Emma had the best of intentions. But this week had been a disaster. Between a few messy customer issues and a new inventory system coming online, her nice and neat task list – synced brilliantly across her laptop and iphone – was ignored at best. Irrelevant at worst.  She was feeling out of control and enslaven by the loudest need of the moment. Being spread so thin, she was losing hope she could really handle her responsibilities and keep the family distributorship going.

Despite her best efforts to manage her time, this week was not much different than last week, or the week before. There had been a slow drift away from an effective management process for some time now. It was imperceptible at first, but it was dangerously walking her and her business away from their vision, mission and potentially even their values.

Emma’s situation presents a great example of why some leaders fail at time management.

You can’t really manage time. You can only manager yourself.

Time ticks at a steady rate. It does not slow down or speed up and takes no direction from our best talents and technology. We can measure time but we can’t change it. We can budget time but we can’t mine it, drill for it, fabricate it, reproduce it or recycle it. Time is on it’s own in this way. Time does not change.

But we can. Beginning with a different paradigm about our relationship with time.

The only way to truly ‘manage time’ is to manage ourselves in relation to time. And this totally shifts the focus to where it should be.

On us.

It is a sobering but crucial realization to embrace, both personally as well as professionally.

There are many great ‘time management’ methods, systems and tools available. I use and recommend several. But they are not for managing time. Instead they are there to help me manage myself – my work habits, patterns, relationships and behaviors that will produce the outcomes I desire.

This point of view means everything to how I use them. And how I benefit from them.

And so how about you?

  • Do you routinely maintain any kind of task list?
  • Do you have personal goals for the week, month and year?
  • Do you prioritize your work?
  • Do you tend to procrastinate?
  • Do you set boundaries against distractions?
  • Do you tend to overcommit?
  • Do you tend to believe you’re only productive if you’re ‘busy’?
  • Do you schedule your tasks or merely keep them on a list?
  • Do you build rhythms of rest built into your work?
  • Do you delegate appropriately to others and then follow-up on the work?

Are any of these challenges to you?

I know several are for me.

What must change is you. Me. Us. Our habits, our behaviors, practices, the way we work with others, and the way we work in general – especially in relation to time. Much like a professional golfer must constantly practice their swing, leaders must constantly practice their work in relation to time.

The good news is that wherever you yourself might be the problem, that is where you yourself can also be the solution. And the simple place to begin is right here…

Stop managing your time. Start managing yourself.