Why are People so Obsessed with Time Management?

People will sell you software to make you more productive, tips to make you more organized. They will sell you on the idea of minimalism to eliminate every possible distraction from your life so that you can simply stay in the present.

It’s the obsession over Scandinavian minimalism. It’s trying to become a morning person. It’s becoming a master of time management. Only when we become masters of time management, then can we be the type of person we think we wish to be. The kind of person who owns a meditation stool.

But when we desire ourselves to be better at time management, what do we really want and why?

Maybe we simply want more time. Better time management equates to more time in leisure and less time at the office. This would explain the popular desire for the four-day work week. Writer Leslie Belknap claims that, “the five-day workweek is simply not the most productive, nor the most profitable schedule, yet most companies still subscribe to this model.” In fact, companies which switched to a compressed four-day workweek found that their employees were happier, more engaged, and had increased productivity. However, time is a finite resource, and sometimes more time is demanded of us than we want to give.

But what is time really worth if you don’t have the energy to spend it? When you get home at the end of the night and you barely have energy for netflix and lifting a slice of pizza to your mouth, something is wrong. Perhaps what everyone really wants is more energy. Employees are promised (or at least used to be promised) eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of sleep. When all the energy is spent at work, there’s nothing left for the hours of the day that belong to the employee, their family, and the activities that renew and fulfill themselves. Agile coach Blaz Kos firmly insists that everyone’s energy has limits. He references an article from the Harvard Business Review, which argues that people must manage their energy, rather than their time. “Energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit,” say Energy Project executives Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. The article goes on to summarize their study, which found that, “Most large organizations invest in developing employees’ skills, knowledge, and competence. Very few help build and sustain their capacity—their energy—which is typically taken for granted. In fact, greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and with more sustainability.”

More done. Less time. Higher engagement. More sustainability. When employers allow for employees to take steps to renew their energy levels, it only results in good things. (Read the full article to find out what steps people took to improve their energy levels.)

But time and energy management involves creating rituals, decluttering, and reorganizing all areas of life. Perhaps, in addition to time and energy, what people want is control. When the universe pushes and pulls us around in seeming chaos, little acts—like organizing a desk, deciding to wake up early or late, or committing to daily exercise—bring a small sense of control back to the individual.

Some people oppose time management. Some make the case that focusing on time over creativity and problem solving isn’t helping anybody in today’s business world. Some say that there are no shortcuts in life, organization is overrated, and that the four hour work week is a myth. I wonder if the strongest opposition to those in favor of time and energy management already have a great deal of power over their lives and careers, and don’t need to seek it by taking back the little things.

“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”
― Carl Sandburg

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