The Theory of Time Management


Jul 01

For those alive at the time, October 26th, 1985 marked an important day for pop culture. When Marty McFly stepped into that DeLorean and hit 88 mph, he brought all of the world along with him on one of the most intense and exciting experiences of our lives. It was at that point people started believing that people could actually have a shot at taking control of time and all it took was harnessing the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed to power the flux capacitor.

The Need for Time Management

Controlling time is one of the greatest illusions humanity has allowed itself to believe, with one of the simplest (and most common) statements muttered by every person dealing with the nature of time control (“I can do it later”; “There’s always tomorrow”). Unfortunately, the difficult lesson is that we are not guaranteed any time more than what we’ve already used. The video clip above references that fact in and of itself, with the movie’s 25th anniversary interview on the Today Show. This is why managing time is not only a much better phrase, but a valid truth that deserves acceptance.

The culture and area we live in drive our need for time management. In order to actualize our success, we are required to push further faster and with more intensity. To succeed through our growth phases and achieve new levels of success, we must be willing to go all-in and do whatever we can to make it work. This requires commitment and dedication in all forms. This creates the tendency to live in instants, to rush and to push non-stop. Within the last 75 years our culture has invented things like fast food, drive-thru windows, cliff note versions of novels, pills to put you to sleep (and wake you up); just to name a few. Humanity has chosen to live in the farce of control and can only feel that control slip through their fingers as each birthday passes. This is neither healthy, nor profitable in the long-term. It is, however, the world in which we live.

This is exactly why help is needed. Individuals need to understand how to prioritize, choose and ultimately understand the opportunity costs of life. The table shown here is a time management diagram. Created by Stephen Covey, it helps each individual to diagram out where they are spending their effort and time. One of the first and easiest pitfalls we can fall into is trying to respond and fix everything that comes across our desks. One of the biggest issues I see in any industry is the tendency to live in the urgent. Whether a task can be categorized as important or not, it often includes a driving force behind it pushing for immediate solutions.


Managing Important vs. Urgent

Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. Managing time effectively, and achieving the things we want to achieve, means spending time on things that are important and not just urgent. To do this, and to minimize the stress of having too many tight deadlines, it’s important to understand this distinction:

  • Important activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals, whether these are professional or personal.
  • Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are often associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals. Urgent activities are often the ones we concentrate on; they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

We have to learn to be able to categorize and differentiate between the important and the urgent. The key component in being able to do that has to do with mental clarity. We need our glasses clear to see what’s right in front of us and what’s further down the road. One of the best examples I’ve seen came from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. It all starts with one main premise, which is common sense, but that a lot of us, especially today, seem to forget. What he reminds us of is the finite amount of memory a brain can hold. Eventually, if the space is full, then the only way to remember new information is to write over old info. That is, unless we keep our internal hard drives regularly defragged.

Managing Brain Capacity

Basically, this means to get things out of your head as quickly as possible. The more things are written down, the more they can be compiled and organized inside the workflow chart he describes (pictured below). This is the starting point – making sure EVERYTHING gets written down – and out of our heads (i.e. agendas, talking points, notes, requests, etc…). Utilizing daily task lists and keeping everything organized on a regular basis will help us take big steps towards our time being used more efficiently.


The activity of getting something out of your head and write it down can, on its own, be one of the most clarifying practices one can do. Once it’s written down (whether on paper or digitized) it allows your brain to let that information go and you can finally start sifting through the trees. This will also automatically improve focus and even energy levels, as the mental battle for clarity gives way to open and refreshing thoughts. A previous post, Time Management, takes some of these same principles to help people as individuals prioritize their life and ultimately take control of their situations. How do these tools work on the team level?

Time Management with Groups

Board Management, or any kind of team management, means working with and clarifying multiple brains – certainly creating a more difficult challenge. This challenge, however, does not change the strategy of dealing with organization, but just a larger scale of the same problem. Thus, if you find your board, team or group struggling to move forward, keep organized or even communicate with each other, here are some starter questions to ask yourself:

  • Either by group secretary or recording device, are all the details being taken down during team meetings?
  • Are individuals in the meeting taking notes and keeping track of items specifically relating to them?
  • Do individuals in your team keep track responsibilities, tasks and deadlines?
  • Is there a clear system of reporting/accountability to ensure all needed tasks are accomplished?
  • Is there an easy and clear communication system to disseminate information and keep goals and objectives on their front of your group’s mind?

If you answered “No” to any of these questions above, you are not giving your board or group the opportunity to succeed. Simply enough, they need the tools to work properly. If I want to run a 5k in the morning, I better not leave the house without first having breakfast. If I want my team to successfully accomplish the goals I have for them, then I need to make sure I give them every chance to succeed. They need detailed instructions, clear communication and regular reminders.

These are the kinds of tools we all need if we are going to survive and thrive in this world, unless of course we had our own concussion-style accident and invented our own theory of time travel. We will never be able to control time, but we can manage it. That will, without question, give each of us the experience of higher accomplishments and the feeling of more time to enjoy our world. I would love to continue on this topic of time management, but I’m “OUTATIME” for now.

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