Have you ever wondered how many times Mick Jagger said (or sang) “time is on my side”?  However, many times that it is, he would be wrong. Time isn’t on our side.

Every business 101 class should include a healthy dose of time management topics, specifically Peter Drucker’s synthesis of the management of time. At a minimum, everyone should know the following few pearls of wisdom from Drucker to put the importance of time management in proper perspective.

  • “Effective executives know that time is the limiting factor. The output limits of any process are set by the scarcest resource. In the process we call “accomplishment,” this is time.”
  • “We can’t get more time. We can get more money, more knowledge, more skills, more friends, more of almost anything. But not time.”
  • “The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.”

The third point above is particularly humbling. The idea that our supply of time will never increase and that we can’t put a price on it should lead us to have a very high level of interest in managing this very precious resource. We should be motivated to take full advantage of what time we have and to ensure we waste none of it.

The first step in managing time is to shed our arrogance and accept the above principles. Time doesn’t wait for us, but unfortunately, there seems to be an implicit arrogant belief that one can move at one’s own speed and that will be perfectly acceptable, thinking perhaps the rest of the world will wait.

Maybe that’s true if you are shopping at a mall or attending a family event, but not if you are trying to catch a plane or manage a project. Project Management Institute principles teach us that time is critical and is one of the areas that must be managed in order to complete projects successfully.

So where are the pixie dust and magic beans for time management? There are none. So how does one manage time? It’s simply just hard work.

Before we make the leap to improving our time management during project engagements, it might be helpful to review one’s time holistically and attempt to make improvements, whether in your business or personal life.

Drucker lived to 96 so perhaps he did have some understanding of time, and through his writings, he has given us a few guidelines on how to tackle time management via a three-step method.

  1. The first step in this process is to commit to recording your time for a few weeks or a couple of months. If an automated system is available, all the better, but manually recording on paper or in Excel is equally acceptable. Excel is a superior choice since the tool would facilitate analyzing your time in the next step. Recording your time needs to be done in as real-time as possible and certainly the same day.
  2. The next step in the process is to review the time recordings from step one and analyze the results. The purpose is to detect where the time is “spent.” Part of this process is to determine if your non-value-add tasks could be eliminated, if there are overlapping tasks, common tasks, or tasks that could be deferred. It would be interesting to determine if the Pareto principle applies, i.e., 80% of your time is consumed by 20% of your tasks. There might be a few surprises when you add up the time spent on various tasks, as was my case when I did this for myself many years ago.
  3. The final step is to synthesize the analysis and make adjustments by eliminating, prioritizing, deferring, and/or combining tasks. Part of this piece of the puzzle is to determine improvements that can be made in the ways one uses the fixed amount of time available to us.

It is recognized that we probably don’t want to do what Peter Drucker advocates. It is work and can be tedious to record your time and analyze it, particularly since we seek immediate gratification and there is no apparent “right now” benefit to this effort. The process of recording and analyzing one’s time is not a life-long activity. Time should be recorded for an abbreviated duration to capture a sample of what we do and where our time is allocated. And it does indeed take time to record, analyze, and change behaviors, but it might be time well invested.

The Dalai Lama says, “Time passes unhindered. When we make mistakes, we cannot turn the clock back and try again. All we can do is use the present well.”

Behavior is difficult to change, but perhaps illuminating the use of time will give pause to truly understand how effectively, or not, we use our very precious allocation of time. Once time is gone, we can’t get it back. So, if we can use time to our advantage, theoretically we will be happier and more content.

The noted Japanese author, Haruki Murakami says of time, “Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

Like most challenges and obstacles, time management is not a new principle. We can look back more than 500 years ago and quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Time stays long enough for those who use it.”

Using it wisely, of course, is the trick.

More recently Jack Kornfield said, “The trouble is you think you have time.” But we don’t, despite what Mick Jagger says.