The Science Behind Time Management

The psychological starting point for time management goes like this: Although some of our reality happens outside of our awareness, we are consciously aware of some portion of our existence.

Focus on the little things you can control in this world.

The universe, such as we experience it while we are awake, is divided into things we can control and things we cannot control.

What’s the stuff you can’t control?

• The Earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours.

• The weather varies, both daily and seasonally, regardless of our home region.

• Human beings have physical and cognitive limitations--typically more as we age.

• Human beings need time to sleep--typically less as we age (but we all need some sleep).

• The probability of death is 100 percent. The average U.S. male lives 75.6 years; females average 80.8.

What’s the stuff you can control?

• Everything else.

If it’s true that we can control what we think and do (at least while we are awake), then time management is about how we exert control. Yes, some cognitive functions are largely unconscious, but most can be consciously influenced, if not completely controlled.

It is sometimes said: “There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Which are you?

Here are some truths about time management:

• Choices are trade-offs. When you choose to think or do one thing, you are also choosing not to think or do a whole pile of other things. (See: Prioritization. See also: Procrastination.)

• Positive emotions flow from feelings of control, competence, and achievement, especially in service to others. Spending your time in ways that make you happy will extend your life expectancy. Yay! More time!

• Negative emotions flow from feeling out-of-control, overwhelmed, incompetent, or helpless and from repeatedly failing to reach goals (both self-imposed and other-imposed). That’s no fun.

Here are the implications of those truths:

• One solution for feeling bad (i.e., one key to happiness) involves making deliberate choices about: (a) What you do (e.g., prioritize; drop; delegate; revise goals); and (b) What you think (e.g., change mindset; apply principles of positive psychology).

• People must also take care of themselves--spiritually, mentally, physically--in order to function at optimal levels. Each person’s wellness formula is a bit different, but it generally includes adequate sleep, plenty of physical exercise, and a well-balanced diet.

Successful, happy people are deliberate. They intentionally choose what they think and do.

For most of us, time management is about how you choose to spend your time. This weekend, monitor those choices and see what they reveal about your priorities.

As soon as you make one, new, deliberate choice, you have begun to manage time more effectively. That small success will lead to many future successes.

Next month: Overcoming the top five obstacles to effective time management.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is the school psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy and the co-founder of . Learn more by visiting .