Why Is Time Management Important

“You save those three minutes, you save those five minutes, and those minutes add up. And those minutes become hours. And days. And weeks. That is how you make time.” -Jocko Willink, Standard Directive 023

Introduction: What is Time Management?

In November of 2005, I sat down at my desk in my dorm room in Barringer Hall at Virginia Tech. It was a Sunday, and I had just returned with my favorite weekend breakfast from Owens Dining Hall: a Belgian waffle with every square filled with syrup, and a baseball-sized dollop of whipped cream in the center. I set the Styrofoam container holding my waffle in the open space on my desk, and prepared the rest of my Sunday morning routine by opening up the movie “Bottle Rocket,” which I had downloaded overnight. After the movie was over, my plan was to spend the rest of the day attempting to fend off the alien hordes in my favorite first-person shooter video game, Natural Selection. As the opening credits began to play, I leaned over and grabbed my breakfast. The anticipation to eat this circle of sugar had been building since I woke up, and I could not wait another moment to take my first bite. As I grabbed the box, I noticed the stack of Computer Science books and notepads directly behind it, full of homework, projects, and studying that needed my attention. After the briefest of cost benefit analyses, I decided that my current plan seemed much more fun, and that the work could be completed at the noncommittal time of, “later.”

With the calls to be a responsible student effectively rebuffed, I picked up my fork, and cut into the waffle. The flavor, as I had anticipated, was decadent. Every sweet taste bud on my tongue was assaulted with sugar as I chewed, and watched the opening scene to my movie. As I went for my second bite, I noticed that I had an unread email in my inbox. I put my fork down, and clicked into my email account. The email was from the professor of my programming class, and the subject read, “Test Grades Posted.” I swallowed again, except this time out of nervousness instead of gluttony. This test was our third and final exam, and was instrumental in my attempt to raise my grade out of the depths of failure. I needed it to be at least a B in order to stand a chance of passing the course. And I needed to pass the course in order for my Computer Science major to remain on track. I paused the movie out of respect for the moment, and logged into the online grade checking system. My heart raced as each click of my mouse brought me further toward my destiny.

“Course: CS3001.”

“Grades.”

“Test 3.”

“65/100. D.”

With the click of a mouse, a morning that had started with promise and joy turned into one of doom and grief. My vision tunneled in on the big, fat, derelict D that was on the page. My body felt like it was in a sauna. The D began sucking away my energy. My head got heavy, and I slowly lowered it to rest on the corner of my desk. The dollop of whipped cream on my waffle by this time had begun to melt, oozing down the channels, and dissipating on the bottom of the container. I felt like I could do the same.

When I graduated high school, all I wanted to do was become a video game programmer. And I figured that since I loved playing video games so much, it would be an easy and natural fit. The problem was, I loved playing video games a little too much. By my junior year, while the rest of my Computer Science classmates were thriving, I was failing. At the time, I had no idea why. I wasn’t stupid. I most definitely had passion for programming. And, I truly enjoyed the nature of figuring out puzzles through program design. Now that I have many years of detachment from that time in my life, and thus vastly more wisdom, I know exactly what my problem was. While my classmates studied, and worked on their assigned programming problems, I was playing video games, watching movies, and playing racquetball with my friends. They were practicing good time management, and I was practicing poor time management.

At Echelon Front, we believe that every problem that we face in every aspect of our lives is a leadership problem. We also believe that leadership is the solution to all of our problems. Thus, with that philosophy guiding us, we can think of time management as time leadership. So, the definition of time management is similar to that of leadership itself. Time management is influencing your usage of time in support of your goals.

Time is our most valuable resource. It’s the only resource in our lives that can never be replenished. If you waste money, you can earn more. If you are negligent and break a tool, you can get another one. But you will never ever regain the seconds that tick by on life’s unstoppable clock. Yet, so often we fail to recognize the gravity of time. And we let it flow through our fingertips as plentiful water does as we stand in the ocean.

Why is Time Management Important?

Because time is intangible, it is difficult for us to truly feel the effects of it ticking away, and thus difficult for us to be aware of how much of it we are mismanaging and in turn wasting. If you had your week’s supply of water stacked up in jugs in your kitchen, and began pouring it all out, you could plainly see that it was rapidly disappearing, and intuit the consequences of that. Unfortunately, our perception of time doesn’t naturally work like that. Until, of course, it’s too late.

Because of this, we are constantly falling prey to the litany of things that request our time. Television. Social media. Pointless arguments. Video games. We allow them our time because we can’t naturally connect how our usage of time affects our goals in life. Something else that happens, since we are also not naturally good at using the third Law of Combat, Prioritize and Execute, we tend to spend copious amounts of time on the wrong priorities. We trick ourselves into thinking that we are using our time effectively, when in reality it is once again a waste.

Why Time Management Is Important – Our Human Tendency to Waste Time

We continue on in this blissfully ignorant existence until some cog in this cobbled together machine of time management wears out, and the whole thing comes crashing down. This is exactly what happened to me at Virginia Tech. In high school, I could play video games all night, show up to school, get my homework done in 30 minutes, and still get good grades. That even worked for the first two years of college, when my classes were mostly foundational. But, when the complexity of the programs increased, and the difficulty of the subject matter along with it, all the time spent playing video games, watching movies, and playing racquetball dominated my day enough that the time I had left was no longer enough to do even remotely well in my classes.

Unfortunately for me, this catastrophe still wasn’t enough to help me feel my time slipping away. But, fortunately, for many people, it is. These people, when faced with emerging priorities that require the bulk of their available time each day, see that the way that they have been managing their time will no longer suit their needs. Happily, this is often caused by a decision to pursue some new, exciting, life changing goal for themselves or their family. A new career. School. Kids. Sometimes, it is caused by unexpected disaster or tragedy. Sickness. Failure. Market collapse. Sometimes, the person will attempt to face these new priorities utilizing the same strategy that they always used. That strategy tends to quickly fail, and the reality of time is thrust into their face such that they can’t do anything but see it clearly.

Why is it Hard to Use Time Management?

Sometimes, this is indeed enough. But, human beings tend to resist change, so often it requires more. The person is now faced with two choices between two different kinds of pain. The pain of change, and the pain of failure. From a detached perspective, this seems like an easy choice. However, there is a reason that we resist changing how we manage our time. And that is because it takes effort. It takes the effort of constantly paying attention to that ticking clock and the actions we are taking as it ticks. It requires us to constantly evaluate whether or not these specific actions are the ones that should be taken right now. It also requires us to forego the many gratifying rewards that we are used to occupying our time with, and replace them with less instantly satisfying endeavors.

But, the pain of changing the way we execute time management pales in comparison to that of failing to reach a goal we’ve set for ourselves. To have sincerely desired to achieve something we knew would create meaning in our lives, and come up short. And then have to endure the knowledge that the failure was self-imposed. It happened because we mis-managed how we used our time.

At Virginia Tech, when I realized that all the video games, movies, and racquetball were going to derail the only thing I had really ever dreamed about doing, I chose to suffer the pain of defeat. I didn’t change anything about how I used my time. Within the year, I had changed my major to the only area of study that could get me out of college in 4 years, Interdisciplinary Studies, and joined the Marine Corps.

Cultivating Effective Time Management

Every human being who interacts with human beings is a leader, regardless of whether or not that person has developed the skill of effective leadership. In the same way, we are all practicing time management regardless of whether or not the way we do it is truly beneficial to our goal. We either lead well, or we lead poorly. We either manage our time appropriately, or mismanage it.

Since we have already acknowledged that time management is actually time leadership, we can utilize the same tools to lead our time as we do to lead ourselves and others. The Laws of Combat.

Cover and Move

In every aspect of your life, you are on a team. That team is relying upon you to accomplish the tasks you are responsible for to accomplish the mission. When you waste time, you are more likely to fail in your part of the mission, and the whole team suffers. Recognize how, by properly managing your time, you can better support the team and the mission. Additionally, if you manage your time appropriately, you will become more efficient. That efficiency can allow you to not only complete your part of the mission, but also help other team members accomplish theirs. If you only use your time to support the team, then managing it will become much easier.

Simple

Set a simple, easy to follow, easy to understand, schedule for every day. Create a simple plan to maintain that schedule. A large part of being efficient with your time is knowing in advance how you’re going to use it. Having a plan will eliminate any deliberation, and thus reduce the chances that something pointless will sneak in. Also, when you have a timeline, that will limit the time you can spend on any given task. When you have that time pressure, you will naturally be forced to be more efficient with the time available for that task. Lastly, simplify your work environment such that there are no distractions.

Prioritize and Execute

You need to align your available time to your top priorities. Determine which chunks of time in your schedule are most appropriate for working on certain priorities. Ensure that your schedule isn’t so rigid that you can’t adjust it to handle emerging priorities and other contingencies. Have priorities ready to be executed upon if you find yourself with a few unexpected moments available. Do not fill them with drivel. To do this, you have to be able to detach from your normal habits and replace them with productive ones.

Decentralized Command

You must understand why time management is important. You have to understand why the seconds utilized effectively here will ultimately result in a better life for yourself and your team. And why the seconds wasted here will result in a worse one. Do you HAVE to be doing everything that you have planned in your schedule? Can any of it be delegated?

Extreme Ownership

To make all this happen, you first have to take Extreme Ownership of your time. Be aware of it. Feel it ticking away. And take it back from those that only seek to grab your attention and waste your time for their own personal gain.

Discipline Equals Freedom

As with all other skills, leadership included, time management requires self-discipline. Your weaknesses will be constantly trying to convince you to abandon your new form of time management. To feed them your time, instead. But, don’t listen. Perform a time audit by examining how the 24 hours of your day get utilized. What are you doing with the small bits of time in between events? Understand what makes you waste time, and how you can replace that wastage with effective tasks. Instead of scrolling on Instagram on your phone while you wait for your coffee, can you have an article up and ready to go? Instead of listening to music during your workout, can you listen to a book on tape? Be disciplined in your pursuit of time management. And, as time goes on, repetition after repetition, you will get better at it. And that discipline will get you freedom.

How Time Management Will Improve Your Life

All of this begs the questions: Why is time management important in the workplace? Why is time management important in college? How will it improve my life?

When you take back control of your time, and start practicing effective time management, you will see yourself starting to make time. This doesn’t mean that you are going to break the laws of physics and somehow extend the day beyond the 24 hours that we all get. But, when those priorities begin stacking up, and you find yourself on the cusp of being overwhelmed, you will slowly and surely begin to see all the tiny bits of time that you can find that you didn’t see when you weren’t focused on managing it. The time spent deciding what to do. The time spent in between tasks. The time spent focusing on things that truly don’t matter to your life. When all of that goes away, the void of time can be filled with getting after it. You will accomplish more at work so that you can spend more time with your family. You will get more done at school. You will find time to exercise. You will find time to sleep more. You will find the time to get better in every aspect of your life. Simply because you changed the way that you looked at your time. That is why time management is important. It will literally improve every aspect of your life.

Ultimately, I finished college with a degree that I never intended to use aside from the required Bachelor’s Degree for applying to Officer Candidates School. Happily, the Marine Corps worked out very well for me. I ended up doing something more meaningful that I ever would have done as a video game programmer. But, that happened more because of luck than anything else. Don’t rely on luck. Rely on time management.

Conclusion

The sad nature of being human is that our time on Earth is finite. And, nobody knows exactly how much they have. Almost every person, when they realize that their time is nearly up, will be thinking about how much they wish they had more. More time to be with their family. More time to have done something meaningful. Don’t risk being on your deathbed feeling like you wasted what time you had. Do all you can to feel that, despite wanting more, the time you had was used to the best of your ability. You did as much as you could with what you got.

There’s no time to waste. So, the time is now.

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