Why Time Management Is Less Powerful Than Efficiency Management

Why Time Management is Less POWERFUL than Efficiency Management

Keira is my niece. My sister in law teaches her daughter Keira the names of every one in the family. She does this by getting Keira to recognise the photos and call out the person’s name. So Keira learned everyone’s name. And now at two, she says 90% of the names (except the really hard ones like ‘Renuka’) with perfect pronunciation.

And the difference between Keira and other kids (at the same age) is efficiency. Day after day, Keira gets the drill. So now she can take a look at a photo of a relative she’s never met and call their name out perfectly.

What she’s getting a lesson in, is efficiency management

And this is what our brain does best. It tries to get really good at mastering a skill, especially if it considers the skill important. So as we grow up, we learn how to walk, talk, and we work very hard to master the skills. And luckily we learn all of this before we’re six years old. Until the age of six, we have almost no concept of time.

Then we turn seven

And suddenly our weeks, days and hours start to get governed by time.
But the truth is that it’s not time that needs structuring as much as efficiency. If you can be woken up from your deep sleep and can do something e.g. brush your teeth efficiently, then you’re good at it. A one year old can’t do that. A five year old does it better. And a ten year old does it even better.

The secret is indeed not time management, but efficiency management.

I draw cartoons fast, or write fast, or use InDesign or Photoshop, not because I’m good at time management. But because I’m relentless with the learning.

I forget stuff like everyone else. In fact I may be a lot worse. So I make laborious attempts to remember.

So while I do learn and read a lot of things, I keep going over and over and over the learning, until it’s second nature. So if I’m reading a book for instance, I’ll first just read it. Then if I find that it’s a good book worth remembering, I’ll get into the drill of mastering it.

1) I’ll buy the Kindle version of it and mark it.
2) I’ll make notes of the same book in my Moleskine (see links below)
3) I’ll buy the audio version and listen to the same book at least thrice (if not more).
4) Every time I read it, I’ll implement at least 2-3 of the concepts.
5) I’ll write an article or two about the concepts in the book.
6) I’ll talk to my wife, Renuka about the concept. I’ll talk to clients about it. I’ll bring up with friends in casual conversation.

In short I am desperate to become efficient. And I have no excuses.

And some people have their excuses

They believe that they learn better through audio. Or by reading. And good on them. I don’t learn well enough to master by reading or audio. So I do both. And I do it again and again. If you want to restrict your learning to one medium, well that’s your call.

I want to see the video. I want to hear the audio. I want to read the book. Heck I’ll even watch the cartoon version of the same information. I want to learn, and I have no excuses. Because when you think about it, people are making excuses.

I have no time for excuses

My goal is to master the concepts, so I will go over and over it. And like Keira, I get efficient. You can then bring up any page of the book, and I’ve really gone over it, over and over. And I understand it. But there’s still a lot to be done. And so the journey goes on.

Time management is really um, an interesting concept for me…

Take today for example. I woke up with this big plan of what I had to do. And guess what? For one, I put in too many things to do in one day. There was no way I could do it. Then suddenly I found myself mysteriously transported to the cafe. Then to the kebab shop. Then to watch a movie in the middle of the day. Then the hours flew. But twenty minutes ago I started writing this article. And now the article is done. It’s over.

Ten years ago, this article would have taken me two days.

I’d have budgeted the time for it. And cursed and ranted through it. Now I don’t. I write so many articles in a year (sometimes over 300 articles or more) that it’s second nature.

You can wake me up at 2am. And I won’t head for my toothbrush.
I’ll write an article.
Or do a layout in InDesign.
Or be able to draw a watercolour cartoon perfectly.

And it’s not because of time management. It’s efficiency management. It’s not that time management doesn’t count.

It does. But in my book, efficiency counts more.

Ask Keira! 

Would you like to share your story on efficiency management? Share your story here

What do your customers think? What would make them buy?
In the Brain Audit – Sean teaches 7 steps on how to form killer communication pieces that makes people buy from you. The Brain Audit is a simple psychological system that everyone can use in their communication to increase their profits.”

Ankesh Kothari – Biztactics, USA
Judge for yourself
Find out how The Brain Audit can help you

Products: Under $50

1) Do You Often Hit A Wall Called ‘Writers Block’?
Learn how the core elements of outlining can save you from the misery of writing your next article.

2) Do you know that visuals immediately improve your sales conversion?
Learn how to create drama and curiosity and help improve your web page conversion with visuals.

3) Do your websites, brochures, presentations, etc… confuse your clients?
Put some sanity into your design, even though you are not a designer?

4) Chaos Planning
Year after year you sit down and create a list of things you want to achieve. Then suddenly it’s March, and you’ve not really moved ahead as you’d expected.
Learn Why Most Planning Fails: And The Critical Importance of Chaos in Planning.

5) Nothing bugs you more than a painful client.
A client who hassles you at every step of the way. Learn how to use the power of the ‘six critical questions’ to get incredible testimonials—and attract clients that make every day an absolute joy.

NEW PRODUCT! Black Belt Presentations: How do you create presentations that enthrall, hold and move an audience to action?


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus
  • Add to favorites
  • Print
  • Email


  1. says

    Hi Sean,

    That is a really interesting approach you have to time management. I don’t want to go too deep in the semantics here, but I think what you’re trying to say is that effectiveness is more important and with enough repetition you become more efficient.

    The way I approach time management actually comes from an energy management standpoint. If you are physically tired then there is no way you’re getting work done. So you have to ensure you get enough sleep, exercise and have the right nutrition to keep your body and brain optimal. Because if you feel good, you will get more work done and more effective.

    Efficiency comes after a certain level of mastery of what you are doing. If you are working on the wrong this, but you’re very efficient at it, does that actually help you? Effectiveness before efficiency :)

  2. says

    I’ll share a recent efficiency story. I just started using a new CRM program and they had a nice set of videos that trained you how to use the product.
    By watching the videos first, sometimes more than once, I was able to start using it effectively form the start.
    This helped me avoid frustration, and wasting time with the product.

      • says

        I guess it depends on what you are doing. Speed reading helps me with my inbox and scanning news. All these time-monsters you encounter every day.

        Also I found out that training to speed read puts me in a more focused mindset. It’s not so much the speed itself but the habit of reading with a constant pace that helps me focus and block out home office distractions.

        I also learned typewriter skills and it helped me the most to get rid of writers blockage. I can just type what I think and because it’s effortless I don’t mind re-typing, modifying,…

        Both skills make office/computer work relaxing.


      • says

        It worked on Thermodynamics, Fluid dynamics, Gas dynamics and all the other advanced engineering subjects I had to pass, Clarke.

        Not that I could speed read the topics the first time but in the repetition phase it did an awesome job.

        With your history in writing I bet you are an extremely fast reader. Still give it a go and you will see a positive effect. I used to read a lot all my life and was hesitant to train reading (let’s take the speed out because you actually start slow :-). I was amazed that I could improve.


  3. says

    “Chaos” always occurs when you’re running a business from home. People drop in and wonder why you appear a bit toey, itching to get back to what you were doing before the invasion. We have trained family and friends to ring for an apointment (much to their amusement) or come on a Friday our least busy day. Do they stick to it? Gentle reminders are needed even after 11 years. Ho hum!

  4. Kai Holland says

    No story, just a big Mahalo for all you share with us. It really helps me become a better business person.

    Thanks Sean!

    Kai Holland
    Honolulu, HI

  5. Sandee says

    Your headline says “thaT” instead of “thaN”
    (Sorry to do this to you – I hate picky people almost as much as I hate making typos – but I do this one all the time and I thought you’d want to know.)

    • says

      No you’re right. I hate to pass the buck here, but it wasn’t my doing. There’s another typo that I just fixed (both in the newsletter and the blog) which fixed the typo ‘effeciency’.

      Thanks, Sandee. I’m picky about stuff like this too. And I appreciate you writing in. I did notice it on the newsletter, but not on the blog, so it’s time to fix it in the title too.

  6. says

    Sean, great article, one of my favorites lately.

    I find that I have no problem with managing time and can easily get into the zone at 3am from any of my core skills like programming, reading, logos and layout mockups in photoshop… What all the “guru” talk about Time management is mostly about is rather “interruption management” or that area I get into when I roll into work, and emails and phone calls distract me from even approaching any one project and blocking out time. So I have to guard heavily on certain days from this interruption and distraction. These “crisis” situation are the things that are outside my core skills, that need attention, but most of us business owners get heavily bogged down in. Employees are as bad as clients too.

    • says

      And that’s a good point, Timothy. I find that interruptions (or chaos, as I call it) will show up every day. So instead of fighting it, I make chaos my friend. Every day I keep 3 hours (from 1pm-4pm) for chaos. No meetings, no work—nothing. What do I do in those 3 hours? Anything I please. I could do a meeting, if I wanted, or just do nothing. But those hours are set aside, regardless of the day. And it helps me catch up if I’m behind or relax if I’m not.

      • says

        I find the same thing. So my “time management” is blocking off 4 “windows” as I call them every week of 2-3 hours where other people can schedule appointments with me. Using http://www.timetrade.com/ to open myself to outside appointments makes it easy to manage, and people can’t book anything open in the current day, so once I get up in the morning I know what my schedule is, and I can take unrequested time and point it to something else.

        That doesn’t necessarily solve my internal employee interruptions though, and one of those is someone else monitoring my email all the time to provide good customer service. The problem is putting on the front of responsiveness and great customer care, mixing it with deep in-the-zone learning or production.

        Any thoughts on that? Obviously firing everyone and changing the company structure is an option I have thought of. 😉

  7. says

    I love to write the lists, then refer to them throughout the day and choose which one I feel most like doing … or not choose, just head to the kitchen and cook something up. Cooking’s where I learned to be creative (my husband coaxed me into it – I thought maybe he was being sexist but discovered he could see it came naturally to me and he was teaching me to be creative) and I love it – that’s how I learn – by loving, and doing, and loving, and doing, and then it’s second nature and I could cook up a storm if I woke up at 2 am!

    • says

      Yes, some people work by lists, and I have to admit that I’m not much of a list person—except when there’s a massive deadline. Then lists are critical. Which kind of shows you that if you really combined lists with efficiency, you could indeed create some immense magic.

      I love cooking too. I’ll cook often and well :)

    • says

      Or as a client sent me an email today, with this quote: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

  8. says

    YES! Time is fluid and only bites us in the ankle when we try to tie it up in chains (must be a cartoon in there, yes?) I LOVE this affirmation for efficiency as fluency arising from practice and learning. Definite *YUM* factor here.

    • says

      Practice, practice, practice, practice. We’ll make a song out of that!

      And we did. My other niece, Marsha and I have a jingle that goes exactly like that :) Thanks Ariane.

  9. says

    Hi Sean,

    I once saw this documentary about an olympian athlete that took over his dads company and the first thing he did was put up barbed wire around the property and assign stopwatches to every single computer. Everything in the company would only work an assigned number of hours/week. He also put a stopwatch one everybody’s time. You basically could not do overtime.
    His explanation to this approach: You can only win a race if you measure your time. The company became the number one in their field within 2 years and has since then occupied that spot.
    The effect was that time wasters left the company quickly and manager could not hide their incompetence/inefficiency by letting their peorple work longer. It also meant that everybody in the company had to like being measured. Those that didn’t left. The rest appreciated being measured and were embracing all the changes that came with it.

    After reading this I started measuring the time I learned. I was at that time in university and feeling that I learned too much and had to little time off. Applying time measurement showed me that I was just inefficient so I started re-structuring my day. After a few weeks I had a group of likeminded people together and we managed to skim minimum 6 hours of fun out of a day with minimum 6 hours of concentrated & efficient learning. Guess what I remember most – The fun of course.

    To this day I don’t start a task if I don’t put a time to completion behind it. This way I get a direct feedback of my efficiency and (funny to say) get positive feedback when spending less time on the task upon repetition. I also get lots of positive feedback from finishing on or before time and sometimes find myself trying to beat my top score.

    I don’t follow a time management system by the way. Just a simple Gmail to-do list.


      • says

        Hi Sean,

        I forgot to add the carousel gate that also works on time. The barbed wire makes sure you can’t enter or leave the company without going through the gate. The gate has a “traffic light” setting. “Green” means you are within your time allowance. “Yellow” means you are exceeding your daily allowance and should take time off. “Red” means that you are locked out and you are forced to take time off before you are allowed to enter.
        Laptops also had a time counter so even if you worked from home “in secret” the gate would lock you out.

        The owner was asked why he did such drastical measures and his reply was simple: To make it very clear that there is no escape from efficiency and everything else comes second. He wanted the time wasters to leave the company as quick as possible.

        Amazing was how positive the workforce responded to the measures. Far better than the managers. They had all these positive effects like efficient meetings, less time wasting emails, better and more precise targets from management,… to rave about. Everybody agreed that they left the company with a sense of achievement and managed to enjoy their time off.

        The documentary also had a company that was going down the drain as a counterpart to reflect on. Needless to say what they thought about efficiency.

        In case you wonder where I saw this documentary. I saw it in Germany. The only country in the world that has 40% more exports this year than last year and manages to be the number 2 in exports worldwide behind China – With just 80 million inhabitants.


  10. says

    Lists, list, lists is how my partner manages time and tasks. Me? I commit most things to memory in blocks as well as use my email calendar. “suddenly I find myself mysteriously transported to a cafe ” too.
    I’m determined not to let time dictate anymore. “It will be done efficiently and in a timely manner”. There’s no need to panic, and the sky won’t fall.

    • says

      I too do a few things a day, but I work on getting those few things right by doing them over and over again. Did I tell you I started reading a book in January (well, listening to it too on my iPhone). And it’s now almost September. Considering I listened to it almost every day (except when I was on vacation) that kinda tells you how much I believe in this efficiency stuff.

        • says

          I read it. And it makes perfect sense, based on my experience. It’s not only that spaced repetition is nice to have, but it’s probably critical in learning skills because the brain needs to process what it has learned, iron out the bad bits, keep the good stuff and then come back and see if it got the whole thing right.

          So space is needed. Without that space, there’s no processing time. No downtime. And it seems like you’re learning, but in fact all you’re doing is cramming.

          Nice :)

          • says

            This is the main effect we used in getting more efficient in learning. As a group we split our day up into 2 hour blocks. 2 hours of concentrated learning and 2 hours of fun. In order to do this we had to create a roadmap of what we learn in these 2 hours (we needed a goal for every 2 hr block).
            One person in our group mentioned the spaces theory and we applied it. We agreed on 3 times repetition. So every textbook,… had to be worked through 3 times over the entire length of preparation time.

            It was amazing to see how we as a group went from struggling to be prepared on time for exams to having lots of fun and feeling confident and prepared.

            Thanks so much for posting this. I’ll G+ this straight away.

  11. says

    When I was a senior technical writer at a corporation, I was responsible for a very large reference manual for the Unix computer operating system. I had previously written a best-in-industry manual for the vi text editor which I’ve now been using almost daily for over 25 years.

    When I took the reference manual project, it was 3-1/2 months behind schedule and had to be done and shipping to customers in 5 months. Managers trained in scheduling manpower had already determined four full-time engineers could not possibly finish it in time. But…

    Taking my skill (efficiency) with the text editor and another, I wrote a program in a half-day that taught the computer to take over a thousand files, perform massive reformatting edits and other work that would have taken at least 3-6 months for “normal” workers to complete.

    The job took 10 minutes.

    I promised nothing at a checkpoint six weeks away when I started. I committed to be done in just under 4 months.

    But because of efficiency, which I’ll rename competence, I delivered 95% complete at the first checkpoint, and kept the project on schedule through a series of releases over the ensuing 4 years.

    Then the corporate “experts” moved the project to another location in another state (from whence it came to me), and they replaced me with 10 full-time writers who were unable to make schedule. They were unable to produce in 400 man-hours per week what I had consistently delivered for four years in less than 40.

    The difference represented a cost to the company of well over a half-million dollars per year.

    I’m lousy at time management. But you can’t “manage” time. It marches forward at a constant rate. You can only “manage” what you do with time. And how much you accomplish is closely related to your willingness to do what’s necessary to get really good at what you do.

    After that, it’s easy (relatively speaking).

    But you can’t rest. You have to keep learning because the world keeps changing. But that’s how it’s supposed to be.

    • says

      That’s absolutely spot on. You cannot manage time at all. You can just manage yourself. And what you do with time. The problem we have, is there’s so much change in the world today, that we think we can somehow get things under control.

      And the only way I know to get things under control is to get better at it. The example of your program is a prime example. Without that knowledge, it would be impossible to do the job as quickly. Or as efficiently, for that matter.

      Thanks, Clarke. :)

      • says

        “The Ultimate Guide to the Vi and Ex Text Editors” is now out of print. Amazon.com says it’s available on 1-3-month lead time. My understanding is they’re doing a “print on demand” limited quantity run for each batch they sell.

        I’m seriously considering writing a new book and self-publishing and distributing it directly. Vim is the new “improved” vi and is what I use now. But it’s so loaded with fancy features few people need, I’m leaning toward a practical book with the really useful stuff most people need, then if they need the other goodies, they’ll know how to figure those out with relative ease.

        If you’re interested, shoot me an email (contact info is on my website at http://www.ClarkeEchols.com and I can add you to the waiting list.

        My approach will be more as a ‘teacher’ with my insights and productivity thinking to make it more effective — and maybe more entertaining as well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>