What is Time Management?
Take a radical view
Take a radical view
What is time management? You’d think this would be an easy question to answer, especially with a growing “time management industry” to inform us.
However, many thinkers on time management suggest that understanding time, and how we use it, is not as simple as we might think. Especially if we consider the latest thinking which suggests a profound link between the way we view time, and the way we use it.
This article discusses some different ways to look at time before asking some searching questions about your approach to time management. Firstly, let’s consider our four radical ways of thinking about time:
The time management industry has worked tirelessly to sell us time saving techniques. These may shave seconds, minutes or even hours from the time we spend on tasks, but do they all work? And at what cost? To benefit from most of these techniques we’re usually required to become disciplined and rigorous in following a prescribed methodology. However, often our problem with “wasting” time is not that we don’t value it, it’s our inability stick to the remedial prescriptions.
In his book: The 80-20 Principle, Richard Koch argues that the industry typically offers savings of 15-25% if we adhere to a particular time management system. These results are not to be sniffed at but may be difficult to achieve for the less disciplined amongst us. Even if we do manage to benefit from these time savings, how many people can maintain this discipline indefinitely? Perhaps it’s time to take a different view of time management.
What is time management? Often what lies behind the time management process is the thought that we simply don’t have enough time to do everything we need, or want to do. Richard Koch’s central argument however, is that we’re not short of time. He thinks we’re awash with it! Our real problem is that
we only make good use of 20 per cent of our time.
It’s “our use of time, and not time itself that is the enemy.” Are we really awash with time? It probably doesn’t feel like that for most of us, but perhaps we do have more time available to us than we realise. Perhaps making more effective use of less time is the real answer to the question: what is time management.
The view of time as the inevitable passing of seconds and minutes, the chronology of existence, is based on the Greek word Kronos. This word refers to time as linear and sequential, something which we spend our lives trying to control, but which in reality dominates us. To varying degrees, we all live our lives constrained by unforgiving clocks and calendars. Kronos time, as Stephen Covey says, implies that no second is worth more than any other. It is the more conventional understanding of time in the west.
Reconciling these two perspectives of time is perhaps the essence of Richard Koch’s approach. He argues that if the majority of our time is spent in low-quality ways, then speeding it up, or being more efficient with our use of time doesn’t help us. That becomes more the problem than the solution! So the next step in answering the question: “what is time management?” is perhaps to pose another. What value do you get out of your time?
However, if we think we waste time, then we’re making a value judgement. Wasting time implies we must be spending time doing things which are of less comparative value than other activities. This value can be related to both working and non-working time. Quite often we refer to time spent on these value activities as “quality time”, although this is often applied more to our leisure time, than to our effective use of work time.
This view of the comparative value of time is based on another ancient Greek word: Kairos. Time viewed from a Kairos perspective is referred to in different ways, such as appropriate time, now time or quality time. Whichever of these we use, the important thing is that time is considered from a qualitative rather than a purely quantitative viewpoint.
In his book: First Things First, Stephen Covey argues that how we think about time can be characterised by the metaphors: clock and compass.
The clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities – what we do with, and how we manage our time.
In contrast, the compass represents what we feel is important and how we lead our lives.
The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass – when what we do doesn’t contribute to what is most important in our lives.
Ask the question “what is time management” in different parts of the world and you’re likely to get very different answers.
The western perspective is related to the Kronos interpretation of time as linear progression. We battle against losing or wasting time as it passes us by, causing us stress and unhappiness along the way. This is the “clock” time described by Stephen Covey.
Alternatively, time seen from a Kairos perspective, is arguably more closely related to an eastern viewpoint. The linear nature of Kronos time may define routines or way-points, but the best way to manage time is to value its passage, not to confront it. The Kairos view considers time as a cyclical or seasonal passage. Time which brings around opportunities to learn, to contemplate values, to deepen relationships, and to appreciate life. This is much more akin to Covey’s “compass” time, with its emphasis on quality rather than the quantity of “clock” time. So what is time management? Clearly that depends on how you think about time.
What if we could all achieve a lot more by doing a lot less? This is Richard Koch’s argument in his book “The 80/20 principle”.
Often, only a small part of what we actually do in any week really contributes to results that matter. If this is the case then a big chunk of our time is often wasted in a week. Koch argues “If you are working 60 to 70 hours a week in order to cope, if you feel that you are always behind, if you are struggling to keep up with work’s requirements” then you need to find out the 20% of your time when you are producing 80% of your achievements in work.
Peter Drucker once said:
What is the first duty – and the continuing responsibility – of the business manager? To strive for the best possible economic results from the resources currently employed or available.
If we combine both of these insights, what can we conclude? That it’s a manager’s responsibility to use time in the most effective manner, and that this is best done by focusing on the 20% of time that produces the 80% of results. Who knows, in doing this we may well be both managing responsibly, and enjoying life.
What is Time Management? Maybe it’s about radical change. From a quantity to a quality perspective. From control by the clock to guidance by the compass. From spending time to investing time.
One of the underpinning philosophies of this site is the importance of workplace well-being. So in order to ensure you make the most of quality time, think about these questions.
Asking yourself, what is time management, and thinking about these questions will not only point out where busyness has crept in. They, should also encourage you to think about what you’re good at. What if you really could free up 80% or even just 50% of the time you currently commit to work or tasks? Think about the difference that would make to your effectiveness as a manager, and to the quality of your life. Or what if you learned to work smart and increased the value of your 20% productive time? That would be a radical approach to time management.
What is time management? Taking a different view of time management may not happen overnight. In taking steps to view things differently perhaps the place to end this article is where our thinking really needs to begin:
Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. (M. Scott Peck)
These are only suggestions, and each boss and each circumstance must be taken individually. However the value of effective time management, for you and your boss, is worth the effort and maybe even some risk.
There’s a wide range of time management resources in our store, including some great tools. Our e-guide: Managing Time and Priority is packed with practical tools, tested ideas and a dash of radical thinking. It will will help you master two critical skills: managing time and priority. The guide will help you to:
Tool 1: Commitments summary
Tool 2: Time log
Tool 3:Time analysis
Tool 4: Time planning with task filters
Tool 5: Task priorities
Try our great value e-guides