post written by: Marc Chernoff

How Time Management Can Ruin Lives


Time Management Can Ruin Lives

Time is the school in which we learn.
Time is the fire in which we burn.
- Delmore Schwartz

His Story

Tick-tock, tick tock…  It’s the pulse that endlessly beats through his mind.  He attempts to ignore it.  He jogs, reads, writes, drinks, chats, anything to distract its drumming.  But it persists.  The pulse follows him.  It calls to him.  Wherever, whenever… it’s always present. 

There is no idle time.  Tasks are due now.  Tasks are due soon.  Every moment is meticulously accounted for.  At work, at lunch, while socializing, even in bed with his wife… his mind wanders.  What time is it?  Where is the minute hand now?  He has to look.

Tick-tock, tick-tock… the rhythm consumes him.  It’s inside of him.  And he knows it.  “It’s a part of who I am,” he tells his wife when she gets irritated with his rigidness.

He sets the alarm to 5:00AM seven days a week, but he doesn’t need it.  Even on Sundays his eyes robotically pop open around 4:50AM.  It’s the internal pulse that arouses him.   His body simply knows it’s time.  Time for productivity.  Time for action.  It’s always time for something.

The clock radio reads 4:00… now 4:01AM.  No, not yet!  It’s still too early.  One more hour of sleep… one more hour of peace.

As he drives to work, a countdown plays out in his mind.  33 minutes before he arrives at the office.  2 hours and 48 minutes before the weekly marketing conference call.  5 days, 4 hours and 15 minutes before his bi-annual review.  1 month, 2 weeks, 3 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes before his spring vacation.

And as his overloaded mind begins to spin, he thinks about what life would be like if he could just let go of it all… if the internal pulse died and allowed him to simply be in the moment, and live for the sake of existing.  “It would be blissful,” he says to himself.  “Sheer freedom!” 

He pulls into the parking lot at exactly 7:00AM, enters his office, and opens his desktop calendar.  After staring at it blankly for almost a full minute, he closes his eyes and pushes the palms of his hands against his forehead.  Overwhelmed, anxious, trapped… but conscious of what must be done.

He slowly lowers his quivering hands, opens his eyes, and begins to draft his daily to-do list.

Her Story

She doesn’t manage her time.  In fact, she rarely knows what time it is.  In her mind, there are no deadlines.  She understands the concept of time management, and that others are bound by schedules, but she refuses to participate.  “Stop bothering me,” she says.  “My time is mine.”

She doesn’t own an alarm clock, or a calendar, or even a cell phone.  If you question her ways, she’ll snicker and tell you, “You’re just another member of the corporate cattle herd… wasting your time to meet someone else’s agenda.”

She’s totally free to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants.  A unique, free spirit in charge of her own destiny… completely immune to the forces that attempt to confine her.

“Don’t lecture me on time management,” she exclaims.  “Instead, why don’t you ponder the last time you actually enjoyed yourself.  I bet, in your quest to satisfy needless commitments and fill a 9 to 5 quota, you enjoy yourself a lot less than I enjoy myself.  If you ask me, you’re the one wasting time!”

Naturally, absolute freedom from the bounds of time has its inherent limitations.  Human beings cannot achieve goals without dedicating time to them.  Likewise, it’s impossible to coordinate productive social interactions without planning a time and space to do so.  Thus, she failed out of college, loses jobs faster than she finds them, and can’t maintain a healthy intimate relationship.  Even her closest friends have written her off as a failure.  And, to her parent’s dismay, she currently lives in their basement, rent free, at the ripe age of 29.

Time Management is Like Gravity

Time management is like gravity.  Too much of it, and we’re stuck in place.  Not enough of it, and we’re lost in space.  We need it to live, but in moderation.

Photo by: Matt Doane

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31 Comments

  • So true! Balance is the challenge…i like the story theme…gets your point across brilliantly!

  • @Amber: No doubt. A happy life is a steady balancing act. ;-) Thanks for the kind words.

  • I don’t know how you come up with this stuff, but it’s great. Reminds of the difference between being busy and being effective. Your essay rings true. Kudos!

  • Time management is like gravity. Too much of it, and we’re stuck in place. Not enough of it, and we’re lost in space. We need it to live, but in moderation.

    Excellent summary to a great article Mark!

    Stumbled as always :)

    Cheers,
    Glen

  • I struggle to get more and more done, but I seem to get more behind.

    The thing is it’s all a state of mind. If we feel ahead or behind it’s for a reason we created.

    I’m working on accepting my productivity without feeling like I have to keep catching up. I look at life as a marathon. As long as you keep getting better, smarter and stronger it doesn’t matter when you finish the race.

  • @Chris and Glen: Thank you!

    @Karl: Well stated. If life is a race, the only person you’re racing is yourself. The finish line represents your life-long goals… go after them.

  • Hello,

    I loved this story. Managing time is a kind of extending your lifetime because it allows you to achieve more of your dreams in a given time.

    However, I believe that the most important is to first know your goals in life. What are all time management tips and techniques good for if you don’t know what to use this additional time for.

    Nicolas

  • Great story/analogy/post, Marc! This reminds me of the movie Cast Away. Before Tom Hanks (I can’t remember the name of the guy he played. Jack maybe? Anyway…) got stranded on the island he was a SLAVE to time, but he soon realized it had little value on a deserted island. And yet it was is ability to track time that allowed him to get off the island as he could calculate the precise time the winds would shift and push his sails to safety.

    OK, so I’m kind of a movie/TV geek, but you get my point.

    Thanks for sharing these stories, Marc. Eric

  • Excellent points about time mgmt. being like gravity, and about life being like a marathon. (Personally, I’d like my marathon to consist of enjoyably bad sci-fi movies, but I’m not sure how I could get better, smarter and stronger on that.)

  • Nice Story ….

  • I remember when I was in University the theme used to be moderation - although really what we were all talking then was excess ;) Now though as a more mature person (I’d like to beleive!) it really does so ring true. From time, to food, to drink, to exercise all of it jives better with me when it’s done in moderation. Enough so that I enjoy myself or feel indulged whatever I need at that moment but in balance. Cheers!

  • I just realized that all you guys do out there is post on your blog and tweet. You really do have this time management thing down. ;)

  • @Nicholas: No doubt… You have to know what you want in life. You can’t be productive until you have this key point figured out.

    @Eric: I totally forgot about the time management lesson in Cast Away. I haven’t seen that movie in several years. I’ll have to rent it again sometime soon.

    @Anita: Everything in moderation.

    @Juicefairy: It’s a skillful art… sort of like juggling, but without all the balls. ;-)

  • I like Karl’s view on productivity.

    Looking at life like a marathon is more of a recent development for me and much needed. In the past, I would rush through things as quickly as I could instead of actually enjoying the work and the process.

    Great post!

  • “The first symptom of the process of killing our dreams is lack of time… The Busiest people I have known in my life always have time enough to do everything. Those who do nothing are always tired and pay no attention to the little amount of work they are required to do. They complain constantly that the day is too short. The Truth is, they are afraid to fight the good fight…”
    Paulo Coelho The Pilgrimage

  • What a great way to convey your message. I’m not a slave to time (well, I don’t think so anyway!) but I do try to manage all the things I want to do while remembering that I don’t have to do everything everyday, or every week for that matter. But when I’m on vacation - I have a special ‘holiday bracelet’ that I wear instead of my watch. ;-)

  • confinement vs. freedom
    goals vs. hopes
    preoccupation vs. presence
    structure vs. disarray

    All in pursuit of the ever elusive middle-way.

    Thanks for the great post,
    Derek @ NüHabits

  • You are an incredible writer and this blog is quite a find for me.

    Thank you.

  • I know first hand the too much “time-consciousness” is really detrimental to your mental health. You summed up it up perfectly with the contrast between these two characters, nice job man.

    @ Eric: I never thought about Castaway in that sense before, but now it makes perfect sense. Oh the irony.

  • That’s why I have at least Sunday, if not Saturday also, for “free-form” activities where I don’t care about scheduling or time management.

    Time management is still important, but regimenting your entire life in this manner chokes the spontaneity out of it. None at all results in impulsive activity that lacks direction and is at the whim of external influences.

  • […] a thought provoking viewpoint, try reading How Time Management Can Ruin Lives from Marc and Angel Hack Life. The real key in life is […]

  • […] Marc and Angel Hack Life always something thoughtful and inspiring to enjoy. This week, consider How Time Management Can Ruin Lives. […]

  • This is so spot on. I tweeted the following quote today which is relevant.

    “The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.” -Stella, Lady Reading

    I used to spend my time figuring out how to spend my time. I suspect there are many others out there doing the same thing.

  • Another very well written post. There was a period of time there that I had gotten into a daily routine - no time to diverge, in fact why would I? It was working so well! There was no chaos.

    But then things start to get monotonous. They were getting so predictable, that I didn’t feel like doing anything. I was turning into a vegetable!!!

    When you start managing your time down to the second, you don’t have time to look at the world around you.

    Though there is still some structure in my day, not having my the day mapped out into 15-minute increments has made it more enjoyable. Being spontaneous adds that little extra to life that makes if worth living!

    Mo

  • Thank you. I desperately needed this council today.

  • […] Some people spend 90% of their time organizing their time.  Some tackle to-do lists peppered with insignificance that stretch a mile long.  And still, there are others who refuse to do anything at all. […]

  • Besides the ever present sensation that time is going by faster with each passing day, there’s also some sort of obsession with not having enough time. I believe the problem has a lot to do with the fact that our lives have become too complex during the last few decades. We’re actually spending plenty of hours each day doing things that are not vital or we really don’t care about, just because we’re used to doing them.
    As far as having enough time to work on achieving our goal goes, it matters how greedy we are. We’re used to wanting too much too soon. Since that doesn’t happen easily for the most of us, it often leads to frustration and disappointment, when in fact it’s just a case of a poor estimate on our part.
    I have to admit i tried time management techniques a few years back, and in retrospect it was a really miserable way to spend my life. Too much of it and you loose the unpredictable and freedom in like, missing some great moments along the way.

  • A critical point to remember is that we can (and should) use time management to maximize our productivity on tasks so we can maximize our capacity for nurturing relationships with others, ourselves, and for some, God.

    It’s like there are two Elizabeths—one is the ultra-efficient Elizabeth who ruthlessly plows through projects and processes e-mail from 8-5 p.m. The other is the ultra-present Elizabeth who will literally sit and talk with friends and family for hours simply to enjoy their presence and build the relationships.

    The balancing act never ends, but it’s worth it!

  • I can relate to this post. A few years back I took a strategic time management course and implemented it so forcefully that people got tired of me (and i got tired of continually looking at the time and figuring out what my schedule is like). However, the downside is that once I got free from that cycle I got free in space.

    However, while under the Time Management influence, I nearly broke up with my fiancee when I got so stringent we fought every day for useless things.

    Gravity control is very important…..

    -Aly

    http://discomaulvi.wordpress.com/
    http://www.twitter.com/DiscoMaulvi

  • Occasionally it takes somebody to put the words in front of you before you realise that all people have to consider extra care.

  • Time management is necessary to a balanced life, but as an art it must be flexible to accommodate our daily needs, wants and responsibilities.

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