Why is it so difficult to meet deadlines and what to do about it

Time is a strange thing. Sometimes it rushes with unimaginable speed, sometimes it turns into a thick viscous jelly and stretches unbearably slowly. Time always knows how to annoy you. If you have a deadline, it is deliberately accelerated so that you do not have time to hand over the project by the deadline. If you’re sitting in a boring meeting, it deliberately slows down to prolong your anguish. The long-awaited vacation rushes by at the speed of a car, but the process of falling a crystal vase is stretched as if in slow motion.

We all see colors, hear sounds and smell differently. With a sense of time, the situation is even more complicated – a person does not have special receptors for its perception. Time is a highly subjective thing. Its perception depends on many factors: body temperature, age, emotional and physical state. Despite this, we constantly use time as the basis for regulating our daily and work processes: we draw up numerous schedules, plan deadlines, write off labor costs in the task tracker. Then we conduct a plan-fact analysis and wonder why we again failed to meet the carefully thought-out deadlines. And the mysterious time continues to elude us.

Special approach

How is it even possible to work with such a fickle and ephemeral material? Does all our planning make no sense and only give the illusion of order and control? What if time is so individual? In such cases, the answer usually lies in the question itself. If time is an individual concept, then it must be approached strictly individually. Do not try to drive everyone into the framework of one universal time management technique, but try to understand how each of us perceives time. The mantra “We are all different” in this case is not an empty abstraction, but a direct guide to action.

To describe the different types of time perception, there is an interesting theory that originates in the studies of the American anthropologist Edward Hall and the British expert in the field of intercultural communication Richard D. Lewis. In their works, scientists initially described the peculiarities of the relationship to time among different peoples and in different business cultures. For example, the linear perception of time in Western culture was opposed to the cyclical perception of time in Eastern culture. But gradually this theory was transformed and “landed” on the individual attitude to the time of each individual person.

Types of time perception

In theory, there are four types of time perception:

In fact, in this list, the types are arranged according to the degree of connection with time: from the linear type of perception, in which time is an absolute value, to the social type, for which time is just a detached abstraction.

This theory has at least two practical applications:

  1. The choice of the optimal planning technique in working with your tasks.

  2. Application of an individual approach to setting and monitoring tasks for each team member.

When using the theory, two important rules must be observed:

  1. Remember that the listed types rarely occur in their pure form. Usually in one person several types are mixed at once in different proportions. In different periods of life, different types can replace each other depending on external and internal circumstances. However, most often one of the types of perception of time prevails over others.

  2. Try to avoid value judgments. If someone has a linear type of time perception, then people with a social type will most likely seem to him aliens from other galaxies. There are no “bad” and “good” types, they are all just different.

In order to evaluate your own type of perception of time, it is often advised to try to imagine the concept of “time” in the form of some kind of visual image. Each type of perception is characterized by a certain set of related abstractions. Someone imagines a linear river, someone a cyclic clock face.

The theory describes the subjective and subconscious perception of time by different people. These descriptions have nothing in common with the modern physical picture of the world.

1. Linear time

visual images: vector, stream, river, coordinate axis.

Motto: “Time is money”.

Perception of time. Time is a fundamental objective entity. Time is the same for everyone, it has its own speed, which does not depend on the perception of the subject. Time is closely related to space. Nothing can exist outside of time.

A consequence of the perception of time. It is impossible to be in different places at the same time and do several things at the same time.

A person with a linear perception of time:

  • cannot remain idle for long;

  • considers time an absolute value, the basis of life, work and planning;

  • likes to set goals and achieve them, build short-term and long-term plans;

  • always organized, collected and maintains order in everything;

  • strives to effectively organize and plan his time.

Braking factors:

  • people who do not value time (it is easier for a person with a linear perception to do everything himself);

  • the need to constantly switch from one task to another, multitasking;

  • unexpectedly arising unscheduled tasks;

  • changes in the conditions for performing tasks;

  • external factors that impede meeting the deadlines for completing tasks;

  • constant changes in the required deadlines for completing tasks.

Suitable tools:

  • Methods of time management with the organization of the optimal sequence of problem solving.

  • Systems for measuring time spent on specific tasks.

  • Organizers, diaries, to-do lists.

2. Parallel time

visual images: a set of parallel streams moving at different speeds.

Motto: “Time is for man, not man for time.”

Perception of time. Time is not a single stream, but many bright streams moving at different speeds. If necessary, you can freely jump from one stream to another. For each task, you can choose your own individual suitable flow.

A consequence of the perception of time. A person can do several things at the same time and freely switch between them. The main thing is not the deadlines for completing tasks, but their priorities.

A person with a parallel perception of time:

  • does not attach much importance to schedules and punctuality;

  • fills time with many bright events;

  • does not see anything wrong with changing the timing of the task, in delays and delays;

  • knows how to slow down or speed up the execution of a task as necessary;

  • able to accelerate and work effectively under deadlines;

  • can freely switch to another, higher priority task;

  • easily includes a new task in his plans, provided that this task has a clearly defined priority.

Braking factors:

  • routine;

  • a stream of equivalent tasks with indefinite priorities;

  • fuzzy statement of the problem;

  • inability to change the sequence and speed of tasks;

  • strict control of intermediate deadlines for completing tasks.

Suitable tools:

  • Techniques for prioritizing tasks. For example, the Eisenhower matrix.

  • Applications for managing diagrams of parallel tasks.

3. Cyclic type

visual images: dial, cycle, change of seasons.

Motto: “There is inspiration – there is a result.”

Perception of time. Time is cyclical and periodically changes its subjective speed. Time is not tied to people or events. The speed of subjective time depends on the point of the cycle, random external and internal circumstances.

A consequence of the perception of time. Precise scheduling is meaningless: “If it rains, then it will not be possible to lay asphalt.” Plans should be tied to the time of the cycle: “Orchids have not bloomed yet …”.

A person with a cyclic perception of time:

  • thinks about decisions for a long time;

  • performs tasks with variable efficiency, which depends on external and internal factors;

  • believes that mood is more important than plans;

  • depends on inspiration: if it is, then the work “flies” and you can take on the most difficult tasks, if it is not there, then you can only do routine tasks;

  • unhurried and serene, guided by the motto.

Braking factors:

  • lack of inspiration;

  • external circumstances affecting motivation;

  • uncomfortable working conditions: tools, team, total control;

  • tight deadlines for completing tasks.

Suitable tools:

  • Methods for creating comfortable working conditions.

  • Self control and introspection.

  • The ability to choose the ideal moment for solving a specific problem.

  • Emotion management and stress management skills.

  • Physical exercise.

4. Social type

visual images: time is an abstract concept, for which it is difficult to find a specific image.

Motto: “Time was invented out of spite, to annoy me.”

Perception of time. The passage of time has no patterns and is in no way connected with the perception of the subject.

A consequence of the perception of time. Any planning interferes with the execution of tasks.

A person with a social perception of time:

  • perceives time as something detached, independent;

  • delegates to other people planning tasks, organizing schedules, controlling deadlines;

  • believes that the need to adhere to plans, deadlines and schedules is a necessary evil that one has to put up with;

  • if there are no external restrictions, then he enjoys life without observing any schedules.

Braking factors:

  • the need for independent planning and time control;

  • the presence of several tasks and events intersecting in time;

  • lack of constant external control of plans and deadlines.

Suitable tools:

  • Fully automatic planning and control systems.

  • External planning and control center.

  • Permanent external control of tasks execution.

  • The presence of real sanctions for non-compliance with deadlines and deviation from the schedule.

Usage plan

You probably recognized yourself and some of your colleagues in these types.

In order to effectively use this theory in practice, you can act according to the following plan:

  1. Take care of yourself and try to analyze the dependence of your type of perception of time on external factors. It is not difficult to recognize your prevailing type, it is much more difficult to identify your secondary types and understand when they appear.

  2. Develop a methodology for working with tasks for each type of time perception. It will be useful to formulate how to force yourself to work when you don’t feel like working at all.

  3. Try to determine the type of time perception of each team member. It’s easy to call a person a lazy procrastinator. It is more difficult to understand what is the reason for such behavior.

  4. Think about how to take into account the type of perception of time when distributing tasks in a team. For example, try to give a colleague with a cyclic perception of time tasks without hard deadlines.

  5. Develop rules for setting and controlling tasks depending on the type of time perception of their performer.

It may seem that people who perceive time cyclically or socially find it rather difficult to live in an environment of task trackers, an endless series of releases and strict deadlines. However, proponents of the theory argue that there are no “bad” types of time perception. It is only necessary not to drive everyone into the Procrustean bed of a general methodology and not be lazy to apply an individual approach to each.

And time remains a mysterious object – a deceiver, a ghostly mirage that we have not been able to fully understand. However, this does not prevent us from basing our whole life on it. You have to learn to put up with this discrepancy. No wonder the Italian mathematician and humanist Leon Battista Alberti wrote back in the 15th century: “Whoever knows how to make good use of time will be the master of whatever he wants.”

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