Most of us have heard of time management, and many of us have tried to learn the skills required to properly manage our time. But what exactly is time management? And more importantly, how does it affect our lives?
In this blog post, we’ll define time management, explore its history, and discuss how it works. We’ll also look at some tips for managing your time effectively in today’s world. Finally, we’ll consider the future of time management and its potential impact on our lives.
So let’s dive in and learn more about time management!
What is time management?
Time management is a set of principles, tools, and skills that help you use your time in a way that aligns with your goals, values, and philosophy.
In short, time management is about living a more intentional and meaningful life.
The reason why this may seem strange is that we usually associate time management with productivity and efficiency, not purpose and meaning in life.
Yet research shows that our sense of meaning in life boils down to three things1:
- Coherence: Feeling that our lives are ordered and predictable, rather than chaotic and random
- Purpose: Having a sense that our day-to-day activities are oriented toward goals we value
- Significance: Feeling that our lives matter
Now consider how time management can help with each of these.
- Coherence: By setting goals and planning our time, we can create a sense of order in our lives. This predictability can help us feel more secure and in control.
- Purpose: By orienting your time toward goals you value, time management can help you live a more purposeful life.
- Significance: When you use time management skills to accomplish goals that matter to you, you’ll feel like your life has more significance.
In other words, time management isn’t just about being productive; it’s also about living a more intentional and fulfilling life.
What are the benefits of time management?
My research team and I published a massive time management study in 2021 that looked at close to 54,000 participants over more than four decades, and across six continents2.
Our goal was to look at how time management skills can affect individuals around the world and across time.
Some of the findings may surprise you.
First, time management explains 26.2% of the variance in performance and productivity for students, and 25.9% for workers.
In other words, time management is a significant predictor of success in school and work.
But there’s more to it.
Time management has a much stronger impact on our sense of purpose (35.1%), life satisfaction (42.6%), and mental health (55.6%).
It also reduces psychological distress (35.8%), including stress, work-family conflict, and worries about the future.
So time management can not only make you more successful, but it can also make you happier and healthier.
And these benefits are available to people of all ages, cultures, and walks of life.
The history of time management
We may sometimes assume that time management is a recent invention, but it’s been around for centuries.
The origins of time management as we know it today can be traced to Benedictine monks in the Middle Ages3. These monks lived in monasteries and followed a strict daily schedule: the horarium4.
The Benedictine horarium included time for work, prayer, study, and rest. This schedule was not about productivity or efficiency. Rather, it helped the monks live a simple, disciplined, balanced, and contemplative life.
I had the privilege of visiting a Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, where, in a sense, modern time management was born. For a time management researcher like me, that trip was a real pilgrimage.
The monks there still follow a daily horarium, and they were kind enough to show me around and answer my questions.
But as the prior, Father Cassian, lamented, today’s time management is often about cramming more into each day and being as productive. It’s all about getting more productive for the sake of productivity, rather than living a more meaningful life.
How did that happen? Long story short, the Benedictine’s time management ideals spread out to merchants and, eventually, the rest of society5,6. Little by little, people started to live by the clock and the schedule7,8.
But then the Protestants got involved9. (The Benedictines are Catholic.)
The Protestant work ethic, which originated with Martin Luther in the 16th century, emphasized hard work and productivity, rather than contemplation10,11. As the Protestant work ethic spread across Europe and North America, time management became more about efficiency and accumulating wealth.
These ideals led to an increasingly time-oriented society12,13. For instance, boats used to depart only when they were full. But eventually, they started to leave at fixed times, regardless of how many people were on board, and punctuality became more important14.
The industrial revolution led to further changes in our understanding of time. With the advent of factories, people had to work regular hours and adhere to a strict schedule15. Time management consultants for factories, like Frederick Taylor, also advocated for time-saving methods such as scientific management16.
In the domestic sphere, time management advice books for homemakers became popular in the early 20th century17,18. These books usually emphasized the importance of time-saving methods, such as meal planning and doing laundry efficiently.
Later in the 20th century saw time management become more normalized in society with, for example, time management training becoming common in the workplace19.
And that brings us to today. In the 21st century, time management is often about increasing productivity and efficiency. As we’ll see, however, there’s more to it than that. But first, let’s take a look at how and why time management works.
How time management works
Some people think that time management works because it helps us get more done in less time.
But that’s only part of the story.
Research shows that the main reason why time management leads to positive outcomes is that it helps people feel more in control of their time20–26.
Why is that so important? Because human beings have a deep-seated need to have control over their lives27. And organizing our time is a big part of that28.
When we use schedules to structure our lives, for instance, we’re satisfying that need for control because:
- We know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen
- We can plan and prepare for what’s coming up
- We can adjust our plans if something unexpected comes up
As a result, we feel like we’re in charge of our time, rather than time being in charge of us.
And how does time management enhance our feelings of control? There are a few ways.
- Aligning time and goals. When our time is organized in a way that supports our goals, we’re more likely to feel in control. For instance, if we have a goal to write a book, then scheduling writing time into our day will help us feel like we’re making progress towards that goal.
- Reducing time conflicts. When we have time conflicts, we feel like we’re constantly being pulled in different directions. But with proper scheduling skills, people can avoid time conflicts and the resulting feelings of stress and anxiety29.
- Improving time estimation skills. People often fall prey to the planning fallacy30, which is the tendency to underestimate how long it will take us to complete a task. This leads to time pressure and feelings of being overwhelmed. But time management skills can help us be more realistic in our time estimates, which enhances our feeling of control
So, time management isn’t just about getting more done in less time. It’s also about feeling more in control of our time. And that feeling of control is essential for our well-being.
Next, let’s take a look at the core dimensions of time management
The four core dimensions of time management
There are four core dimensions of time management: structuring, protecting, streamlining, and making sense of your time.
- Structuring time. This dimension is all about using time management tools, like schedules and to-do lists, to structure your time. People typically find it challenging to account for time because time cannot be seen, touched, or counted—it’s an abstract concept31. So time management tools can be helpful because they make time more concrete and visible.
- Protecting time. This dimension is about setting boundaries around your time so that you’re not interrupted or pulled away from what you’re doing32. It’s also about saying “no” to demands on your time that are not consistent with your goals. It’s especially helpful today because we’re constantly bombarded with demands on our time.
- Streamlining time. This is what’s commonly known as productivity and efficiency. Many people confuse time management with productivity. But productivity is only one aspect of time management. Prioritizing, time-saving techniques, and outsourcing time-consuming task can all help you streamline your time.
- Making sense of time. This dimension is about understanding how you spend your time and whether or not that aligns with your goals and values. Goal setting, journaling, reflecting on what you want out of life, and keeping a time log can all help with this. This is the most important time management dimension because it’ll help you figure out why you’re managing time in the first place. Without this, time management can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.
That’s a quick overview of time management. In the next section, we’ll look at some time management skills that can help you.
Time management tips for the modern world
The world has changed a lot in the last hundred years. And our time management practices need to change with it. Here are some time management tips for the modern world:
- Manage information. We live in an age of information overload. Texts, emails, social media notifications, and news alerts can all be coming at us at once. What we often forget is that all this information consumes our attention. And our attention is nothing but our time. So it’s important to manage the information that comes into our lives. One way to do this is to set time limits for checking your email and social media. Use app blockers, such as freedom.to, to block distracting websites and apps. Also consider using personal information managers such as OneNote, Notion, or Evernote.
- Set time boundaries. Remote work and email have blurred the boundaries between work and personal life because we’re now accessible 24/ hours a day. But this is why it’s more important than ever to set time boundaries. One way to do this is to designate certain times of the day for work and stick to those times. While most people have a morning routine, a shutdown routine at the end of the day can be just as important. This is when you wrap up loose ends, so you don’t have to think about work when you’re trying to relax in the evening.
- Buy time. In the past, time management meant doing everything yourself, faster. But in the modern world, there are more opportunities to outsource time-consuming tasks. For example, you can use a grocery delivery service, so you don’t have to spend time shopping for food. Robot vacuums can clean your floors while you’re doing other things. And there are now services that will do your laundry for you. So if you find yourself short on time, look for ways to outsource the tasks that are taking up too much of your time.
Those are just a few time management tips for the modern world. There are many more time management skills and strategies out there. The important thing is to a) find the ones that work for you and b) actually make time to learn and adopt them.
Because time management is only effective if you make time… for time management!
Time management is important because it helps us make the most of our time. And in the modern world, there are more demands on our time than ever before. So it’s important to find time management strategies that work for you and make time to implement them in your life.
Thank you for your time.
References (click to expand)
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