Forget Time Management. Master These Disciplines Instead.

30th Mar 2020

In times of disruption, a focus on time management gives us a sense of control and stability. But if we want to thrive, we need to look beyond simply mastering our calendar. 

I wrote this piece before the rise of the Covid19 crisis. I think it’s even more relevant now.


For years, I’ve taken a ‘year by design’ approach where I plan my time 12 months ahead. I deliberately block out certain chunks of time during the year for thinking, travelling, learning and creating. It’s worked hugely well for me and countless others (check out ‘Your Year By Design’ for the method in detail).

And yet, I’ve learned that simply designing my calendar isn’t enough to help me be effective. It’s great to put some boundaries around my time, and yet I often get ‘calendar creep’ where stuff seeps in and my valuable time gets eroded away. Know the feeling?

I reckon there are four disciplines that we need to master if we’re to be effective. These are Time Mastery, Attention Mastery, Intention Mastery and Energy Mastery. In my experience, they have an exponentially increasing power of leverage. Let’s start with the least leveraged: time.

Time: When your primary focus is mastering how you use your time, it’s all about efficiency. How can I / we get the most done in this amount of time? How can we structure things so we can get stuff done, fast and efficiently? This is where a lot of people and organisations spend a whole lot of resources. Managing calendars, setting up meetings, running meetings, and implementing efficiency tools. They’re all important, yet by themselves they’re not enough. How many of us can truly say that effective time management is the way to achieve truly great things?


Attention. The next level of leverage is Attention Mastery. This is all about focus. This is when we develop the discipline of mono-tasking rather than multitasking. (As we know from neuroscience, multi-tasking doesn’t work for accomplishing complex tasks). When we learn to focus deeply on the most important work with minimal distraction, we’re more effective. In an organisational setting, it’s about crafting your strategy, which Michael Porter beautifully described as the art of deciding what you won’t do. In my experience, Attention Mastery makes Time Mastery less of an issue, because I can get more done through focused effort than through simply blocking out time.


Intention. The next level is Intention Mastery. This is all about vision and purpose. It’s about what we most want to have happen – the stuff that ignites and excites us. Without clear intent, it’s easy to be productive and focused on the wrong stuff. I know from personal experience that when I can clearly define a compelling intent for creating a meaningful future, it’s easier to focus my attention on what matters most. And if we can do this collectively, we can create strong alignment around a common purpose. As research shows, that’s powerful.

As Adam Grant of Wharton puts it “if you’re choosing people and projects that matter to you, it doesn’t matter how long things take.”


Energy. Our final level is Energy Mastery. This is about tapping into what fuels you. At a personal level, it has to do with sleep, diet, exercise, mindset, your physical environment and your social environment, just to name a few. In a collective setting, this is all about culture. In other words, the vibe of the place. How we show up, individually and collectively, and the energy that creates, has a huge impact on performance. 


These disciplines reinforce each other. The better you can tap energy, the easier it is to discern what’s most important (intention), which makes it easier to focus on doing what’s important (attention). Then time management as a tool becomes way less important.

Flipping it, if we don’t master how we tap into energy well, it’s harder to connect to your real intent, which makes it harder to focus on what’s most important, which makes time management a never-ending reactive battle.

Together, these disciplines might look like this, with each circle showing the amount of leverage you have. 

There might be some people who could argue that good time management paves the way to help you focus, which helps you discern what’s most important, which then gives you energy. And, yes, there is a ring of truth to that, I reckon.

How can you take these ideas and apply them? Start by having some conversations about what they mean to you and the people you work with. Here are some questions for you to ask yourself and your team:


  • When have been the times when I’ve / we’ve been most energised? What conditions created that state?
  • What inspires me / us?
  • What can I / we do to ensure we stay energised?
  • What we I / we do to get out of an energy slump?



  • What do I / we most want to have happen?
  • Why is this important to me / us?
  • If I / we created that, what would be the impact?
  • What matters most? What matters least?



  • What’s the one thing that if I / we focused on that, everything else would be easier or unnecessary? (Thanks Gary Keller)
  • What distractions can I / we remove from my / our world?
  • What conditions allow me / us to focus deeply?
  • What’s most important now?



  • What’s more important: measuring my / our impact or measuring my / our time?
  • How can I / we make my / our time today as effective as possible?
  • What helps me / us to be as efficient as possible?
  • What slows me / us down?

I hope these ideas are useful for you. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to create a life by design, which I see these disciplines as being essential for. In the coming months I’ll be researching and sharing more of my thinking around this. I’d love to hear what this piece has got you thinking and doing differently. Drop me a line!


Photo by Rudolf Kirchner from Pexels

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