Chapter 7: What is Time Management? Definition and Meaning

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Now we get to the important topic of time management. Of course, this topic combines much of what this webbook has already discussed: procrastination, productivity, laziness, hard work and work ethic, and so on. I hope that this piece differs from other articles on time management in its depth, scope and complexity.

Time management is a piece of this puzzle, but a very important piece…and ultimately perhaps the most important piece of all. This article on time management will discuss the basic definition of time management, why time management is important, and the benefits of time management. It is an introduction to a topic that will eventually lead us, in the next chapter, to discuss ways to improve our time management skills and abilities. I won’t waste your time with time management quotes; instead, we’ll get to the nitty gritty of the topic so that we can understand it on the most basic level. But first, let’s figure out what exactly we’re talking about here.

A Preliminary Time Management Definition

So what is time management, really? The definitions that you’ll find out there will vary. One good definition of time management, from Wikipedia, is “the act or process of exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase efficiency or productivity.” Thus, time management is defined in this decent attempt as related to our efficiency and productivity with respect to particular activities, including projects, tasks, and goals.

In addition, the issue is made more complex by the fact that time management is a constellation of many different activities. For instance, organizing, focusing, planning, goal setting, allocating resources and personnel (if necessary), maintenance of time, monitoring of time spent and efficiency of products, prioritization, scheduling, and many more activities are all involved under this umbrella term of ‘time management.’ Thus it is not so simple to define time management, as it is a complex activity.

The Meaning of Time Management

All of these official definitions are nice, but what about the meaning underlying the concept of time management? The meaning of this concept is quite profound once you peel back the layers of the issue and truly think about what time management can do for us. This discussion may get a little philosophic and “out there,” as most essays on time management don’t hit the topic this hard, but I think truly understanding the deep meaning of the concept – and its importance – is key to help us improve our skills in this domain. Here then is a brief “theory of time management” – and as you’d expect, it all comes down to the unique quality of time itself.

Time is the most important and priceless thing we have at our disposal. Many innovations and economic advances in life are simply those that make things go faster, or allow us to do more in less time. That is, it’s all about efficiency with respect to the resource of time. Things that grow the economy and each individual life are things that increase the amount of collective time we have at our disposal, and thereby increasing the capacity of each individual. Thus, it’s not even about time management in itself, but rather the capacity of each individual to produce over his or her lifetime.

In addition, time management is bound with not only what we are doing but also our goals in life, career, education, etc. The idea is to get the most done in the shortest period of time (a.k.a. high productivity) while not missing the forest for the trees during the process. Thus we are not so much managing “time” as we are managing products or outcomes; we want to get the most out of the least investment we can. There’s a sense of efficiency here, of productivity, of industry, and of hard work, all rolled into one. Thus, the discussions in earlier chapters all contribute in their own way to our understanding of this complex concept of real time management.

Time management used to be focused on business and corporate settings in the context of increasing employee productivity. But more and more individuals are finding the idea critical for their own personal success, leading to a huge influx of literature and products on how best to manage time.

Why is Time Management Important?

Time is truly all we have – it is the most precious resource, and for that reason it must be preserved and conserved. We can never recover those lost seconds, so every second we waste on a pointless pursuit or feeling is a second we’ll never get back. On this basic level, then, time management is about preserving this time so that we can have more of it.

In addition, because effects can compound over time, to lose a second is to lose more than a second – it is to lose a period of time that will grow and compound over the rest of time. For instance, to produce something of value now with our time is to create something that will last for our lifetimes and probably beyond. Thus, wasting time now is also being a thief of time and value later.

On a real and individual level, successful time management helps us to be successful in our lives. If we waste time and don’t act efficiently, we won’t get as much done, and we will probably be unhappier during and for it. Bad time management can lead to all problems – not just lack of success and disappointment in life, but also to stress and other emotional issues. Bad time management and stress and time management and procrastination go hand in hand. Thus, time management is not just a practical issue but also an emotional, spiritual, and even physical one. Poor time management leads overall to negative life outcomes, and in the end it just holds back our potential. Squandering time is worse than squandering money, because unlike money, we cannot earn that time back. It is lost forever.

Thus, the importance of time management lies in what it can do for our lives and for society in general. But what is effective time management anyway, and what are some examples of time management that we can use to guide us?

What is Effective Time Management?

There are of course tons of time management theories that give their own reasons what makes time management useful. We will discuss how to improve time management in the next chapter, but for now let’s just discuss what we consider the qualities of effective time management. Good time management will be:

  1. Productive – we’ll get more done
  2. Efficient – we’ll get more done with less effort
  3. Beneficial – we will feel better and act better
  4. Easy to implement – hard, complex time management systems can cause more problems than they solve
  5. Adaptable – these systems should be able to apply to many different areas of life, whether career, health, relationships, hobbies, and more
  6. Useful – time management should solve problems

Great time management is not just about watching clocks and counting minutes. It’s also about prioritizing, goal setting, and becoming clear on values. Sure, the minutes count, but it’s also critical to spend the minutes on the right things, not just “acceptable” things. Opportunity cost is key here – the time we spend doing something else is time we could have spent on a more productive and valuable activity.

Examples of good time management systems, skills, and ideas that follow these principles are TODO lists, scheduling, the 80/20 rule, “unscheduling,” and more. We’ll discuss these and other ideas on how to improve time management in the next chapter. And in a later chapter we will discuss the best time management products and resources out there. For now, let’s just leave the qualities here as markers for what would constitute solid and workable time management advice.

The Advantages and Benefits of Time Management

The benefits and advantages of these skills may be obvious, but let’s list some of the more critical ones anyway (we’ve already mentioned some above):

  • Less stress
  • Better health (physical and mental)
  • More money
  • More time for fun and fulfilling activities
  • More success at lower personal costs
  • More success at lower societal costs
  • Meeting your potential
  • More time with family
  • More discipline
  • Greater sense of purpose

This is just a small sample. Unfortunately, many people don’t see, or ignore to see, the benefits of these practices. Time management studies and other research into human productivity (many of which have been discussed in other chapters of this webbook) have shown that we are terrible, overall, at managing our time, and I believe we are getting worse. With entertainment and other distractions at our fingertips, we will continue to get worse with managing our time if we don’t take action now. Time management statistics show that we are getting more and more unable to ‘unplug’ ourselves from the social and digital network; for that reason, we get lost in activities that seem to be ‘useful and productive’ but are in fact nothing of the sort.

People who have time management problems obviously will experience the opposite of some or all of these benefits. They will be huge disadvantages and negative draws on energy, vitality, and happiness.

Let’s Figure This Out!

With all this out of the way, let’s figure out how exactly to improve our time management skills.

==> Go to Chapter 8: Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills