Time management literature is more popular than ever. Is this because we’re beginning to see the true value of time?
Career development books often provide, or attempt to provide answers to the following:
In the last couple of years, there’s been a large increase in the number of books (most of which fall under the ‘productivity’ umbrella) about smart time management.
In 2014 Jeff Sutherland published Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, where he explained his time-saving, project management and team building methodology for software development – a method which can be translated to other sectors and professions for more agile and efficient work flows. In the 2016 book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World— a Wall Street Journal Business Bestseller and Amazon Best Book of 2016 in Business & Leadership — Cal Newport looked at a variety of techniques that he and other successful professionals use to avoid shallow, time-draining tasks and engage in more impactful, focused work for longer periods of time. In the 2018, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel H. Pink teaches readers how to maximize well-timed breaks, natural cycles, and other “time hacks” to have a more successful work and personal life. Another bestselling release of 2018, was Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life: How to Harness the Power of Clock Genes to Lose Weight, Optimize Your Workout, and Finally Get a Good Night’s Sleep where Ayurvedic physician Dr. Suhas Kshirsaga and health and fitness author Michelle D. Seaton shared tools on how readers can lead a healthier and more fulfilling life by rearranging their daily schedules to unleash the potential of their biological rhythms.
Observing this rise in time management literature (you’ll find plenty of time-management stories on Medium and other print and digital platforms too) made me wonder if/why the topic is more relevant and necessary for us now than it was before. Here are my conclusions:
The Frantic Pace of the Digital Age
Because we live in the Digital Age, information, ideas, people, and money are moving and changing faster than they ever have. If you’re not constantly developing, learning a new skill, inventing a new product or service, or hunting down the next killer deal, your competition will catch up with you, and you’ll soon you’ll be left in the dust. But developing, learning, inventing, and hunting take time. Between our day-to-day, at-the-job tasks and personal obligations, most people find it challenging to make space in their lives for these important personal and professional improvement activities that are crucial to staying on top of the game in our present information age. This makes time a much more precious commodity than it was before, because the difference between a stressful life and a full but well balanced life comes down whether or not to you can “conjure” those few precious “personal development” hours in your day or week.
The Tyranny of Choice
You go to the gym and are stalled for a full five-minutes trying to pick which Spotify playlist to listen to. It crosses your mind that you should listen to a Podcast instead, but you go with a list of 80s tunes you created on iTunes four years ago. At the office, you open your Gmail inbox in the morning and you’re once again overwhelmed. Do you respond to the query from you boss first or do you read the email from your client titled “Urgent”. Should you read a Medium post about “Why Time Management Is a Hotter Topic than Ever Right Now”, or is it a time-waster than should be deleted immediately. After work, it’s a complicated toss up between Thai, Modern-French or sushi for dinner. When you can simply dial a food delivery service with a list of more than 50 restaurants, you really are spoiled for choice! You return home and can’t decide if you should watch “Bloodline” or “Black Mirror” on Netflix. You are so conflicted that you end up watching trailers for a whole bunch of shows instead and go to bed feeling unsatisfied. With three times as many forms of entertainment (and technology that allows us to tap into them 24-hours a day) than we had just ten years ago, choosing how to spend our free time is more challenging than ever. Tyranny of choice means that we have to be more disciplined about what we give our attention too. This is a skill previous generations probably never had to exercise with the same level of vigilance that we have to today. Learning time management skills is essential, because if we don’t learn how to discern between useful and trivial activities and filter out the latter, we may become very production, and perhaps even rich and famous, but we’ll never learn to attain a truly high quality of life.
A March 2019 survey from International Workplace Group reveals “83% of people would choose a job which offered flexible working over a job that didn’t” and that businesses that did not offer flexibility risked losing out on top talent. In 2007, Tim Ferris published The 4 Hour Work Week: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. The book became a self-help classic that sold more than 2.1 million copies worldwide, and is now available in 40 languages. Work less, travel whenever you want, and still earn enough money to live comfortably — that’s certainly a message that’s hard to resist. Whether or not you buy into what Ferriss has to say, his book gave voice to the shift in cultural values from the voracious chasing of “success” to the deliberate conserving of time. Start-up culture, freelancing, and flexible and remote working are all a result of a collective, growing realization that time is more valuable than money. Perhaps we’re waking up to the fact that unlike money, time is limited and unreplenishable.