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Time management is a useful concept, perhaps. The term carries with it notions of mastery or control, but usually adds very little in the way of practical instructions on how to DO time management, so nothing changes.

I think that this is where the problem starts. Pedalling time management as a set of skills is misleading. We all know how to prioritise, make lists, plan our day and set goals, for example. None of these will help much if you feel overloaded, pressured, stressed, or you are heading for burn-out.

There is a myth that we can manage time, in the same way that we manage, say, our finances.

We can’t manage time, we can only manage ourselves. That means our behaviour, our attitudes and our thinking. So what’s needed, to ‘learn time management’ is not a reminder to use skills we already have, but a shift in attitude.

The usual time management advice is useful, obvious, and no good, apparently. If it was that easy the web would be awash with stories of people bragging about their time management skills. When did you last see an article entitled “I now have a richer life because I’ve learned to manage my time well”, or “I’m a paragon of time management and you can be too”? 

I’m not saying that the standard advice on time management isn’t sound. it’s good old reliable common sense, so it must be. It’s just that like a lot of common sense, people don’t do it much. Take, for example, one of the time management nostrums, ‘make lists’. Lists are good of course, because people who make lists get more done. But is that because of the list, or because they are more disciplined, organised, or whatever?

Time is entirely democratic, we all have exactly the same amount of it allotted to us each day. What we choose to do (I know, you have no choice, right?), is up to us.

And that starts with our philosophy of life, with what we want our life to be like, and how we want to be thought of by others (now and after we’ve gone, when time finally has run out).

We might as well try to manage the weather, as manage time.

No blame attached

Coming back to ‘attitude’, a knee-jerk response might be “Oh! So you are saying it’s all my fault if I don’t manage my time well?”

No, that is not what I’m saying. The sort of pressure that leads people to thinks about time management is usually due to feeling the overload caused by external demands and pressures. Generally it is very unlikely that we can do much about these; they are imposed on us by bosses, circumstances, or our responsibilities.

I instead, if we look inside ourselves, understanding our emotional responses and managing our physical resources, we can build resilience, think more clearly, make better choices and generally improve our wellbeing.

This puts us in a better place to respond to the demands placed upon us. Managing ourselves is not necessarily easier than ‘managing time’, but it is infinitely more likely to meet with success, if you can make the effort.

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