As evidenced by the popularity of the following films, moviegoers are fascinated by the possibility of escaping the steady passage of time. In Groundhog’s Day, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) gets stuck in a time loop, experiencing the same day over and over again. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) must alter the course of history by traveling through time to change past events. In Click, Adam Sandler plays a man whose magic remote control gives him the power to fast forward through life’s dull or uncomfortable moments. In Inception, Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, by entering into a series of dreams, experiences years in a matter of minutes. In Multiplicity, Micheal Keaton is cast as a busy dad, husband, and employer crunched for time. He clones himself so that he can fit everything he wants to do within a single day.

It certainly would be wonderful to relive our fondest memories, to undo past mistakes, to halt time in order to get ahead, or somehow to foresee and prevent future disasters. Yet in actuality, we’re stuck plodding through life second by second. We don’t get any do-overs, we cannot peer into the future, and we can neither speed up nor slow down how quickly the day passes. Though we have no control over the flow of time, we can become smarter about how we spend the hours in each day. However, before we can learn to manage time more effectively, we must adopt a realistic perspective of it.


1) Recognize that “Spending Time” Is Not a Metaphor.

Time is more valuable than money, because time is irreplaceable.  “You don’t really pay for things with money,” says author Charles Spezzano in What to Do Between Birth and Death. “You pay for them with time.”  We exchange our time for dollars when we go to work and then trade our dollars for everything we purchase and accumulate. In essence, all we possess can be traced back to a payment of time.  Time stewardship is perhaps a leader’s greatest responsibility.  In the words of Peter Drucker, “Nothing else distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”

2) Understand the Power of Compounding

With time, as with finances, investments made early in life accrue the most interest. When we poorly manage our time, we go into debt by establishing bad habits. Later, we not only must make up for wasted time, but we also must pay interest—spending extra to repair the damage of our negative patterns of behavior. On the flip side, when we invest our time wisely from a young age, we reap the benefits of compounding interest in our leadership.

3) Realize That Lost Time Is Never Found Again.

Clayton C. Barbeau in his book Joy of Marriage writes, “Again and again, I meet marriage situations in which the couple speaks of ‘not finding time’ [to be together]. I’ve never yet stumbled across 20 minutes lying on the sidewalk, though once I found a $20 bill. Nor have I ever met anyone who just happened across two weeks of time somebody had left in the park. I doubt that anyone else has done so either, for the simple reason that time is not found. Time is created by us for the things we want to do. It often requires conscious planning to create those chunks of time we can devote totally to the other.”

4) Appreciate How a Thankful and Hopeful Attitude Makes the Most of Time

In Martin Seligman’s twenty-two year study at the University of Pennsylvania, summarized in his book Learned Optimism, he determined that optimism is the most important quality you can develop for personal and professional success and happiness. Optimistic people are more effective in almost every area of life. Why? Because they approach the world with gratitude and hope rather than fear and regret.

Optimists have four special behaviors, all learned through conscious practice and repetition. First, optimists look for the good in every situation. They always find blessings for which to be grateful. Second, optimists always seek the valuable lesson in every setback. They’re thankful even for hardships, interpreting difficulty as instruction rather than obstruction. Third, optimists always look for the solution to every problem. Instead of blaming or complaining when things go wrong, they take action in the hopes of improving their situation. They ask questions like, “What’s the solution? What can we do now? What’s the next step?” Fourth, optimists think and talk continually about their goals. Hopeful tomorrow will be better than today, they are future-oriented rather than backward-looking.

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