Reducing time to a matter of numbers or a tangible commodity is neither productive nor sustainable. While most time management resources have presented good introductory steps to a more constructive allocation of time, such as avoiding interruptions and creating “to do” lists, they have only done so in the context of short-term, work-oriented solutions to the challenges of time use. The person who focuses his attention on “time saving” strategies is still ultimately dissatisfied when he discovers, in spite of his most well-informed efforts, time has still elapsed.

Time management cannot live up to its promise. According to the theory, if we become more efficient in doing the tasks we do not like, then we will have more time in which to do the things we do like. However, the emphasis on efficiency creates an imbalance that often leads to burn-out. Like a crash-dieter, the employee who focuses exclusively on being productive, at the cost of relationships, health and personal development, will not be an effective performer for very long.

tdmThis is especially true in today’s market, in which people are challenged to work longer hours, and in which the spatial and temporal boundaries of work have been blurred by changes in business roles and technology. During the early 1990’s, businesses streamlined their operations and focused on providing convenience for the maximum volume of customers. “One-stop shopping” and computerized phone “menus” became the norm. These innovations were designed to reduce the amount of time used for transacting business. Now the backlash of this trend is becoming evident. Many customers have become tired of being treated like numbers, and are now seeking better relationships with service providers, even if it means investing more time. Several current advertising campaigns in the financial services, retail and health care industries are emphasizing a renewed commitment to building relationships with customers; this reflects an understanding customer loyalty is worth the time investment.

Another effect of streamlining business is, due to the pressure caused by downsizing and consolidation, many employees feel forced to work 10 percent to 20 percent more just to keep their jobs. In addition, the great majority of the workforce does not expect to work for the same company – or even in the same career – for very long. Recent surveys indicate the average tenure of top executives is only 2 to 3 years. This lack of organizational stability and individual loyalty, combined with the trend of “outsourcing,” has led to an exponential increase in the ranks of independent contractors and entrepreneurs.

Further complicating our time challenge is the fact technological innovations are erasing the boundaries between work and personal life. Many employees are now telecommuting or running home-based businesses. Even for employees in traditional office settings, the use of personal computers, cellular phones, pagers, faxes and other innovations makes it increasingly difficult to tell where work ends and the rest of life begins. Television commercials create the impression it is possible to conduct a business meeting while playing with our children at the beach. In fact, it is nearly impossible to create a perfect balance between these demanding activities, and our performance (in this case, as parents and professionals) inevitably suffers.

Once upon a time, work ended when we turned off the light and left the office; now, we use the cell phone on the way home, and the PC uplink at night.

In this context, given the pressure to be efficient and the means to do it 24 hours per day, the time challenge has changed. It is now more important than ever, in the absence of structured schedules, for you to identify your goals and choose activities supporting those goals.

Solving the Problem

Forget about “managing” time, and focus on investing it in the activities that yield specific rewards meeting your professional and personal needs. Since you have no choice but to use your time, make sure you get what you want in exchange.

There are only four types of activities in which we invest our time, and the categories are defined by the rewards they yield. We can SELL time for activities that yield the rewards of material compensation, status or professional development. We can GIVE time to activities yielding the rewards of relationships with friends, family and loved ones. We can SPEND time on activities yielding the rewards of personal development and growth. Or, we can PASS time on activities allowing us to recharge our batteries, through rest or entertainment.

This model of time use is flexible, and can be interpreted to fit the life of the person – or the culture of the organization – using it. Each category of time use is subjective; activities such as reading may provide a personal development benefit (spending time) to one person, and a professional development benefit (selling time) benefit to another. The first step to improving our use of time is understanding the sources of our motivation: Why are you reading this article right now?

Once you identify the activities in your life that reflect the four categories, construct your “Time Investment Portfolio (TIP)[C].” Evaluate how many hours per week you are devoting to activities in each of the four areas – is your portfolio profile consistent with your goals? One additional way to make this clear is to do one worksheet for your current TIP, and a separate worksheet for your ideal TIP.

Organizational leaders, generally speaking, do not know the most important thing about their employees. How do your colleagues and employees perceive time in their lives, and how does this impact their performance on the job? In a recent study I conducted for several southern California school districts, administrators were shocked to learn that teachers, on average, wanted to sell six hours less per week to their jobs, even if their pay was increased. Imagine the implications for performance and morale.

Matching the dominant time allocation of an individual with the key responsibilities of his/her position is extremely important. Picture a lawyer doing the job of a counselor or a teacher. The two positions require different orientations to time; a seller of time does not perform well in a job that requires a giving time orientation. Similarly, a mathematician (spending time) who pores over a problem for hours without noticing will sink the law firm (selling time) that depends on his billable hours. The TIP model may be used to assess both an individual’s time investment, and the time investment requirements of the position and organization, to further determine the potential for a successful match.

In this era of innovation and change, an organization’s chief resource is people. The most valuable asset to those people is their time, and how they use it to get what they want. Both you and your company can benefit from optimizing your use of time in order to heighten your satisfaction and morale, to improve your performance and to increase your profitability.