When it comes to professional development, time management is one of my most passionate areas of study (and most enjoyable topics to teach). In some aspects, it’s actually quite philosophical. After all, as St. Augustine so eloquently suggests, the concept of time is elusive.
Most people would probably agree that time is our most precious limited resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and you can’t ever make more of it. Yet, time itself doesn’t actually exist in any real form.
So, some would argue that you can’t really manage time at all. You can only manage how you use it.
I’m not interested in debating semantics. Whether you think “time management” is the appropriate terminology or not, it’s the best way we (as humans) can articulate our goal of using this precious limited resource wisely. But, if we want to get technical, we could go a little deeper and say that time management has 3 essential functions, and each plays a critical role in helping us achieve our goal.
The 3 Essential Functions of Time Management
- Attention Management: This has to do with mental energy and concentration. We only have the ability to focus for a certain amount of time before our resources start to run dry and we need to recharge.
- Energy Management: This has to do with our physical energy. We can only push our bodies so far for so long before we start to break down and require rest.
- Decision Management: This has to do with our choices. How we choose to apply our attention and energy determines how our time is spent and, ultimately, whether we’ve been successful in our goal to use it wisely.
Notice that, like time itself, these things are all limited—we can’t pay attention, use energy and make decisions endlessly. (Yes, decision fatigue is real!) But unlike time, these things are all replenishable, and that makes them a little less scary to manage.
It’s also worth noting that all of these things are under unprecedented attack for most people. Our attention is being pulled in a million different directions, our energy is sapped by the daily toll of modern life, and, in any given day, we face too many decisions to count. So if managing time feels hard, there’s a reason for that!
I know that “time management” can feel like an abstract concept. It feels a little more concrete to focus on managing attention, energy and decisions. We all innately understand these things, and we do have power over them, though that may be difficult to acknowledge. Learning how to take your power back is an essential step in learning to manage time.
If you think of time management as a combination of these three functions, you will begin to more clearly see what’s required to use your time wisely—whatever that means to you.