HOW you’re doing is more important than WHAT you’re doing when it comes to time management.

HOW you’re doing is more important than WHAT you’re doing: Introduction

Look, I understand why you might think that WHAT you’re doing is the key to effective time management.  After all, experts have said for years that tools and techniques are the secret to productivity.  The Eisenhower matrix, the Pomodoro technique, planners, calendars, task apps – these are the things that all the experts say we need to get stuff done and manage time effectively.

But if WHAT you’re doing were the key to effective time management, then everyone with a targeted to-do list, a planner, and a timer would be incredibly productive, right?  As long as people knew what to do and had a time management tool or two, they would ace time management, right?

Today, I’m sharing why it’s more important to focus on HOW you’re doing, rather than WHAT you’re doing, to increase your productivity and get more done in your business or your life.

The problem with focusing on WHAT instead of HOW you’re doing

If you continue to focus solely on tools and tasks – the “what” – you might find yourself becoming increasingly stressed out or burned out. You might feel stalled on making progress toward your goals in your business or your life.

In fact, you could be the most organized person on the planet and still feel like you’re not truly achieving what you want.  You might even think there’s something wrong with you, because you’re using all the time management tools, tips, and tactics that the experts recommend, but you’re still struggling to manage your time effectively and make meaningful progress toward your goals.

The reality: Time management = mind management

Let’s look at the reality of the situation. Have you ever felt like you were drowning in tasks and responsibilities, despite your best efforts to manage your time? Have you ever felt like you’re constantly playing catch-up, no matter how hard you work?

The truth is, traditional time management methods only focus on the what – what tasks need to be done, what deadlines need to be met, what tools and techniques you’re using. But they don’t take into account the how – how you’re feeling, how you’re thinking, how you’re showing up in your business and your life. In short, how you’re doing.

If you’re struggling to take action because you’re overwhelmed, doubting yourself, unmotivated, afraid to fail, or struggling with perfectionism, those are mindset issues that even the best time management tools and techniques won’t be able to address long-term. As I like to say, time management is about 20% tools, tactics, and strategies, and about 80% mind management.

The solution: Notice, navigate, & overcome mental & emotional roadblocks

So, what’s the real solution to effective time management?  Focusing primarily on HOW you’re doing, instead of WHAT you’re doing.

By learning to notice, navigate, and overcome mental and emotional (mindset) issues, you’ll skyrocket your productivity.  That means you’ll get more of the important stuff done in less time, so you can make meaningful progress toward your goals, and have some time for a life outside of your business, as well.

“Don’t have time” for mindset work? Think again

At this point, you might be thinking, “Who cares about how I’m doing?  I have stuff to do.  I don’t have time to worry about my thoughts and feelings.”  Au contraire, my friend.

There’s a saying in the mental health field that “what you resist, persists.”  This means that ignoring or trying to distract yourself from emotional roadblocks isn’t going to solve them.  Even if you might not be thinking about them anymore in the moment, there’s a good chance that they’re still present in your subconscious and unconscious mind.

The neuroscience behind thoughts and feelings – and why they’re so important

By the way, cognitive/emotional functioning isn’t fluff – it’s neuroscience.

Part of your brain’s job is to keep you safe, but your brain doesn’t always have a good handle on what is and isn’t a threat to your safety.  So if your brain is trying to keep you safe by telling you that the thing you need to do is dangerous, or risky, or unsafe, or has an uncertain outcome, and you believe that narrative, then you’re going to stay stuck.

You’re not going to take the action you need to take to move your business forward, because you’re buying into your brain’s fear-based narrative, where actual danger probably doesn’t even exist.

And here’s the other thing.  This process, this protective process in your brain?  It doesn’t even have to be happening on the conscious level of your mind.

Your brain is constantly working, 24 hours a day, on the subconscious and unconscious levels of your mind, to filter information through your belief system (which is kind of like your brain’s code) and try to resolve issues based on it.

This means that you might be standing in your own way without even realizing it!

Mental and emotional roadblocks: Real-life example

In my work with clients who own service-based businesses, I have noticed that some people unintentionally get in their own way when it comes to what we call prospecting – reaching out to potential clients or referral partners to develop relationships that might result in business benefits. 

For some people, especially those who have people-pleasing tendencies, prospecting can feel very uncomfortable.  There can be a lot of fear there – fear of being rejected, bothering someone, seeming salesy or pushy.

Because of that fear, the subconscious mind will often come up with all kinds of reasons not to take action and reach out to those contacts: Busywork, organizing their desk for the third time, even housework, if they work at home.  The brain looks at the task, filters it through the people-pleasing belief system and says, “Whoa, no way, this feels risky!  We could be rejected!  Let’s avoid it by doing something else.”

…And so your own brain is sabotaging your progress, and you may not even realize it!

And how do you change your brain’s filtration system?  Through this process that I’m talking about: Notice, navigate, and overcome.

First: Notice

Speaking of which, the first step to focusing on HOW you’re doing is to simply notice how you’re thinking and feeling in a given moment.

For example, let’s say you’re scheduled work on something important, but you’re struggling to get started.  Notice what’s happening mentally and emotionally, and even what’s happening in your body. 

  • Are you feeling distracted?
  • Are you thinking your work needs to be perfect?
  • Do you notice a heaviness in your chest as you think about all the work you need to do?

Second: Navigate

Next, it’s time to navigate through those thoughts and feelings, instead of allowing them to keep you stuck.

This process might look a little different for each person and situation, and it doesn’t have to take tons of time.  It can involve things like acknowledging and processing emotions (rather than trying to ignore them or shove them down) or examining and questioning your thoughts and beliefs around yourself and the situation.

Navigating mental and emotional roadblocks can also mean acknowledging and understanding what’s happening in your brain and neurological system.  The stakes can get a whole lot lower once you understand the ways in which your brain might be trying to scare you out of taking action in a situation where you aren’t truly in danger.

Again, this might sound like it would take a lot of time, and sometimes that’s the case.  But sometimes, all it takes is a few seconds or a few minutes.

Third: Overcome

Finally, you’ll need to do the work to overcome those mental and emotional obstacles.

That can be as simple as changing your perspective by adopting new thoughts, or identifying and generating your emotional fuel.

It can be as complex as overhauling your belief system or becoming a different version of yourself.  It all depends on the complexity of the situation, and how your brain and mind are reacting.

HOW you’re doing is more important than WHAT you’re doing: Conclusion

So, let me ask you – do you want to continue focusing on WHAT you’re doing, instead of HOW you’re doing?  Or are you ready to start actively managing your mindset by noticing, navigating, and overcoming the mental and emotional roadblocks that are secretly sabotaging your time management and productivity?

If you’re ready to take control of your mindset so you can get more done, achieve your business goals, and have a life outside of your business, sign up for a free  productivity power session with me.  We’ll identify the mental and emotional roadblocks that are holding you back, and create a plan to help you overcome them.

About the Author Amy Schield


Amy Schield, MBA is a time management and productivity coach for small business owners. Using a mix of simple tactics and neuroscience-based strategies, she helps clients manage their time successfully, set and achieve goals for business growth, and navigate the mental and emotional side of owning and running a small business. Acting as a personal trainer for the brain, she teaches clients how to get out of their own way, so they can finally build the business they want.

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