In the late 1960s, expert testimony was given to a US Senate subcommittee on the effects of the then developing technologies. Their experts predicted that due to the advances in technology, America would have to radically change the way it did business before the end of the 80s. The subcommittee heard testimony that employees would have to work only 22 hours a week, nobody would work for more than 32 weeks in a year and, because of the efficiency of the new technology, people would be forced to retire at the age of 40!

How do you think the experts went in their predictions? The obvious truth is they were completely wrong. The opposite of their predictions is actually true. We are all working harder and longer, and every year average vacation time shrinks worldwide, and retirement ages get pushed out further and further.

Demands on our time have increased exponentially, and the technology that was supposed to save us time, makes it possible for us to send and receive a tidal wave of communication 24/7, 365 days a year. Most of us are faced with a list of things to do every single day that we would battle to finish in 16 hours, and definitely will never get done in an eight-hour workday. So guess what happens? Everything we didn’t do today gets moved to tomorrow – which already has just as long a list. The net result is that one of the highest priorities we have as business leaders is to master the tyranny of time.

Peter Drucker, writing his book “The Effective Executive in Action” over 40 years ago made this comment – “Everything you do requires your time. This means that your accomplishments and your effectiveness are set, or limited, by the way you manage your time, your scarcest resource. Unless you manage your time, you will not be able to manage anything else. The management of your time, therefore, is the foundation for your effectiveness.” (Drucker, 2006, page 11)

Let’s take a look at some of the realities of time.

Firstly, as Mr. Drucker reminded us we all get 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and 365 1/4 days in a year. Nobody gets any more and nobody gets any less. No matter how much money or influence you have you cannot get yourself an extra hour in the day. Even with the greatest exercise of will power you will not be able to add an extra day to the week, and irrespective of the level of demand, the supply of time is never going to increase. Ever. This is a reality. Brutal reality I know, but one that every single one of us has to deal with. You can always find more money to get something done, or even hire more people to help you finish a project, but the single most limiting factor in your ability to complete your objectives, is time. We need to recognize that time is our scarcest resource, and we need to manage it from that perspective.

Secondly, we’ve all been taught that time is money, but we’ve actually all been lied to. It is perfectly possible for you to save money, and in fact it’s a great idea! Having money in the bank means that you can replenish your wallet whenever you need it, but unfortunately you don’t have the same option with time. A minute lost, or wasted, is gone forever. Although I don’t recommend it, you can borrow money and pay it back over time. But nobody can head off into the future to grab some time for you, so that you can use it today and pay it back when you retire, or find some spare! Time is relentless, ticking away minute by minute, day by day. Added to the fact that it is our most limited resource, it is also our least flexible resource. And that double constraint should make us think very carefully about how we use it.

Thirdly, the double constraint of the limited supply of time and its lack of flexibility produces demands that we will never be able to meet. We all cling desperately to the hope that one-day we will manage to catch up with all the things we have to do, but the stark reality is that there will always be more to do, than can be done. And this reality is made worse by all of the technological wizardry I spoke about earlier. Mobile communications systems, the Internet, digitization, broadband communication, instant messaging and fibre networks, have all played their part in multiplying the things we are expected to do every day. Most of us who travel on business, or are brave enough to take a week off, return to hundreds of e-mails waiting for reply, a bunch of voicemail messages to answer, and probably even a bunch of appointments in our calendar, that were created for us while we were away.

Most modern time management systems offer to help us do more in the day than we need to. “Do you have 10 things to do today? We can show you how to do 20” is the kind of claim that is made. The problem is that most of us have 30, 40, and in some cases 50 things we need to do every day, and that kind of load can simply not be handled by a system that promises, and is based on, greater efficiency.

So what are we supposed to do? There is actually only one thing we can do, and that brings us to the final reality on the subject of time.

We need to apply the same principles that are applied by paramedics, or in a hospital E R. Every day, and especially in the case of a disaster of some sort, doctors, nurses and paramedics are faced with making hard choices. When paramedics arrive at the scene of an emergency, or ambulances start arriving at an emergency room after a disaster, a filtering process known as “triage” is applied. Medical personnel do not start helping the first person they come across, followed by the next, and then the third. They establish a system that sorts through the injuries, and creates an order of priority that decides who should receive help first. “Triage” simply means “sorting”, and for us to be effective with our time means that we need a filter that allows us to sift through our growing list of things to do and forces us to choose the thing which is the highest priority, leaving undone, the things that are not.

When we take our “To Do” list and start working away from the top to the bottom, or get into a routine of answering email at the start of every day, we are definitely not applying triage to time. Despite all of the modern technological advances, there is no list that can tell us how to best use our energy, which of the things we need to do hits the sweet spot of our talent and ability, and which will have the most impact on our marketplace. The only way we can achieve that is by applying focus. And only focus can help us make the decisions that we need to make to live a life that is based on significance, and importance, rather than on urgency.

Peter Drucker warns us again – “concentration – that is, the courage to impose what really matters most and comes first – is the executive’s only hope of mastering time and events instead of being their whipping boy.” (Drucker, 2006, page 142)

This subject forms part of the Management and Business Accelerator program that I have developed and I’ve also put together a couple of tools to help all of us apply the focus we need to get through the things that are actually important. In the Management & Business Accelerator we spend an entire session on this subject, but if you would like some help in this area quickly, you can download the FREE Time Triage Blueprint™ here – , and start building your effectiveness right away. If you would like any help putting it together, or would like more details on the Management & Business Accelerator program, leave me a comment below, or follow one of our “Contact” links, and I’ll get back to you ASAP.