Traditional time-management methods make sense to only about 50 percent of the population. The other half finds filing, making lists and honoring the clock's dictates both mind-boggling and frustrating.
These people are often labeled as unorganized procrastinators, while their "better halves" get a pat on the back for efficiency. But some time-management experts say it's time to ditch those judgments. They encourage viewing the two groups as operating from right-brain- and left-brain-dominant spheres.
"American business celebrates the left-brain style as the only way to be," says Ann McGee-Cooper, a Dallas-based management consultant whose new book, "Time Management for Unmanageable People" (written with Duane Trammell and published by Bantam Doubleday) tells in part how to mine successfully the attributes in both types of organizers.
"There's nothing wrong with you if you can't integrate those left-brain methods," says Shellie Stoffer, who conducts national seminars and runs Retrain Your Brain, a human development consulting firm based in Santa Cruz, Calif. "They just aren't matched to your natural style of thinking.
"Everyone is a mix of both right- and left-brain tendencies, but one side is dominant in most people.
"Right-brain-dominant people tend to have cluttered work areas; put off starting or completing a project until deadline pressure bears heavily on them; work on several projects at once in short spurts, skipping back and forth among them seemingly indiscriminately; adhere only loosely to time schedules; and are prey to entertaining distractions.
"The left-brain-dominant tend to have orderly work areas, proceed methodically on projects, set goals and realistic schedules to meet them, keep organized files and find interruptions annoying. They work first, play later.
"Neither approach to getting things done is right or wrong," says Ms. Stoffer. "They are just different."
Ms. Stoffer, who's worked in time management for 22 years, says it took some time for her to understand this. "I was frustrated because I realized that within about a month so many of my clients were back to Square 1." She says they weren't using the systems she set up for them.
She recalls a woman who came to her for help organizing and filing the mounds of paperwork that were overtaking her and causing her to pay bills late. Ms. Stoffer set up a filing system that included a folder into which the woman could drop each bill, one behind the other, as she received it. Then she could pull out the folder at specified times and pay the bills from top to bottom. Her overdue bill problem would be solved.
But it didn't work. The woman later called her back dismayed because she had received an overdue notice. "After talking with her, I discovered she had forgotten to open the drawer to look in the file. I learned then that out of sight is out of mind for right-brain dominants."
Ms. Stoffer's left-brain method had failed her right-brain client. So she reorganized the woman's files by using color-coded files -- for example, papers related to things to do right away go into a file of her favorite color, and things to do when there's extra time go into a folder in her second-favorite color -- and put them on top of her desk in a vertical file keeper. Right-brain-dominant people need to see and have access to everything they need to work on a project. "They organize visually," says Ms. Stoffer.
Everyone -- employers, employees, team members, partners, parents, teachers and children -- can benefit from understanding the two approaches to working and learning and how they can work to everyone's advantage, says Ann McGee-Cooper.
"Those characteristics that have been identified as dysfunctional are actually those of high creativity. It's important to respect the different natural patterns and to plan and work with them. And it's important to know your own pattern and to trust it and go with it."
Have you developed a time-saving technique you think could help others? We'd like to hear about it. We will share reader tips and offer some solutions to your professional, home or leisure time-management problems. Please leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.