A few years ago, I was sitting in my office with a few first-year graduate students. They had recently attended a session on setting goals that I had given and wanted to set goals that would allow them to maximize their experience in school.

We were in Utah where there were many opportunities to enjoy nature and the outdoors. They were from the East Coast and wanted to make sure they properly “enjoyed Utah.” At the same time, they wanted to excel in their academic and professional work. How could they do both?

I asked them, “What does it mean to each of you to ‘enjoy Utah’? I mean please be specific.”

We discussed this for another 15 minutes. They agreed that to properly ‘enjoy Utah’, they would go on two meaningful outings every three months. That would ‘check the box’ on ‘enjoying Utah’. They were relieved to have set that goal. Would they attain that goal? Chances were good. Could they achieve that goal and still be excellent students? Yes. Would they feel much FOMO when other classmates posted their Instagrams of their latest camping trip? No.

Had they not set the goal, would they have achieved their desires for enjoying Utah? Much less likely. Yet, they would still be just as busy. A noted historian by the name of Cyril Parkinson once observed, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” How long does a 1-hour meeting last? You got it, an hour.  How long does a 30-minute meeting last? Right again, 30 minutes. The work fills the time given to it. How long will it take for you to write that paper? That depends on how long you give yourself to do it, and however long you give yourself, that’s how long it’ll take.

One of the biggest fallacies of managing time is the notion that, “First, I’ll complete the urgent stuff, and then I’ll work on the meaningful, important stuff.” The urgent stuff will expand to take ALL of your time, unless…you define the meaningful, important stuff upfront and put boundaries around the urgent stuff. So, if you haven’t set specific goals for the meaningful and important stuff, there’s very little point to time management. What would you be managing towards anyway?

In an enlightening book called, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, author Laura Vanderkam asserts that within a week (168 hours) there is enough time to get done what you need. If on a weekend, you consider the three or four important things that need to get done in the coming week and intentionally block out the time to do them, chances are you will get those things done. Then if you get those three or four things done, that week is a success.

The week is just one period of time. Other periods of time include the day, the month, the year, and even one’s life. All those periods of time are also yours to command if you apply intentionality to them. It is then said that time management is life management. How you approach the use of time parallels the results that you will achieve in life.


I recently recorded a short series of workshops about time management, which offers more tools and methods on managing your time. They can be accessed through my website.

More Resources

Acting on the Essential

Tune Your When, How Much, and What in Your Days

Finding Your Science Flow: Yoga Lessons to Increase Productivity

Choosing What to Do, or Not to Do, on the Job

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I am sure you’re right, but it’s hard to get oneself to believe it…. the urgent stuff seems to break through boundaries.

Particularly when the urgent stuff is for someone else…it feels like you’re doing your future self a favor by staying on that person’s good side.

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