It's About Time

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Since most of us have time management challenges, it is easy to agree with Albert Einstein who said “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

The time management industry has produced thousands of books and articles offering guidance. Unfortunately, these logic-based strategies often aren’t sustainable.  These time management tips are based on the external 24-hour time clock and don’t account for the fact that we also have to manage our perception based internal time.

Internal time is regulated by temperament and personality. Your internal time clock is more like dream time, where a day can feel like a moment, or a moment can feel like an eternity.

In my coaching practice, I use a self-assessment tool, the Birkman Method™ that is like a personal GPS for understanding your time orientation.  Through working with the Birkman Method for more than 20 years, I have collected several basic strategies for identifying a person’s  internal time that can be effectively used to better manage one’s external time.  

See if you recognize any of the following time orientations as similar to your own, then try the suggested techniques to help get in sync with others.

Current Time Orientation

If you have a “what’s in front of me now” time orientation you may change focus frequently depending on what catches your attention.  Current time oriented people tend to overestimate the amount of time available because they underestimate the amount of work involved; especially since they don’t factor in their tendency to get over engaged in a particular task that can result in a time crunch to meet the deadline.  

Someone with a current time orientation likes to multitask and get a lot done.  However, they may feel distracted and unpredictable to others.

To get in sync, try putting time boundaries on the start and stop times for phone calls, meetings, and tasks. This structure will help keep you focused and reduce your tendency to get swept away by attractive distractions.

Future Time Orientation

This overly optimistic time orientation is interested in creative ideas and their potential. Future time oriented people tend to overestimate the amount of time available because they also overestimate their capacity to complete the work.  

Someone with a future time orientation may feel perfectionistic and frustrating to others because they don’t see the limitations of their time and often don’t delegate less important tasks.

To get in sync, try writing out a reverse priority list (least important to most important) then delegate the least important or do those items last.  Also try a reverse timeline (beginning with the deadline and working backwards). This structure will help you get started and maintain momentum.

Past Time Orientation

This somewhat pessimistic time orientation focuses on what has worked in the past.  Past time oriented people tend to be cautious, underestimating the amount of time available, overestimating the amount of work, and over focusing on details.

Someone with a past time orientation may feel stubborn to others and seem to put roadblocks in the way of progress.

To get in sync, try taking an incremental step, evaluate results, and use that data to take the next step.  This structure will help you move forward through successful iterations to the desired outcome.

Right Now Time Orientation

This “do it now, think about it later” orientation adds extra urgency to action. The “right now” orientation may underestimate the amount of time available, the complexity of the work and therefore how quickly the work can get done.

Someone with a right now time orientation may feel impulsive and pushy to others.

To get in sync, create a most important to least important checklist so you can act on “low hanging fruit” right away, then invest more time on primary tasks.

How Your Time Orientation Influences Your Management Style

Hopefully, after considering these brief descriptions, you have a hunch about your time orientation. Build on your hunch by asking yourself the following time management questions:

  • What does good time management mean to me?
    For example, which approach fits your definition: getting a lot done; working the plan; putting out fires; or following procedures?
  • Does your time orientation and management style feel helpful or stressful to others?
    What kind of feedback do you receive about how you manage your time? For example do others feel you get distracted, delay decisions, undermine progress, or want to do too much?

It is important to realize that our time orientation strongly influences how we manage our time. Getting in sync with others starts with knowing yourself but then also realizing that there are different time orientations out there.  If this information has sparked your curiosity about “time travel” - exploring past, present and future time orientations - use these strategies to improve your communication with others at work and home.

If you have any questions or want to talk about this blog, you can contact me via email: or contact form to schedule a free 20 minute conversation.