with your boss or coworker if their behavior is impeding the success on a shared goal. (Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and Leader Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon are two resources on this.) Third, learn how to inspire—how to persuade through appealing to values. (Leadership & marketing training can help with this.) Learn how to get people excited about your projects. This means—finding out their interests and appealing to them. You need to learn to entice people to do what you want (without manipulating them). Other people are a huge benefit to you and your team. A coordinated group of people can get much more done than any one person. If you make a commitment to learn how to work effectively with other people, you will find they help you get more done in less time.”

7. Which examples provide orientation for efficient time management?

Moroney: “I recommend three books on time management:

David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity., Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life., Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique.

8. What is the difference between time management in private life and in professional life?

Moroney: “In principle, there is no difference. In practice, you will find that you are better in some areas at work, and in some areas at home. You can learn from one realm to help you improve in the other realm. See what you’re doing right—and expand it!”

9. What personal price do I have to pay for more efficiency?

Moroney: “I don’t think I agree with the premise of this question, either. Efficiency is not per se the goal. Achieving your top goals is the goal. Efficiency can help that — but it should not become an end in itself. You should never sacrifice your real goals to some idea of efficiency. As to what price you have to pay—you have to be willing to pay the price that your goals are worth to you—and no more! Suppose you want to start a business on the side. To do that, you will have to manage your time very well. The price you will have to pay to get the business going is to learn some of the skills I’ve mentioned, and change your habits, and perhaps put off having kids or some other value. Is it worth it? Yes? Then you willingly pay the price. No? Then why do it? Pick a goal that you want enough to pay the price.”

10. What success does a better time management yield?

Moroney: “Better time management is a means to an end. It ensures that you spend the time on the things that matter. What is that? For many, it is work/life balance. For many, it is success in their chosen professions. For many, it is time spent in creative pursuits. Alan Lakein likes to say, “Your time is your life.” It is. Better time management means better life management. You spend your time, where you want to spend your life, instead of accidentally spending it someplace else.”

Further information:


Schedulemailer provides a scheduling infrastructure.