Time Management Is An Illusion; Time Can't Be Managed!

Last Update: March 21, 2021

The Illusion Of Time Management

Time itself can't be managed. I said it in the title ... there you go... I've said it again. This doesn't mean I think that time isn't useful. It most certainly is. But to me, the term 'Time Management' has always been a misnomer.

Going Back In Time a Little ...

From a very young age, various people (mainly parents) used some of their time teaching me how to ’read’ time on a clock. After a while, just like you, I got it of course.

From that point in time, they (mainly parents), started using the time to control me. They controlled me by telling me to be back at a particular time or to only be out for a period of time.

Then of course school controlled me through time constraints. School always started at a particular time, and it ended at a particular time. As you know, all the lessons started and ended at specific times.

At some time in my teens, I read that time is an invention, but until the late 19th century there was no agreed standard time around the World. This led to, for example, early American Railways issuing 75 different timetables for different time zones across the states.

Over thousands of years, lots of different people around the World put some of their time into inventing many different time systems.

The Importance Of time

I learned that time was standardised for most of the World by agreement around 1906; except that some countries didn’t accept the agreement! The last to join in was as late as 1950.

The time system that we use Worldwide today is designed to avoid chaos for navigation purposes, communications, control of workers of all kinds, and trillions or more other purposes. As you know, it is used for all sorts of useful controls and measurements. It is in effect a human life management tool.

As you know, we are each born with an unknown amount of time within which to make our mark. We have no idea how many days we will have. We do know that on any one day we have the same amount of time as is available everyone else wherever we are in the World.

We can control what we choose to fit into a period of time, be it small or large. We can influence what others fit into a period of time. In other words, we can use time as a management tool for controlling ourselves, others, and countless other things.

However, we have no control over time itself.

We can choose to be productive and feel that we have used our time well.

We can choose to be unproductive and perhaps feel that we wasted some time.

The feeling that we are wasting time or using it well is a subjective idea of course. To me, the term ’wasting time’ means periods of thoughtless, pointless or useless activity. To me, 'using time well' means thoughtfully doing things that are useful for me or others.

Time itself persistently and simply ticks away.

My time is mine alone. Your time is yours. We cannot exchange our time with each other. Unlike material objects of all kinds, time cannot be moved about, developed, increased, replaced, borrowed, shared, given away, changed nor managed.

Some say it can be exchanged for money. This is an illusion... a persons labour can be exchanged for money. Time is often used as a tool to help manage that labour.

There you have it. Time is a tool, it really is not a resource that can be managed.

The Challenge

The challenge we face is that focusing on Time Management per se is misleading and can be counterproductive.

Focusing on Task Management (for want of a better descriptor) and carrying out those tasks, is what gets things done within the constraints of time.

What We Can Do With Time

What we can do with time is to use it as a management tool (for all aspects of life) for (artificial) control, and as a measurement system, for whatever we want to do.

I use the word artificial in relation to time constraints, because most time constraints imposed by ourselves or others really are artificial, whether they serve a purpose or not.

We can manage everything we do within the constraints of time, but can't manage time itself.

On a day to day basis, using time as a constraint helps us to make useful decisions. Without time constraints, prioritising becomes less critical. By using time as a management tool it influences what order we decide to do things in.

Time To Summarise

Time is perhaps the most useful of all the tools we use, for controlling and measuring countless things.

Time is not money, but it has intrinsic and unmeasurable value as a management tool for all aspects of life.

The idea that we can manage time is an illusion. The value of time lies in what we choose to do within our own time. A broad descriptor for this might be 'task management'.

I hope this all makes sense to you.

If you have any questions or comments please add them below ...

If you like this post, please click the green button.


Join the Discussion
Write something…
Recent messages
Ayoola2 Premium
Interesting! This thought is deep and philosophical.
"Focusing on Task Management (for want of a better descriptor) and carrying out those tasks, is what gets things done within the constraints of time.

"What we can do with time is to use it as a management tool (for all aspects of life) for (artificial) control, and as a measurement system, for whatever we want to do".
richardgb Premium
Hi Ayoola
Perhaps philosophical. Practical too.

Back in the day in the corporate world, we were all sent on "time management" courses. I knew people who became addicted to "time management" who got few tasks done. They always said they hadn't enough time! Focusing on "time management" was a distraction from task management.
MoniqueRich Premium
Thank you for this article, Richard. I always enjoy your posts. Time flies the more as you get older. As a child, our six weeks summer holiday was almost a lifetime. Now before we know, six months are gone. I think it might come from all the new things you could learn when you were a child. I have to make my own time schedule. I have so many interests that I have to calculate how much time I take for one item. Now I make my time planer. I know it sounds a bit pedantic. But I have to do this to be in harmony with myself. Otherwise, my head is not at ease. When I work on one subject, I think I should work on another one. Now I have my things scheduled, in the morning hours, 1-hour sports, 1-hour cook, clean, wash, 2 hours, WA comments, and emails. Afternoon, 1-hour singing practice, 3 hours website, 2 hours research. I hope this will keep my mind in harmony, so I can sleep better without the constant loop of what I didn't do the other day. I took your advice, go back to basic, this helps me a lot too. Thank you so much for your support, Richard. It means a lot to me.
HAve a great day. Monique.
richardgb Premium
That’s all good Monique. If you keep planning what is most important to you, you’ll find that balance.
APersinger Premium
Absolutely true! It's not that time goes faster or slower, it is our perception of time and how we prioritize what we do within the time that we have.
Just like with daylight savings time. I hate when we change the clocks, because it changes my perception of time.
One of the best things I ever read about daylight savings was a quote by a Native American. " Only a white man would cut 6" off one end of a blanket and sew it on the other side and think that he has a longer blanket". This is exactly how I feel about daylight savings time, LOL.
Thank you for sharing Richard.
Roybretton Premium Plus
Hello Richard,

Thank you for another interesting blog post "on time management", it's appreciated.

To me, it's very important to manage time efficiently; we all have only 168 hours per week. It is important to spend time wisely and constructively, we are only given that opportunity for a moment.

To me, there's nothing more annoying than wasting time. There are so many useful things that we can do to save time, one of my top ones is online shopping! Living in a village on the Essex Suffolk border, it is absolutely fantastic to have our groceries delivered! Minimal time wasted! I often refer to the Internet as the businessman's best friend! I'm not a lover of retail therapy, I would sooner be walking the fields!

Sorry, I have digressed slightly, but I think you know where I'm coming from.

Thank you Richard, I have bookmarked all your four blog posts.

Have a great day.


richardgb Premium
That's no digression Roy... walking the fields is what productivity (efficiency and effectiveness) is for. :-).
Roybretton Premium Plus
Good morning Richard,

Thank you, Richard.

As a countryman who loves and adores the East Anglian countryside, there's nothing better than exercising across the fields. I started off in agriculture when I first left school and have always been connected with the land. It's very close to my heart.

I don't have a dog at the moment, but it used to be so therapeutic walking my German Shepherd across the fields, it really is like recharging your batteries! My German Shepherd also used to come to work with me (I off-line business), this is sometimes better than human companionship!!

Have a great day.

richardgb Premium
We live with a German Shephard in Portugal so I totally understand the companionship you refer to.

Our ‘Rocky’ is just 3 years old now so hopefully he’ll be with us for some years yet.
roysinOnline Premium Plus
Good post, Richard👍🏼. I agree with you that Time management is a bit misleading. But having said that, time is there whether we want it or not. It doesn´t come and it doesn´t go away. In my humble opinion, time is the same a prioritising and managing your tasks.

Many say that they haven't got time for certain things. What if we said that those who state that they haven't the time to do a task would get $10K for the task?

I bet that 9 out of 10 would have prioritised the task that would py out $10k. Suddenly the time was, in fact, available after all😃.

richardgb Premium
Hi Roy
My opinion is that when people say they have not got time for something (including me of course), it means that I/they have prioritised something else as being more important :-).