“To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is till wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.” ~ John Hall Gladstone

Time-Management is not only something for managers and leaders. It is a topic that everyone can benefit from, especially if we want to get ahead and make a difference in our lives: “Where should I spend my time on? What is important?”

On the other hand we have questions like “How can I spend my time in the best way possible? How can I get the most out of it?”

It is the the art of focus and decision-making combined with effective productivity.

In this post I want to take a broader look on the topic and give an overview about time-management …

Are we really managing time?

Let’s get the shocking thing out first: there is no such thing as time-management! Why? Because time cannot be managed! Time goes on, whatever we do, we cannot change anything about it. If you even take a deeper look at it, you recognize that in reality time does not exist: it is merely a concept we use as humans. And we pretend to measure it by using things like clocks: a mechanical or electronical device that changes form and so displays a different condition when we look at it. What there is, is always the change in the present moment and our decision what to focus on in that moment, so we can shape the change the way we want to.

So what is it really then?

What time-management really is, is self-management. What do you do in the moment and what do you intent to do in the next moment? And what is influencing what you do in the next moment? These are the important questions to answer.

The 4 Stepping Stones in Time-Management

Basically there are four generations of time-management and each includes and builds on top on the one before. If you find your daily productivity in any of those then great, they all matter. But they all matter together. You may think it depends on the workload – what you want and have to manage and that is right. Because only you decide how productive you want to be :) If you can apply the 4th generation for you, you can really shift your whole life and productivity level.

  1. The first generation is the 2do list . It is the basic organization of things we have to do. We write them down and when they are done we check them off. Great. Feels good to check a task off, doesn’t it? We’re done.
    Or not?
    The basic problem is there is no order in the 2do list. While it is an improvement over working every task out of the head, getting it out and fixating it, it gets out of control if the 2do list gets a 100 items …
  2. Then there are calendars . In the second generation we plan ahead and schedule the 2do’s in the future. It gives more control and security over what we do and it adds the important thing called preparation.
  3. But still it is confusing because there is no order in the tasks really. Often there are so much 2do’s and so much appointments and meetings that it gets overwhelming. What is important and what is not? I can’t do everything. What do I have to do and what must I deny to do? So we need to know what thing is more important than another. In the third generation we need to get priorities into play.How do we prioritize? We have to know our goals and our values . 2do’s are evaluated in relationship to goals and values. Is it in alignment with my value of, for instance, integrity? And what have we set out to achieve anyway? Is it getting us towards to the goal, is it irrelevant or taking us even further away from it?
  4. Still it is not the final step to be as efficient as you can be, a machine. So it is not about managing time and all important tasks as efficient as possible and alienate everybody around us, including ourselves. The challenge is to manage ourselves and all needs and wants and demands in harmony, in balance .

So what time-management all boils down to is your decision of what is most important for you, and then focus your attention mainly on executing that and not something else.

What is important and what not?

Stephen Covey says to divide tasks into important 2dos and urgent 2dos. The time-management matrix, as described in my review of the “7 habits” earlier (check the link for deeper understanding), then helps to shift focus into the important 2dos.

I always understood this intuitively and if you examine your day you usually will find all 4 quadrants at work. But even if you understand it and recognize your tasks as important and urgent, how do I profit from the fricking matrix? ;) How can I make practical changes to get better in my productivity?

The value lies mainly in the awareness of what is important and what not. And then in moving more and more into Quadrant 1 (important and urgent) and with all the rest into “The Zone” (Quadrant 2): into what is important but not yet urgent.

If you do this, you will master time-management and produce not only good results but also balance. Success will be much likelier and seem more natural and effortless. Someone who is good in time-management is not someone who is constantly managing the tasks in stress. In fact that is definitely a bad time-manager, since he is constantly in quadrant 1 and possibly 3. It may be important, but it is urgent for sure. That is bad time-management and the “cure” is in quadrant 2 – The Zone .

There are several slightly different interpretations of the the time-management matrix (google image-search), for instance The Importance of Managing Self has a practical interpretation. I also found the following mindmap from Mappio.com very good:

We need a compass instead of a clock


What is urgent? Urgent are all tasks that are “in your face” and want to be done immediately. But are they important or not important?

What is important? Important are the tasks that are in harmony with our goals and our life-balance.

  • Important & Urgent -> Do them now the best you can
  • Important & Not Urgent -> Set focus here, whenever you can (The Zone)
  • Not Important & Urgent -> Say “No” because you have a quality “Yes”, or delegate them
  • Not Important & Not Urgent -> Avoid these for sure

Why are the important tasks urgent? Mainly because we did not handle them when they were not urgent. Some problems will always appear out of the blue, but most of them don’t. But if we know what’s important, will the urgent and not important 2dos magically go away? I don’t think so, clutter happens everywhere. But what it gives you is direction and control. Let’s think not of a clock but more of a compass. The compass shows the direction, the orientation and the goal that works.

If you have the compass you basically work the 4 generations backwards and use the mechanics like prioritized 2do’s in your calendar. There is one difference: you have a compass that you set north.

For me that is the whole point of time-management.

It’s the way to be successful and happy, and not only successful but miserable, because I am working my ass off on something that has no meaning for me. I do the right thing and then I do it right.

How can we really use this now?

  1. Set your Life-Areas for Balance
    The message of the post is to focus on what it important. On the long run balance is most important.
  2. Clarify your values & Set your goals
    To point the compass to north, you must know where north is.
  3. Use a productivity system that fits you , such as Getting things done (GTD) in the context of your compass (1. And 2.)
    Now we get efficient big time! :)

“Many people seem to think that success in one area can compensate for failure in other areas. But can it really?…True effectiveness requires balance.” ~ Stephen Covey


Hi, I’m Myrko Thum and author of this site. I help entrepreneurs to create and sell highly profitable information products and scale up their business online. I also created several online training programs, among others Info Product Masterclass and Personal Breakthrough Academy. If you want to learn more click here to get started!


  1. Comment by Evelyn Lim

    Evelyn Lim Reply November 16, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    I don’t think I’m very good at time management myself. I tend to be overbooked in my schedule. I sure like what you said about “I do the right thing and then I do it right”. I’m going to really sit down and think through how I’m allocating my time!

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post: My Vision Board Tops Amazon’s Bestseller List?

  2. Comment by Parth

    Parth Reply November 17, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Another great post!

    Main idea is to keep the end in mind. If you can narrow down your long-term goal to ONE thing, just ONE thing, and make sure you do something to get closer to that goal on a daily basis, the rest will fall into place.

    Parth´s last blog post: How to Design an Effective Quick Workout

  3. Comment by Myrko

    Myrko Reply November 17, 2008 at 2:06 am

    Evelyn, regarding the quote of “do the right thing”, I remember the metaphor that Stephen Covey used about “climbing the ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall”. I think that’s what it is: leaning the ladder against the right wall = doing the right thing (right). :)

    Also, the difference between leadership and management is for me: leadership is all about doing the right thing, management is doing things right. We need both.

  4. Comment by Myrko

    Myrko Reply November 17, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Parth, yes, like having a vision. :)

  5. Comment by Evelyn Lim

    Evelyn Lim Reply November 18, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Hey Myrko, thanks for sharing the metaphor!! It’s a great one that I can picture easily in my mind!!

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post: My Vision Board Tops Amazon’s Bestseller List?

  6. Comment by Dan

    Dan Reply November 20, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:


    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.

  7. Comment by Amie

    Amie Reply February 23, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    This is a very helpful post, lots of food for thought. As a visual learner, I really appreciate the effort you put into the illustrations. Thank you

  8. Comment by Sensual photography

    Sensual photography Reply September 5, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Your time management skill is one of the very greatest skills of your life, besides walking and talking. Time Management Skills are not so difficult to do, but they are terribly difficult to get. Not because they’re difficult to learn, but because they’re difficult to find.

  9. Comment by Hai

    Hai Reply April 12, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Hello Myrko!

    Thank you for your summary of Stephen Covey’s time management concepts. This matrix is now available on the iPad, the app is called Priority Matrix, so it’ll let you manage everything in the 4 quadrants ordered by Importance vs Urgency! I’m one of the developers for it, and I’d love to get your feedback!



  10. Comment by Komodo Dragon

    Komodo Dragon Reply January 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

    @car battery: Yes, that art style is indeed Vincent van Gogh. And I agree about time management being crucial. We often wonder where the time went but seldom realize when it’s being wasted. Optimal use of time is one of the greatest skills we can master.

  11. Comment by used tires

    used tires Reply May 21, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Yeah you are right we can’t manage the time, I mean there are so many curve balls in life that thrown at all us that it is impossible to manage time. I personally just follow a list method of things I need to get done, and I try to do them within an estimated time frame.


  12. Comment by Property Marbella

    Property Marbella Reply July 4, 2011 at 8:28 am

    “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” We need both; the difference between leadership and management is for me: leadership is all about doing the right thing, management is doing things right.

  13. Comment by Property Marbella

    Property Marbella Reply August 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    The value lies mainly in the awareness of what is important and what not. And then in moving more and more into Quadrant 1 (important and urgent) and with all the rest into “The Zone” (Quadrant 2): into what is important but not yet urgent.

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  15. Comment by Delores Holland

    Delores Holland Reply August 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I like your statement, “Time-Management is not only something for managers and leaders. It is a topic that everyone can benefit from, especially if we want to get ahead and make a difference in our lives: “Where should I spend my time on? What is important?” I often see people outside a business environment that are stressed because they don’t manage their time well, especially parents with busy lives and children involved in extracurricular activities. Their homes are sometimes chaotic. Good points for time management: Balance, Goals, Productivity System. Glad I found this information from a link with IAAP.

  16. Comment by Myrko

    Myrko Reply August 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Delores, it was the intention to create awareness for useful time management outside of the business space as well. Thanks for leaving your thoughts.

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