Time management is Time Travel, pt 1: Ben Franklin & Managing the Now

You may delay, but time will not.

– Ben Franklin

By “time management” we usually mean prioritizing, using time effectively, getting things done instead of putting them off.  Except that we all “manage” time — it’s a matter of how well. If done properly, the rewards are large — and costly if not.

Ben Franklin put it more succinctly:

Remember that time is money.

So let’s get a new, good start on this “time management” job of ours and break into its essential parts to see how well it can pay.

Standard Time v. Dali Time

To start “managing” time we need to get a hold on time itself.

Just as the drive to a vacation spot seems much longer than the drive home, time is a variable dimension that, while linear, does not move at a constant speed.

Except time isn’t actually variable. Instead, it’s a matter of perspective, and, unlike Einstein’s time, our personal time depends not on our relative location but on our relative frame of mind.  When we say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow,” we are not bending time itself, we are warping our sense of it. Seconds are constant, what is not is how we count them.

We readily fool ourselves into thinking  that time is further away or closer than it actually is. While yesterday may seem close by, next week can seem as distant as last year.  Or, since “tomorrow” is just around the corner, it seems like a great place to keep things. Then, before we know it, tomorrow has become today, and we’ve moved forward another day to tomorrow’s tomorrow. What was just a day ahead of us is now two days and counting.

While we can never really grasp this odd dimension of time, we can at least stop using it to fool ourselves into thinking there’s more or less of it than we actually have, lest it melt away like a Dali clock.

Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory”

As Franklin said,

Lost time is never found again.

The Time Management Office

That’d be you, as you are your own time’s Managing Director. Either you’re time’s boss or time is your boss, so choose wisely here.

Probably the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is being one’s own boss. When you’re accountable only to yourself it’s easier to let yourself off the hook for things that you’d be loathe to let happen under another boss.  Most people work for someone else, so they’re shielded from their own behaviors by being held accountable by an external force.

With time, we are all our own entrepreneur, accountable, ultimately, only to ourselves. Sages tell us that the truly moral person will make the right decision even if no one is looking. As with following Ben Franklin’s maxims,  that’s not always easy to do.

With time, we need to hold ourselves accountable. Be your own boss, and be a hard boss, otherwise time is your boss and you’ll end up on the wrong side of Franklin’s advice:

An empty bag cannot stand upright.

So I’m the boss. Now what?

That’s exactly it: what you’re managing isn’t “time” so much as “the Now.”

Again, from Ben:

He that riseth late must trot all day.

Running late means that Now has become Later. Time is back in charge, usurping you the boss.

When we’re running late it’s because we didn’t coordinate the Now with the moment we needed to get going. Perhaps that 10 minute snooze was okay, or maybe we thought we could get something else done before moving on to that next thing, or something else came up and got in the way.

Whatever happened, it’s a disconnect between our destination and the Now required to get there. The struggle is over the Now, and whoever controls it, you or the distraction, you or the ticking clock, wins.

Time has a sole tangible aspect, the present, the Now. So when we speak of “time management,” we’re really talking about managing what’s going on right Now. When Later happens, it’s just another Now, only it might be filled up with yesterday’s lost Nows if we’re not careful.

Boss of the Now: the Time Traveler

Once we appreciate that time is unidimensional, that it only exists in the Now, we can begin to control it, be its boss and not the other way around.

In my life, that Now thing is the biggest challenge. I am capable of enormous and great work, but my struggle has always been the balancing of what I’m doing with what I could (and should) also be doing at the same time. I call it “procrastinating by doing.” Just because I’m being enormously productive on one thing doesn’t mean that I’m not deferring to later other, perhaps even more important things.

To get in control of the Now, we can use time’s own trickery to our own advantage using that age-old fantasy of “time travel.” Here’s an example of how it can work:

The other day, I had to swing by the pharmacy on my way home from a work visit some distance away. I was tired and anxious to get home and just wanted to pick up the prescriptions and leave.

As I entered the pharmacy, I called my wife to make sure I was getting the right things. (See how an external force holds us accountable!)  She mentioned another medicine and then started reading off the grocery list. I said, “No, no, I’m just getting the prescription, then heading home. Very tired.”

As the clerk threw the medicine into a bag, I forced myself to think about coming back again the next day. “Jeez, do I really want to come back here tomorrow?”


This little excursion into a future of having to go back the next day was enough to push myself to deal with it while I was already there — Now. I got home and started unloading the groceries. My wife said, “I thought you were just getting the prescription?” “Yeah,” I said, “But at least now I don’t have to go back tomorrow.”

Making Tomorrow Now’s boss

Time Travel allows us to think about the future in order to save that future from having to deal with what we don’t feel like dealing with today.

It’s a quick little exercise that can be an enormously powerful tool for managing one’s time. By projecting forward the consequences of deferring to later, we can feel tomorrow’s pain today and thus more compelled to manage our time in the Now more effectively.

Next post, I will review more specific strategies for making Time Travel work — and for getting ourselves back in control of the Now.

Good luck, Time Managers!

– Michael