Time Management – is now the time to get beyond this distracting oxymoron?

Time management is an extremely popular topic. Is this productive?

A Google search for the phrase “time management” returns the droll news that there are more than 14,900,000 responses. Amazon lists 448 books with ‘time management” in the title or subject line. A similar search on Youtube.com returns over 2,000 videos about time management.

But, what can this really be about? Time is a concept we use to delimit the past from the present, and whatever future there might be. Einstein is reported to have said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”((1)) Perhaps because we, as human beings, are a fleeting moment, we have a special focus on time. We are very aware that our time is limited, unknowable.

In any event, as is obvious, yet easily ignored, time, just speaking of it in the world of business and organizations, is not an inventory item. Nor is it a piece of capital equipment. No one has figured out how to make it intellectual property. Time has no place on any financial statements as an asset nor liability. Time only appears there in the sense already mentioned, as a way of differentiating what has already happened from the present moment, coupled usually with suppositions and claims about what will happen in the future. Time is not a process to produce value for customers.

All of this is just chewing around the fact that time appears to be important to our work lives, but it is ineluctably, and unmanageably drifting on.

Then we have this other word, “management”,  in the phrase, “time management”. Management is about goals, direction, focus, persistence, process, enrolling and enabling the work of others, and results. No where in the work of management is there a focus on controlling, directing, or managing something uncontrollable. In fact, when it comes to uncontrollable elements in the life of a firm or organization, the most applicable maxim is: “Control the controllable and forget about everything else.”

When I think of this phrase, “time management” I get brain hurt. The two concepts just can not occupy the same space in my mind. “Time management” exactly demonstrates the meaning of the word “oxymoron”. The Greek roots are “sharp” and “dull”. Are you getting brain hurt now?

Figure out what is important and getting on with doing that. What results are you striving for?

The real truth is that we should drop the phrase “time management” from our vocabularies as meaningless, or  worse, a distracting mental construct. So, what is all of this about? Even a casual glance through the vast literature of “time management”, or just a quick remembrance of our own thinking about this specious “time management”, reveals what this is all about. It always come down to figuring out what is important and getting on with doing the important. What results are we striving for?

Seize the Moment for the Important

The strategy is to determine what is really important for your business and simply seize time and work on that. All of those other activities that are less important must not really need to be done when you really are focusing on what is important. And, we know that all that other day-to-day work will always overflow any available time. The only strategy to follow is to focus on the important. Generate real results around the important. Following this approach will both improve your productivity and the company’s results and shed very interesting light on all of those day-to-day meetings, conversations, and other tasks that now are getting crowded off your plate by your focus on the important.


  1. I could not find a reference citation for this quote. It is ubiquitous on the web. Perhaps it is apocryphal? In a recent re-read of David Allen’s Getting Things Done Penguin, 2001), he has a side note (p. 5): “Time is the quality of nature that keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn’t seem to be working”. – Anonymous []