I recently wrote a post about time management software and how this can help you become more productive. In this post, I want to explore seven answers to the question: Why is time management important?
Why Is Time Management Important? 7 Reflections
You can easily find a great deal of advice about 'how' you can manage your time better. There's nothing wrong with such 'how to' advice — but truthfully, you're not going to take time management seriously until you figure out for yourself why managing your time better matters to you.
Your 'why' on this topic is going to be individual to you. No-one else is leading the same life that you are. Only you know and understand what matters to you and you're the only one that can take responsibility for living the life you want to.
One thing's for sure: if you don't decide how you're going to use your time, someone else will.
If you're unsure how you'd answer 'why is time management important' it's a sign that you've not clarified what you want from life or how you're going to get it.
1. Have No Regrets
When your career is over, or when the doctor has told you your time is coming to an end, do you want to be able to look back on a life well-lived?
If you do, then you must make decisions each day about how you will spend your time.
People who get ahead, who achieve anything of significance, are able to commit their time and energy on a consistent basis to their most important goals.
Ed Koch said:
God gave me a very good hand to play over my 88 years. I have no regrets.
Taking action. On your goals. Consistently.
That's the formula that leads to success. There are many ways to define success — what matters is how you define success for yourself. This is why only you can identify the 'why' in the 'why is time management important?' question.
Here are some possibile 'whys':
- I want to be a great parent to my children and be fully present when I'm with them each day.
- I want to make progress in my career so I can provide for my family.
- I want to be happy with my life, spending the time I have on as many life-affirming activities and experiences as I can.
- I want to be financially independent and live without worrying about money.
- I want to spend time on my favourite hobbies and pastimes.
Your why statement might include one or more of these or any number of other possibilities. The point is, that without defining your purpose(s) you are running the risk that time will slip through your fingers, and you'll end up with some significant regrets later on.
2. Take The Pressure Off
Our working lives are unrecognisable compared to when I first started work in the early 1980's.
Handling the quantum leap in the volume of information which pours into our inboxes is now a major factor in self-reported stress as this report makes clear.
Failing to handle the deluge of emails, Facebook, Twitter and other social messages, along with the proliferation of other digital information streams is one sure way to build pressure into your day.
Time management is about more than allocating time effectively. It is about being well organised with systems in place to sift things — what David Allen calls 'stuff' — into urgent, important, interesting, irrelevant or unwanted categories. If you're interested, you can take a useful challenge around your 'stuff' on the GTD website.
Without a system in place to organise your incoming everything, you'll soon find yourself floundering in a sea of confusion. That's when stress levels begin to soar.
Our brains have a marvellous capacity for managing so-called open-loops. These are the unanswered queries and open questions that might or might not be important. Your brain will continuously hunt down solutions, (nature abhors a vacuum) and will continue to jangle your nerves as a result.
Then there's the other problem a lack of organisation will cause. The sudden deadline — which wasn't originally urgent, it's just crept up on you unnoticed. Your day, which ten minutes ago looked relatively serene, is suddenly plunged into a crisis.
This is all totally self-inflicted. With a little thought and a bit of preparation, you'll stay on top of your 'stuff' so that the time you think you have, stays that way.
3. Focus Your Attention
Time is a non-renewable resource. Once the sun has set on today, you're never getting it back.
It's not like other resources, such as your energy, which you can top up and refresh regularly.
As time is linear, it moves constantly in one direction, only forwards. It is also focal: you can't be in two places at the same time.
Your attempts at multitasking are unlikely to be successful as I've shown previously in the article Why Multitasking Is Bad For You (And What To Do About It).
So you've got to find a way to focus your attention in defined periods throughout your day.
Effective time management allows you to make deliberate decisions about what will be your focus of attention. Allocating time to topics that you choose to focus on, ensures that you spend time on the things which you've decided matter most.
The alternative means you're leaving all this to chance, or giving up the responsibility to someone else. Your goal is to anticipate what lies ahead (taking into account deadlines, your essential interests, responsibilities, goals and objectives) then plan your time accordingly.
That way you're enabling and facilitating success .
A daily time management practice can also help you cope when your best-laid plans don't work. With regular and constent daily planning such problems don't matter as much. Each new day you can revise and update your plan so you get back on course.
4. Improve The Quality of Your Decision Making
Whenever you make a decision, you're always making a choice.
A decision is always saying 'yes' to something and saying 'no' to something else.
Decisions change the course of your life, in small ways and in big ways. You want to make sure that you get them right.
If your day is filled with too many choices, too much activity and too little thinking time, there is every chance you're going to make decisions which at best are poorly evaluated and at worst are mistakes.
In Thinking Fast and Slow (affiliate link) Daniel Kahneman shows how repeated scientific experiments demonstrate, with no room for doubt, that everyone uses shortcuts to make decisions.
These are called heuristics, some of which you will almost certainly recognise. For example there's our tendency to be overly influenced by our own experience, while failing to take relevant statistical evidence into account.
For instance, the data on car safety is objective and totally scientific, so if purchasing a car that is safe is your top priority, simply looking up this evidence should tell you all you need to know.
However, if you know someone who had a safety issue with the same car (which evidence shows is statistically the safest), you are disproportionately likely (and statisically speaking, irrationally) to change your decision.
I've discussed Daniel's book elsewhere (5 Best Books About How Our Minds Work), and of course, these heuristics evolved as useful tools to enable us to survive in complex environments. But many of them will lead you astray in certain situations.
As all of these heuristics are hard-wired thinking shortcuts, you need to put strategies in place to mitigate the risk that your decision will go badly wrong.
A good example is our tendency, as social animals, to be prone to 'groupthink'. An antidote to groupthink is to delegate someone in the team to prepare the case for an opposing view. These and other tactics are explored in this article(Five Pitfalls in Diagnosis and Prescribing).
Without fairly rigorous time management, you're likely to end up rushing your decisions — with all the in-built possibility that you won't get it right. Remember that decisions are always a 'yes' and a 'no'.
Are you certain you're not inadvertently missing out on something good, or consigning yourself to more than the necessary amount of misery?
5. Recharge Your Batteries
You have resources at your disposal with which anything you want to achieve can be attained.
These are your time, your energy and the topics on which you choose to focus your attention.
Preserving and renewing your available energy is a key element in effective time management.
If you're constantly rushing from one activity to another, without pause or time to reflect, you're not building in time for recovery.
A life without pause is a life that quickly empties of enjoyment and contentment. Allocating time during your day to stop and clear your head is not only a useful mental wellbeing practice, it will also make you more effective when you switch back on.
Here are three evidence backed reasons why taking breaks makes sense.
6. Self-Discipline Is A Skill
It takes a certain amount of self-discipline to become better at time management.
Self-discipline comes easier to some than others but is just like any other skill — you get better at it with practice.
The benefits of improving your self-discipline aren't limited to getting better at allocating and managing your time. They spill over into other aspects of your life too. People who are more self-disciplined tend to be the ones who win the big prizes.
Among the benefits of increased self-control are:
- Not acting impulsively.
- Keeping your promises and so being more trustworthy.
- Overcoming procrastination and getting things done.
There are exercises you can do to strengthen your self-control and self-discipline, some of which are outlined in Willpower and Self Discipline Guidance and Exercises, an article by Remez Sasson.
7. You'll Enjoy Life More And Enjoy More Life
By now you'll have a good answer to anyone who asks why is time management important?
There's one final reason which shouldn't be overlooked. Life is for living, and we are afterall human beings, not human doings.
If you're not creating opportunities for yourself to pause and reflect, to experience life as it happens, then time and with it, the rest of your life, will just pass you by.
Being sufficiently self-disciplined to create downtime when you can enjoy the pleasures of life, ensures you are enhancing the quality of your life and with it your chance to be happy too.
You're also likely to enjoy more of life too.
Stress has many unpleasant side-effects which I've discussed in the article What Is Stress Management About?
There's little doubt that building your time management skills is likely to alleviate much of the pressure you experience day to day and with it the stress which unrelenting pressure can create.