When it comes to business, there are many knowledgeable experts that can help manage money. But when it comes to something as invaluable and fleeting as time, justifying and balancing every minute isn’t as easy.
Featured in an issue of Hamilton County Business Magazine, “Accounting for Time” is an article written by AccelaWork founder Robby Slaughter.
The piece is reprinted below:
Accounting for Time
Businesses of every size and shape devote an incredible amount of their energy to managing financial resources. We work with accountants and controllers, tax experts and budget committees, loan officers and bookkeepers. We continuously monitor cash flow, stock prices and interest rates. Money is the lifeblood of business.
This obsession is not unreasonable. Businesses need capital. The exchange of money for goods and services, and the distribution of funds to owners, employees and vendors is the rhythm of corporate success. It makes sense to save, borrow and spend appropriately.
However, hard cash is not the most precious commodity of any organization. As management guru Peter Drucker once quipped, “Time is the scarcest resource—if it is not managed, nothing else can be managed.” We should watch our ledgers and receipts, but pay even more attention to calendars and clocks. Nothing can more profoundly accelerate or stall progress than the way we choose to use each moment.
Although financial management is an entire field teeming with professionals, certifications and academic programs, time management is barely more than a cottage industry. We all know that we should avoid wasting time. We all attempt to save time. Yet beyond these simple admonitions, the resemblance crumbles. We lack a complex infrastructure of experts and strategies for managing hours and minutes like we do dollars and cents. Shouldn’t we be attacking this problem with equal precision?
Part of the reason that we struggle to manage time is because time is an esoteric resource. Unlike money, time cannot be stored up for later use. There are no banks that can loan time, regardless of the interest rate we are willing to pay. Although time may be wasted, no one can offer a refund. Worst of all, we don’t get to decide when we are going to spend our time. Each second is automatically dispensed whether we are ready or not.
Nevertheless, there are lessons from the world of financial management that we should apply to the study of time. For example, accountants organize funds into a chart of accounts, which allow transactions to be grouped together. A record of cash in a “revenue” account indicates income; a note in an “expense” account specifies some cost. We can achieve the same effect with our calendars by cordoning off parts of our day for particular tasks, such as scheduling an hour each day to process email or blocking out production time for client work.
Likewise, fiscal experts are always seeking ways to cut costs without impacting quality. When we become more efficient—through better systems, faster computers, or increased concentration—we get more done in less time. The savings translate immediately into more growth and opportunity.
Finally, accountants leverage the natural ebb and flow of cash in an organization to make smart choices. They may hold off on purchases until more checks have arrived, or arrange to make installment payments on major expenses. The analogous concept in time management involves taking breaks, setting boundaries and taking time off work. Just as a CFO can maximize financial efficiency by paying attention to the business organism, you can maximize personal time efficiency by staying conscious of your own health and need for a balanced life.
Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister note that “There are a million ways to lose a work day, but not even a single way to get one back.” Every instant at work is invaluable, yet passes immediately. Account for your own time by planning ahead. Choose diligence and discipline. Consciously manage your time.