When you hear time management, you must be like, “No, no. What the f*ck, man? Not this crap!” I know you think that. That’s because time management is one of the most used, dreaded, and misunderstood concepts of all time. The corporate world adopted this term with open arms because it’s a perfect fit for the business lingo. In that context, it kind of makes you think about making other people do the crap they don’t want to do when they don’t want to do it. Slowly, though, this concept has seeped into our personal lives as well, and mainstream media wants us to believe it’s a one-size-fits-all solution to all our problems. But is it? We know for sure it’s elusive as hell, so why even bother? Well, let me try to change your mind. Be ready to flip the way you think about how to manage your time and take a different approach.
What Is Time?
The idea that time is finite relative to our lives has been something that has preoccupied humanity since the dawn of time. For you and me, as humans, from the moment we gained enough brainpower for our reasoning to awaken, we began to realize that people are born, they grow old, and, eventually, they die. So, the idea that we must manage that limited time correctly spawned from that realization of the transient nature of our lives.
Time ends. Not all time, of course, but our time.
And in the beginning, that’s fine. You learn to live with that thought, and it doesn’t occupy your brain too much. That’s because, in those early stages of life, that finite stretch of time still seems pretty damn long.
I remember growing up in the 80s and being aware of the year 2000 and how far it seemed to be. Now, it’s the year 2020, and there’s nothing that seems too far for me anymore. Back then, life seemed to stretch ahead of me forever, like a never-ending ocean. Today, I feel like I’m rolling downhill on a bike with no brakes.
As decades come and go, you become aware that with every second that passes, the time behind you expands, and the time ahead of you shrinks. You don’t know how long you have—neither of us knows for sure—but you know for a fact that every day that goes by is one less day into the future.
Time is Unforgiving
People’s awareness of the passage of time develops differently. Some become aware of the speed of time early on, others much later, while others never do. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, at some point in time, you become afraid. It seems like it has become too late for a lot of things. Like you are literally running out of time.
Although I’m rarely advocating the “it’s too late for that” mantra, and we’ve seen time and time again situations that defy time, things are different for different people. Yes, some folks beat the odds and get degrees when they are eighty years old or run marathons in their nineties, but those are isolated events. And they should be.
It’s never too late to wake up and realize that your bucket list still has many items unchecked and begin checking them deliberately before all your time runs out. If you do, I commend you, and I salute you. But is that a good thing?
I ask the question because if you pack forty years of life in the last ten, what does that mean for the first forty years? Were they lost? Should they be written off? I’m sure nobody is that bad.
So, then, what do you do? How do you manage the time in a way that allows you to do the things that you want to do, complete those that you must do, and end your life with a sense of accomplishment and not one of lost time?
The Dreaded Time Management
First, let me share that I hate the word ‘management.’ And time management, much like any concept that involves that word, sounds too corporate. If you ask anyone if they have some kind of personal time management system, they might look at you like you have two heads.
“Time management is something you do at work; thank you very much.”
But the truth is that your time, although artificially divided into segments such as work time, home time, family time, and so on, it’s the same time. Time doesn’t care. It merely runs like a river, and you are coming along for the ride.
So, the essence of true time management doesn’t have to do with the corporate world. It has to do with priority.
You see, every time you say, “I don’t have time for this,” what it means is that it’s simply not important enough to you.
If you don’t believe me, do a test. If you are like me, you are always busy. You never have time. Now picture that your child comes to you with a high fever and hives all over her body. You still don’t have time. Just the mere fact that your child is sick doesn’t magically create time. But you will drop no matter what is on your plate at that moment to take care of your child.
That’s because the health of your kid trumps everything. Suddenly, you were able to abandon whatever you were doing at the time and allocate time to taking care of your child. Your priorities have shifted due to an external event.
Now, let’s change the scenario and assume that an uncle you speak to twice a year calls you and asks you if you could stop by his house one day to review his mortgage documents.
You will not treat the uncle the same as your sick child. That’s because this event has less priority in your life.
Time Management and Emotion
The things that have high importance in your life will elicit emotional responses. Items with lower priority won’t, and you will not reshuffle your calendar for them.
But here’s the kicker: the child example was unfair, wasn’t it, because it’s quite apparent. But what if I said that instead of your kid being sick, you want to work out for thirty minutes every day.
On the one hand, this is important to you. You know it is because you’ve wanted to lose weight for a long time, and you’ve identified that only a combination of proper nutrition and exercise would do it.
So, it’s an essential item. Then, why are you not doing it? The answer is because you cannot see the effects of not doing it in front of you.
With the kid example, it’s easy—the child is right in front of you, crying and breaking out with hives. You also see yourself in the mirror, but the urgency of the two are very different.
The emotion you get when your child is sick fires up your protective instincts, and you leap into action. It doesn’t matter to you how painful it is right now. Not doing it is far more painful.
With the exercise example, there’s a pain in doing it, but there’s immediate pleasure in not doing it. The actual pain of not doing it is long-term, and thus, you don’t perceive it. You give in faster to the short-term pleasure of not doing something painful and ignore the future pain because it’s not visible.
Urgency and Importance Affect Time Management
If you’ve read my article on the Eisenhower Priority Box, you know that the concepts of importance and urgency are tightly connected. When you look at them together, you can begin to put an order in the tasks in your life (long-term and short-term).
Managing your time is nothing more than an exercise of assigning the right importance and priority to the right items, and then putting them first.
That is where the difference between urgency and importance becomes apparent. Urgency pulls you to do something because the consequences of not doing it are clear. With importance, although you can set it at an intellectual level, you will have a difficult time setting it up at an emotional level.
So, the first step to managing your time is to prioritize the things in your life by their importance. Forget about the urgency for a moment. Urgent stuff will grab you by the throat. You want to put your focus on the importance for a moment.
For every item in your important items list, do a short-term and long-term pros and cons analysis.
Important task: Exercise 30 min every day
Pros and cons of doing it:
- Short-term cons: less time to do other things, body pain, getting sweaty, driving to the gym early morning, wake up earlier
- Short-term pros: feeling energized
- Long-Term cons: none
- Long-Term pros: losing weight, healthy heart, living longer
Pros and Cons of not doing it:
- Short-term cons: feeling a little sluggish throughout the day
- Short-term pros: more time to do other things, no gym detour
- Long-Term cons: Gaining or maintaining current weight, less healthy
- Long-Term pros: none
Now, highlight all the short-term and long-term pros. Read them out loud. Logically and rationally speaking, which one of the boxes will win? To do or not to do? You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that the answer is that the better choice is to do the task. So, why the heck can’t you do it?
Relationship Between Pain and Pleasure
There’s a great book written by Mark Manson called Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, which I highly recommend. In this book, he talks about the concepts of “thinking brain” and “feeling brain.” It’s not that difficult to imagine what the author means, but if you read the book, you’ll get a good insight into the intricate ways these two sides of our mind work.
Because nature designed our bodies to run away from pain and seek pleasure always, it’s challenging to look at the lists above and approach them from an emotional perspective. That’s because if your “thinking brain” naturally looks at the pros in the list, while your “feeling brain” only looks at the cons.
Remember that you can also feel pleasure through a lack of pain, so long as you understand what that pain means to you. So, your feeling brain wants to keep you away from all the possible pain points so that you feel pleasure, or, at least, interpret it as pleasure.
As much as you like to think that your thinking brain is more robust, it’s not. The feeling brain wins every time… unless you trick it.
You see, there are pain and pleasure elements in both options above. But which pain is more prevalent? By default, it will be the short-term one. What you need to do is reprogram your brain to accept that the long-term pain is far more painful and that the long-term pleasure trumps the short-term one.
By flipping them in your mind, you are now telling your feeling brain that the pain of not doing what you set your mind to is far greater than the pain of doing it.
With that simple switch, you are now able to have both your thinking and feeling brains work together toward those tasks that you’ve set to be important.
And that’s half of the battle and the most significant and most challenging part of it.
The second part is to identify the actual time slot to do it.
How to Manage Time by Importance
By having a vision for your life and clear life goals on both short-term and long-term horizons, you have already defined the items that are important in your life. Once you do the work to prioritize and set your mind straight about the pain and pleasure your priorities generate, you must do the actual practical part of your time management, which is setting yourself into action.
At this point, you must think from big too small. That means that you look at your biggest vision and moonshot goals overarching your entire life, and break them down into smaller chunks. How small? As small as you can. Think of this progression:
- 10 Years
- 5 Years
- 1 Year
- 1 Quarter
- 1 Month
- 1 Week
- 1 Day
- 1 Hour
Yes, it’s crazy to think about it this way, but think about it. There’s a goal out there in your bucket list that you could accomplish by making small strides for one hour a day, or even one hour a week.
That’s the core issue with personal time management in general. You “manage” time instead of being thoughtful and deliberate with creating the time the way you need it to unfold according to your goals and dreams.
By managing time, you do nothing but handle all the crap that falls in your lap. At the end of the day, there’s no time left for your real priorities. When you learn how to say no to the unimportant, you gain time for the important. If you cast away the non-essential, you open space for the essential.
By unpacking your vision into small, daily routines and setting those in your calendar as the highest priority, you are moving the needle on the things that matter the most to you. You could call this time blocking or calendaring but, in the end, it’s simply a way of optimizing your time.
You are no longer managing your time, you are, instead, living the life that you’ve imagined for yourself. To that extent, you might even say that you are creating time.
Consistency in Time Creation
One last point on this concept of time creation replacing time management is consistency. Discipline can honestly screw everything up when it’s missing. There’s one thing to think and rationalize your priorities and goals, and a different thing to execute them in that way.
Remember the feeling brain and the thinking brain? Yeah, they’re still there, both sabotaging you in different ways. You need to practice discipline and understanding how those two sides of your mind try to pull you in different directions.
And you can’t rationalize your way into discipline. You need practice. Show up every day and do a little of it. Every brick you put, every win and failure, strengthens your consistency muscle.
Use the tools you have at your disposal: habit trackers, digital or paper calendars, alarms, and timers. All those things are tiny crutches that will help you stand on your feet and re-anchor yourself when you stray away.
To paraphrase Gary John Bishop, do the work!
Time Management Conclusion
Look, I get that time management not only sucks big time in general, which makes us all try our best to not think about it, but it’s a difficult task, to begin with. Even if you are great at time management, time management still sucks for you. For instance, I believe I am great at time management, and I f-ing hate it, okay? So, don’t leave this article thinking you’ll develop a new love for time management because you won’t.
Instead, focus on your vision and your mission in life. Your life’s purpose will fuel the way you spend your time. No longer will you be swirling in an endless tornado of crap that you don’t even care about. Instead, you’ll stand steady on your feet and decide what you want, when you want it, how you want it, and live a purposeful, fulfilling life.
If you want to go through a more thorough approach to this concept, I’ve released a free program called Self-Growth Journey (TM), which comes with a full downloadable practical workbook. The section on action goes into detail about the process of how to split your time into manageable chunks, and it includes a full-year planner with annual, monthly, weekly, and daily sheets.
From here on, it’s all up to you. Start creating your time today and live life on your terms!
Other Time Management Resources
- Beat Work Overload. Be More Effective. Achieve More.
- 27 Time Management Tips To Work Less and Play More
- Time Management Skills
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What are your biggest struggles with personal time management?
- Do you use any particular tools to help you manage your time?
- Do you find it easier to manage your work time versus your personal time?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!