If everyone agrees that excellent time management is one of the most desirable personal skills, why is it that so few people can be described as “well organized” or “efficient”?

I have found that many people have mental barriers and hold ideas about time management that simply aren’t true. The problem is that if you believe something to be true, it becomes true for you. You are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are. Here are a few mental barriers to effective time management:

1. Fear of loss of naturalness and spontaneity. One of the mental barriers, or negative beliefs, of time management is that if you become too well organized, you will become cold, calculating and unemotional. Some people feel that they will lose their spontaneity and freedom if they are extremely efficient. They will become unable to ‘‘go with the flow,’’ to express themselves openly and honestly. These people believe managing their time well makes them too rigid and inflexible.

This turns out not to be true at all. Many people hide behind this false idea and use it as an excuse for not disciplining themselves the way they know they should. The fact is that people who are disorganized are not spontaneous but often confused and frantic. Often they suffer a good deal of stress caused by their disorganized state. Ironically, the better organized you are, the more time and opportunity you have to be truly relaxed, truly spontaneous, truly happy.

The key is structuring and organizing everything you possibly can. This includes thinking ahead, planning for contingencies, preparing thoroughly and focusing on specific results. Only when you have taken control, can you be completely relaxed and spontaneous when the circumstances warrant it. The better organized you are in dealing with the factors that are under your control, the greater freedom and flexibility you have to quickly make changes when necessary.

2. Negative mental programming. Another mental barrier that hinders excellent time management is negative programming, which is often picked up from parents but also from other influential authority figures. If, as a child, you were told by parents or others that you were messy, chronically late or incapable of finishing what you started, you may still be unconsciously obeying these commands as an adult.

The most common response to such programming is to exclaim “That’s just the way I am” or “I have always been that way.” The fact is that no one is born messy and disorganized or neat and efficient. Time management skills are disciplines that we learn and develop with practice and repetition. If we have learned bad time management habits, then we can also unlearn them. Over time, we can replace them with good habits.

3. Self-limiting beliefs. The last mental barrier to good time management is a negative self-concept, or what are called ‘‘self-limiting beliefs.’’ Many people believe that they don’t have the ability to develop good time management skills. Their mental barriers force them to believe that disorganization is an inborn character trait. But there is no gene or chromosome for good or poor time management skills. Nobody is born with a genetic deficiency in personal organization. Your personal skills and behaviors are very much under your control. They are your responsibility.

Motivating yourself to achieve time management success. Here is a hypothetical situation that proves that most of what you do is determined by your level of motivation and desire to succeed in a given area. Imagine that someone were to offer you a $1 million to manage your time superbly for the next 30 days. Imagine that an efficiency expert followed you around with a clipboard and a video camera for one month. After 30 days, if you had used your time efficiently, working on your highest priorities all day every day, you would receive a prize of $1 million. How efficient would you be over the next 30 days?

The fact is that with sufficient motivation ($1 million!), you could be one of the most efficient, effective, best organized and most keenly focused people in the world. And while you might have been motivated by the prize money, the best prize after a month of excellent time management would be your new habits of high productivity and top performance that would stay with you for the rest of your life.

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Brian Tracy is the CEO of Brian Tracy International, which specializes in business training, and the author of the best-selling Psychology of Achievement. For more information, go to www.briantracy.com.