The Dirty Little Secret of Time Management

Everyone talks about Time Management. Before I do the same thing, I should note that I don’t truly believe one can MANAGE time. The best you can hope for is a good relationship with it. And, like all good relationships, this one takes work…

Even those who are good at it struggle sometimes. And those who struggle with it can suffer around the clock and throughout the calendar.  My next few posts are going to be about helping everyone (the good and the struggling) find tips to increase their success in this space.  

First up?  

dirty secret time mgmt


Here is the secret:

Not all hours in the day are created equally.

And yet, you keep making plans as if they are. 


Sometimes, you just CAN’T get an hour’s worth of work done in an hour.  

So, despite your plan for the day, the day may be working against your plans. 


Deep down, you know this is true.  You somehow know that you can get more done in 30 minutes if everything is working in your favor than you can in 3 hours some other time. You know that when that happens, not only does it AMAZE you, and you tell others, you secretly feel like you’ve tapped into some kind of super power.  And yet, you don’t seem to harness it repeatedly, in your favor.  


So, what can make the difference between a great hour and a horrible one? 


  • Time of day
    • Some of us just know “I’m a morning person” or “I’m a night owl” or “I crash after lunch”. Knowing your clock and your body and playing to your strengths is the first rule of making the most of your best hours in the day. If you’re a morning person, and you’re not doing the items that require the most energy, clarity, and focus, you’re wasting your best asset.  If you’re a night owl, and that doesn’t just mean “I don’t go to sleep because I’m busy watching tv or tooling around on the internet”, but it really means that you’ve got a burst of energy and focus after hours, then capitalize on it. 


  • Energy level
    • You know that the amount of energy you have from one hour to the next is not the same. And you also *kind of* know that this can be a little bit in your control, right?  This can be maximized with things like a power nap, or short bursts of exercise,  getting better nutrition (more protein, or less sugar/carb crashes), not only provide energy for your body but for your brain, too.  Soothing music? Energizing music?  What brings out the best in you?  It’s no secret that people tend to have more energy and motivation to do things like clean the house when they’ve got good music going on in the background. What are the stimulants that help you focus, not distract you? 


  • Distractions
    • Some of this is obvious, right?  Kids, spouses, roommates, other humans, and pets around. But what about the other things?  TV is on. Laundry needs to be done, which leads to another “quick task” here and there, and then the hour is gone. Or, the worst –  keeping email or websites on in the background, with an open invitation to provide you with something more tempting than what you’re doing now.    Shutting down email, for even a half hour, can be an amazing boundary you can set for yourself to be more productive and make the most of that hour!  One of my clients tells me she turns her clocks around when she needs to focus for long stretches of time. Seeing time pass in front of her eyes is her biggest distraction. 


  • Location
    • As I am writing this post, I’m sitting in a lovely hotel lounge. I brought what I needed with me, and I set a goal for what I wanted to accomplish in this time. I’m only reachable if I feel like being reachable.  Someone keeps bringing me coffee and water.  I’m hyperfocused, with nothing else around me to draw my attention.  Also, I get this feeling that I really want to APPEAR busy to others when I’m here.  It just seems like a place to productive and maximize my time.  But I promise, if I were home right now, I wouldn’t be typing this.  I really feel like I don’t work as hard when I’m in my own home. Some people need to get out from their own office and find a conference room or another space, just to shake it up, and get the same revitalization in their efforts.  Do you ever feel that way too?  Then make it happen for yourself; build it into your work plan. 


  • Witching hour
    • Lots of people and houses and offices have these.  These are the “nothing can get done once this starts”. Maybe it is the kids or your spouse is home from school or work. Maybe it’s time to switch gears to something like making dinner or working out, and once your head is in that space, nothing else can compete. Maybe it’s that time in the office where someone decides that making microwave popcorn is a good idea, and you can’t POSSIBLY focus on anything other than eating that popcorn RIGHT NOW.  Maybe you’re starting to get hungry, and hungry leads to hangry. Maybe it’s after dinner (which you imagined would be productive) but it turns out, you can’t focus on a thing, and resent every item on your to-do list.  It can really start to become an enemy. Know your witching hours, and set realistic expectations about what you can truly achieve in those hours, and if the answer is “Not a darn thing”, then stop setting yourself up for disappointment when you that happens. 


  • As the hours decrease, the stress increases
    • “Oh no. I gave myself the whole day to do this, and we’re getting closer and closer to dinner time, and I’m just not going to get this done!  Why even bother starting at this point??”   What a sense of self-defeat, and really, a feeling that you’ve let yourself down when you haven’t managed the day up to this point well.  And then… don’t you feel like just throwing in the towel and writing the day off? What a defeat to productivity.  What can you do instead?  Plan for this sensation. Or set goals around what progress looks like so that you can feel you’ve made accomplishments, even if you’re not at completion.  This one is where you’ve got a little devil on your shoulder, making you feel bad about yourself.  Don’t listen to him. 


Do you see yourself here?  Do you see any of these as a barrier to your productive days, to your best relationship with time?  Think about what you can do differently today, experiment with the things that are in your control (because let’s face it, time just isn’t!!)






  1. Ellen Delap

    So true! It’s a new perspective on our old friend “we don’t have enough time.” Love the new way to spin getting things done!

  2. clevergirlorg

    So glad you enjoyed this one, Ellen!

  3. Janet Barclay

    I used to experience the opposite of this. One day I had a phone call with my accountability partner at about 2:00 in the afternoon, and we talked about each of our next steps. She asked me what I was going to do when I got off the phone, and I said it was too late to start anything that day. She totally chewed me out! I’ve since shaken that mindset and have discovered I CAN accomplish things in the last 1/3 of the day! I’m careful not to start anything that may get complicated and prevent me from wrapping up on time, but anything I get done is one less thing to carry over to the next day.

    • clevergirlorg

      I love that response, Janet — I don’t think it’s “opposite”; I think it’s in line with the idea of discovering when you can truly be productive, and not just assuming the clock tells you when you can or can’t do something! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Olive Wagar

    Great observation that not all hours are created equally. My morning hours are my prime time for writing. I don’t use that time for email or social media. As for “looking productive”, I think dressing professionally, even if I plan to stay home all day in my office, helps set the stage for getting more done.


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