I delivered a half day training course this week on time management. It was for PhD students… smart people who don’t have an upward limit on how much time they can spend on anything they do and whose work is (by definition) unpredictable and difficult to plan.

In other words, both the very people who most need time management but also those who are most able to take on board the learning from a training course.

Like all our courses, there was a lot (seriously!  a lot!) of research behind this one, to make sure we didn’t just churn out the same fallacies, misconceptions and assumptions as most courses on time management. And at the start of the course I checked the research against the expectations, needs and experience of the smart people in front of me. The feedback was pretty close to unanimous, varying only by details which were related to individual circumstances.


Well that’s obvious. We can’t manage time. Unless we’re God or Dr Who we’re working on the assumption that time just ‘is’. What we need to do is figure out how to use it most effectively.

So far, so obvious.


Pretty much everyone in the room agreed that, deep down, they knew at least a few things they could do to make themselves more effective and more efficient. What they needed wasn’t more time, it was

  • a better sense of priorities
  • more self-discipline.

There was pretty much a round of applause in the room for this quote from H Jackson Brown.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur,Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.


It turns out it dosn’t matter what system you use for sorting out your time: the key thing is to

  1. have a system
  2. use it
  3. stick with it

In other words, anything is better than nothing, and chopping/changing between systems is as bad as not having a system at all.

That said… here’s the big, big thing that we agreed would make people more effective and efficient at what they do.

You’ve got to know why you do it

The motivation from knowing and understanding why what you do makes the world a little bit of a better place (we agreed) is absolutely fantastic. It helps you get your lazy arse out of bed. It helps you do that extra half an hour when you’re tiered. It helps you concentrate when you want to go out to play.

So why do you do what you do?


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