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MIHE Blog News, views and insights from Macmillan International Higher Education

Time Waits For No (wo)man

by Emma Sue Prince 14th January 2020

In this blog post, Emma-Sue Prince muses on the term 'time management' and argues that we really need to be thinking about 'self management' instead.

Every Sunday I sit down to plan my week, not just in terms of lists of things I need to get done and my appointments, but focusing my intentions around the different roles I have in my life and work and planning my week around these instead. I write in a planner and I write by hand. But for a number of weeks recently whilst I was waiting for my new planner pages to arrive (I use a specific system), I’ve used temporary measures, digital planning tools and plain writing on paper but nothing has worked quite so well. It made me think of the power of writing in this focused way and how important it is. It’s about creating a specific time and place to plan but also having a clear system with which to do so.

With our hectic lives most people probably have some kind of time management diary system they use. I’m sure also that the majority of these are a) digital and b) based around management of time, appointments, meetings and commitments along with lists of things to do which get ticked off. Yet how does this support managing ourselves and our ability to be focused and productive?

The idea of time management has been in existence for more than 100 years. The term “Time management” creates a false impression though.

​Time can’t be managed – we can only manage ourselves and our use of time. Time management is actually self management.

What makes a great manager in a business?

That person usually has a strong understanding of everything about the business: its operations, and most importantly its people. S/he knows employee strengths, weaknesses, personality, and generally has built some good rapport with them. Many of us fail to take the same penetrating look inside ourselves to understand how we work and then learn to manage ourselves accordingly. In fact, most of us put far more energy and effort into managing circumstances outside of our control. This creates stress and anxiety.

In Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, the very first habit is being proactive and responsible for our own lives.

There are three central values in life:

  1. the experiential (that which happens to us)
  2. the creative (that which we bring into existence)
  3. the attitudinal (our response to difficult circumstances)


What matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.

Proactivity and managing ourselves is grounded in facing reality but also understanding we have the power to choose a positive response to our circumstances. And we need to know what factors we can influence and what we can’t.

If being proactive is a habit, then habits can be learned. It is said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. However, we know from the fruitless notion of New Year resolutions, that many of us cannot even last 21 days. It’s as if we’ve forgotten how to stick at things. Habits are developed when we believe they are worth developing.

Not many people sit down and plan their lives, their years, their months, their days. Sure, some of us make to-do lists, keep diaries and so on but it’s not the same – that’s just managing time.

Featured image credit: Photo by Free-Photos. Available on Pixabay via the Pixabay license.