The Difference Between Managing Time and Investing It
Of all the resources given to human beings, there is only one (that I can think of) that is given equally to everyone: time. Everything else—brains, physical strength, economic opportunity—seems to be doled out to humans arbitrarily. Even air and water quality differ depending on where you live. Ah, but time! Time is the great equalizer. Everyone is given the same amount and is granted the right to choose how to spend it.
Like many other resources, time should be thoughtfully invested with the intent of gaining a strong return. Money managers, for example, seek to invest their money in “high yield” investments. Just as a money manager evaluates the merits of several financial investments in order to get the best return, so too should you evaluate how to invest your precious time to ensure that you get the highest possible return over the long term. Poor financial managers lose money and get fired, and poor time investors in corporations stagnate and get stuck on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.
I use the word “invest” deliberately. Strong returns come to employees those who invest in time, while weak returns come to employees who manage their time. The distinction between investing and managing time makes a world of difference, and it plays out in the daily decisions we make at the office. Here are some examples of how the two mindsets play in the daily decisions we make in at work.
Time Management: There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that is asked of me. It feels like I get 10 new requests added to my list every day and I never can stay on top of them. My schedule is totally packed with meetings and I still have mountains of work to do when I get back to my desk.
Time Investment: Not everything that is asked of me is worth doing, so I am selective about which tasks I really put effort into. And meetings? I am only the leader or a key contributor in about 30% of the meetings for which I’m invited. So I push back on meetings when I can and ask co-workers if they really need me. Many times the answer is “no” and I’m freed up to work on more important things.
Time Management: I want to be perceived as someone who is ready and willing to go the extra mile, so I take on extra work when I need to, and I try to give each assignment my 100%.
Time Investment: While sometimes saying “no” is tough in the moment, it is extremely liberating afterwards. And it is amazing how after I say no to something, people at work seem to figure it out. Of course, with some requests, I know that I simply won’t get away with saying no. Some tasks are just part of corporate life. However, some tasks don’t deserve my 100%. For some tasks, good enough is good enough. I’m not being lazy, I’m being smart. I’m still working hard, just on activities that matter more.
Time Management: I figure that if I put in more hours and work harder than my competitors, I will eventually come out on top. I have to sacrifice other things in my life right now because I know that at some point I will be at a level where I won’t have to work so hard and can spend more time doing the things I love with the people I love.
Time Investment: Working more hours than I’m comfortable with for a long period of time sets a negative precedent within my organization. After a while, they will expect that behavior of me and it will be very difficult to stop working those hours. So I set hours that I am comfortable with and work very hard within that time. If I don’t get everything done within that time, than I re-prioritize my tasks.
Time Management: I know what my weaknesses are and I work on them so that I can become”well-rounded.” I try to develop all the skills required to be great.
Time Investment: I understand what I have the potential to be really good at, and what I’m just not wired for. I try to surround myself with people that are strong where I am weak, so I can focus on the tasks that will give me fulfillment and make me more valuable to my company. The world is just too competitive for me not to do what I am really good at.
Time Management: I budget every hour to get the maximum amount of efficiency out of my time. Every minute is spoken for. Most of these hours are filled with solving short term problems or getting answers for people.
Time Investment: I keep myself plenty busy, but not too busy. I leave some flexibility in my calendar to capitalize on opportunities that come up to network or take on non-urgent but high-reward projects. I deliberately spend time thinking about problems that my boss would think about, and about how I can help solve those problems. I tend to think about the next 3 to 5 years a lot, and what I need to do in order reach my long-term goals.
Time Management: I spend a lot of hours studying to make sure I know everything and can speak to the details of my business. I wear a lot of hats and, funny enough, a lot of time I know how to do most other people’s jobs better than they do.
Time Investment: There are few things that I really need to know. The rest can either be looked up or asked of a trusted associate. I know who I need to go to in order to get what I need and they actually like it when I do because I make them feel valued and useful. I value their skills and they value mine, and we all save time in time in the process.
Here’s the good news. Time investment is not a matter of talent, charisma, or brains. Rather, it’s a matter of discipline. You can, through careful, daily attention, make choices that will free you up to better focus on those things that matter more. Remember that when it comes to time, you have just as much of as anyone else. Invest wisely.