Time Management

woman looking at business calendar open in her lap representing the concept of time management.

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Generally, time management refers to the development of processes and tools that increase efficiency and productivity - a desirable thing in business because good time management supposedly improves the bottom line.

Today, the time management definition has broadened to encompass our personal as well as our working lives; good time management also supposedly improves our work-life balance and therefore, our general happiness.

This theory, though, is not universally accepted. For instance, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There's work, and there's life, and there's no balance,” says Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and author of "Lean In." If that’s the case, how much value lies in applying time management to our personal lives?)

A Brief History of Time Management

The roots of all time management are in business. The industrial revolution of the 19th century and the rise of factories created a need to fabricate a new relationship with time. Factory work, unlike agrarian labor, demanded punctuality. People had to learn to live by the clock rather than by the sun.

Schooling became as much (or more) about preparing students to become good factory workers with the right habits. Punctuality and productivity became the overarching goals. “Time is money," said Benjamin Franklin, an opinion that became the mantra of the business world.

Blame It on Taylor (and That Ford Fellow)

In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management, presenting his theory of management based on the analysis and synthesis of workflows. The main objective of Taylorism, as it became known, was to improve worker productivity.

In sum, Taylorism consists of observing the work, finding the “one best” way of doing it, breaking the task into discrete actions, and having management then train the workers to do the task properly.

His work was widely influential, reaching its apex, perhaps, in Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line (1913). Although Ford didn’t invent the assembly line, he refined it by installing driven conveyor belts that could produce a Model T in 93 minutes. Taylor became known as the father of scientific management and a whole new discipline was born.   

The Drucker Transformation

Obviously, factory workers were not the only kinds of workers businesses employed. White-collar workers also needed to be “managed.” Peter Drucker created a more inclusive theory of management based on management by objectives and the need to manage a business by balancing a variety of needs and goals, rather than subordinating an institution to a single value ("The Practice of Management," 1954).

It’s difficult to overstate Drucker’s influence. He wrote 39 books and his ongoing study of the way organizations work and his ideas about social responsibility literally reshaped the business landscape. He foresaw many of the developments of the late 20th century such as the rise of the knowledge worker (a term he coined) and the emergence of the information society. In 1958, the first book specifically on time management was published by James McKay.

Of the many theories of time management put forward since then, the work of Steven R. Covey deserves special mention. His "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is still one of the bestselling nonfiction books today and his body of work has done a great deal to popularize the concept of personal time management.

A Closer Look at Personal Time Management

When we think of time management, most of us think of personal time management, loosely defined as managing our time to waste less of it on doing the things we have to do so we have more to do the things we want to do.

Time management is often presented as a set of skills; the theory is that once we master the skills, we'll be more organized, efficient, and happier.

Whether you believe this or not, any working person can certainly benefit from honing any or all of their time management skills.

Personal time management skills include:

  • Goal setting
  • Planning
  • Prioritizing
  • Decision-making
  • Delegating
  • Scheduling

Many people find that time management tools, such as PIM software and phone apps, help them manage their time more effectively. For instance, a calendar app can make it easier to schedule and keep track of events and appointments.

Whether you use technological time management tools or plain old pen and paper, however, the first step in effective time management is analyzing how you currently spend your time and deciding what changes should be made.