Is It Really Not About Time Management?

Poor, poor old “time management.”

It seems that it’s open season on the concept as writers and bloggers around the world take their turn in saying that whatever time management is, “it” is not about “that.”    What are they saying, and why is it that they have a point… but only a very, very small one?

David Allen weighed in on the issue with an article entitled “Time Management is Not the Issue” in which he argues that “GTD® is not about time management—it’s about how you manage yourself and your choices, within that time.”  He goes on to add that “If it were, just buying and using a calendar (and a good watch) would handle it.”

He concludes by saying: “When I ask people, “What’s the next action?” on big projects they’re procrastinating about, the answer is often, “Find time to….” Well, you won’t ever have time to change your corporate culture, write the book, or lose weight. Until you define the very next action, you don’t know how much time you really need. “Pick a date and email my assistant to set the senior team meeting about changing our culture” only takes two minutes—less time than it took to read this essay.”

I confess, that there are some statements in the above excerpt that are a bit puzzling, so I don’t really understand the point he’s making.  Before I make an attempt, here is what Tony Schwartz author of the Harvard Business Review Article “Manage your Energy, Not Your Time” has to say.

“Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute”


“As with all rituals, setting aside a particular time to do it vastly increases the chances of success.”


“__ There are significant gaps between what I say is most important to me in my life and
how I actually allocate my time and energy.”

I suspect that the point he’s trying to make (once you get past the misleading headline) is that both time management and energy management are important.

Elisha Goldstein picks up a similar idea by proclaiming that “It’s About Attention Management, Not Time Management.”  She says “What more and more business leaders are finding is instead of doing more things faster, you need to learn how to prioritize your attention and do the most important things really well. So whether you’re trying to be more effective and less stressed at your current job or schooling, or more effective at finding a job because you just got laid off, attention management is the key to being effective in today’s New Business World. In other words, the issue isn’t so much time management, but attention management in work and life.”

According to other authors, they agree that it’s not about time management, but it’s about something more important that they happen to be selling, such as “commitment management,” “time allocation,” “goal management,” “productivity,” “ego management” and “culture change.”

This might be a case of wanting to craft interesting, grabby headlines than gaining true understand –  I can’t tell, but I do wonder.

Many of these authors make the point that time actually cannot be managed.    Time passes, regardless of what we do or don’t do, much in the same way that the planets move around the Solar System without our opinions or actions being taken into account.

On this basis alone, it’s possible to argue that it’s never about time management, period, because it doesn’t exist.

Try to explain that one to your grandparents over a hot cup of  cocoa…

The fact is, the only thing we can manage is our selves, inclusive of our habits, practices and rituals. When we use the term “time management” here at 2Time Labs it’s not because we are committed to studying topics that don’t exist… LOL

Instead, there is a popular understanding of what time management is — which is closer to the definition of self management.  It’s the reason why people describe programs like GTD as time management, no matter how many times David Allen insists that it’s not.

When we manage ourselves, it always has a time impact.  When we manage our spiritual growth, health, weight or emotional well-being, there is also always a time impact to be considered.

While it’s not possible to manage time, it’s also not possible to live in the world and ignore it, which is what some of the gurus are trying to say… “forget about time management, and instead, focus on this thing instead…”

The idea that we should give up something we know in order to get something new makes for good marketing slogans, but it’s hardly a good strategy to lead one’s life.  It’s better to manage multiple aspects concurrently, and not try to drop any one thing in favor of another.

That’s an old idea that perhaps should be put to bed.

Instead, we should adopt the notion that it’s always about time management, and lots of other things as well.  They must all be carefully tended in order to live a productive life.