You can’t manage time!

You can’t manage time – only priorities can be managed.

Think back on the last time that someone told you: “If I only had more time!”. Well, bad luck. You will never get more time. It’s simply impossible. Each day counts 24hours and if time’s up a new day starts.

The interesting thing is that this unenviable truth of time is applying to everyone, to every human on earth. To the Elon Musks and Jeff Beffos as well as to the poor guy who never really found a way to get his life in order.

So how come some people can achieve magically more with their time? 

The wallet paradox

Let’s start with a simple question. Have you ever lost your wallet? Or at least do you know somebody who faced such a situation. I assume yes, and if not just try to imagine.

Imagine, all of a sudden you realise that your wallet is not where you thought it was. You search through all your jacket and then PANIC. F*** where is it? After some more stressed search and after some thinking on where you’ve seen it last time you bitterly come to the conclusion I LOST IT.

Now to the science part of this story.

Think about what are the things which you need to do immediately?

Well, you definitely need to report the loss of your ID card to the police or other authority. You need to order a new ID card, same goes for your driving licence and your bank cards. Ah yes, they need to be blocked as well, so you better start calling the fraud prevention hotline of your bank and credit card provider.

Most of these tasks can’t be easily done via the web, neither can they be delegated. Especially for all the actions around the ID card you need to go in person to your town hall or similar. So now to the interesting question: how much time do you think you need for doing all of that?

A study conducted in 2010 (Maréchal 2010, pp. 78) came to the result that in average people need to dedicate around 7 hours to get their affairs back in order. 7 hours of work effort distributed over a couple of days. Typically you can’t just simply complete all actions needed in just one single day.

Can you ignore the thread

Now ask yourself, is there any chance that you lose your wallet and decide to not invest this time? Would you ever doubt to start calling your bank immediately? Is there any way you would say “today impossible, I simply don’t have the time to do this!”?

No, of course not. You just do it. Even more important, you don’t even doubt to do it. You don’t spend a second on thinking on pro’s and con’s, you just start taking action. You think on what’s planned for the day and next day. If you had plans you reorganise to make sure that you can go to the town hall next morning. If you have an appointment you might call that person asking to postpone the meeting. Your brain screens your agenda and reorganises everything in order for freeing time to perform your “lost-wallet-action-plan”.

All this comes completely natural. No-one does different.

Isn’t that strange? Somehow it is I think.

7 hours is quite some time and most people would clearly tell you “No way” when being asked if they can grant 7 hours for something unexpected in a particular week.

Even in Germany, one of the most punctual cultures in the world, 40% of citizens believe that they have less than 45 minutes a day to their free disposal (dpa,, 06.06.2018). Not “having time” is a very common perception everywhere, but even persons being absolutely convinced of being completely maxed out, would not lose a minute in taking action when losing their wallet.

Think about it for a moment.

If all of a sudden you can magically free your week plan for some unforeseen 7 hours when losing your wallet, why shouldn’t you be able to do this for things you really want to do?

Psychology of fear

Here psychology comes into play. Fear is unfortunately a much stronger driver than aspiration of achievement (Epstein, 2014, pp.101).

It’s the fear of getting your identity stolen and getting your bank accounts cleared off which lets you take immediate action. In case of fear we don’t ask if we really want to invest our precious time, we just do it without any doubt, we really don’t think about it.

The good thing about this psychologic trick is that you can use this for your own benefit. Once you understood this concept you can train yourself on applying it to whatever you like. If you can “magically find time” when losing your wallet, you can similarly “magically find time” for whatever you want.

Not “having” time is an illusion. Each day on earth has 24 hours, no exceptions for anyone. As said at the beginning you can’t manage time – only priorities can be managed.

To make more of your 24 hours you need to decide simply what you want. What’s important to you? Did you always wanted to learn the piano, go for it. You surely will need less than 7 hours a week.

Ask yourself the question: how can I fit the 2 hour piano lessons into my weekly agenda, what do I need to shift, what other activities might I need to cancel or postpone for a while.

Decisions are the key

Take active decisions. Time management does not exist. You can’t manage time, but you can perfectly manage the activities you do in a day / in a week or month. You manage your priorities! The magic skill is to decide what you want to do, what you want to achieve and how to use your time best.

In my opinion this kind of thinking is like a muscle, the more you train yourself in this field the better you become.

Also important to mention that it’s absolutely free to adjust. You might pursue something with great power now, that in two years’ time will be replaced by something completely different.

The key insight into managing your priorities is understand them.

How to do this, how to better understand your priorities will be explained in one of the next posts up to come.

Up to then, remember you can’t manage time – only priorities can be managed.. If you can free 7 hours in a week when losing a wallet, you can as well dedicate 3-4 hours a week to learn the piano.

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