Killing Time


I did a media call for a journalist on the subject of “time management” recently. When I heard the topic, I was worried: one, I don’t think I’m that great at time management … and two, I’m not even sure such a thing exists.

You can’t manage time; it exists independently of any choice you make. I tend to think more about managing energy and managing projects—as for time itself, that’s another story altogether.

Yet, we all have to make judgment calls on where we should spend our time. I am an advocate for spending it deliberately: if you’ve got a spare hour, put it to good use. Or enjoy it by deliberately choosing to chill out. But don’t waste it, and don’t kill it. “Killing time” … what an unfortunate phrase.


Time is a jealous lover. If you mistreat it, you can start over, but you never get it back. It’s kind of like forgiveness without forgetting—it’s over, it’s OK, but it’s going to be different now.

Unfortunately, inertia and I are well acquainted. On any given day, I can choose to become the most informed New York Times reader. I can ensure that no one will know more about Frequent Flyer programs than me. I can attempt to rule the Twitterverse.

And I will get nothing done.

Alternatively, we can use the time entrusted to us. We can count down the 1,440 minutes in each day and put them to good use. Which will it be?

Sometimes it helps to put things in perspective: what one thing will you get done today? If nothing else happens, how will you help others while pursuing your own dreams? (These goals are not mutually exclusive.)

When you find yourself with time to spare, don’t kill it. Respect it.


Image: KevB

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  • Danielle says:

    I just did a call on this very subject myself today and said virtually the same thing!

    I don’t believe you can manage anything (time, stress, productivity)…it’s all about managing YOU.

    And the things we do to time…beat it, kill it, waste it, we blame it, push it, turn it, lose track of it, and do all manner of terrible things to it, it’s no wonder it doesn’t treat us very kindly in return.

    I love your last line of treating it with respect. If we can remember to treat time like the precious gift it is, it will work that much more effectively for us.

  • Denise Duffield-Thomas says:

    My productivity definitely has its peaks and troughs, but I’ve decided to do the Rice Paddy experiment on the basis of that famous proverb that a man who wakes up before dawn to work on his rice paddy 360 days a year cannot fail to make his family rich.

    “Working on my rice paddy” for me is writing 1000 words a day, and making 5 quality connections with the outside world. I define that as writing an article proposal, media pitch, posting a new article, pitching a radio interview etc. Not so much posting on Facebook or writing emails!

    As long as I do those things (a mean feat in itself), I don’t care how long I spend on them. It could take me 2 hours, it could take 20!

  • Yolanda Facio says:

    Well said. Thanks!

  • bondChristian says:

    Time is a like river, you know: enjoy it while you can, but trying to manage it is… well, like trying to manage a river.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • Trever Clark says:

    Inertia is huge. It’s funny how you can fritter away 6 hours on Twitter while you try and fail to get motivated to do one single productive task. On another day, though, you might start the morning off with Denise’s rice paddy method – and use the inertia to effortlessly glide through your to do list, getting epic amounts of things accomplished without even noticing.

    Time is almost like a living thing, with different moods and different rhythms. It is most definitely a force of nature – one that can’t be tamed, but that can, at times, be harnessed and used to further our aims. More often, the best that we can do is to let it take it’s own course, and marvel when sometimes it’s aims and ours align.

  • Suzie Cheel says:

    Love the last line- yes respecting time is important, and maybe something we forget, So you and inertia? Thanks for writing this and now to complete just one thing that will empower me and help others:)

  • morgan coudray says:

    What a great post! Killing time is indeed such a sad thing. EWe should all remember that when it comes to time we are ALL EQUAL: you got the same amount as your neighbour.

  • David Damron says:

    One of the toughest aspects for myself to learn growing up was how not to “kill time”. I always found something to do that didn’t accomplish much of anything I wanted to accomplish.

    Today, I am better but always improving.

    I think that most people, including myself, just don’t ask themselves if what they are doing is worth their time. There are plenty of times I can look back and say, “Why the hell was I doing that?”

    The more analytical we are about our choices (, the more likely we are to maker better ones. That includes our time choices.

    Thanks for your thoughts Chris on time….

    David Damron

  • Rich Dixon says:

    That last line is priceless. Thank you.

  • Justin guzman says:

    Great analogy of time as a jealous lover, the more I am learning from folks like you, Leo babauta,ev bogue and other. I am finding that time Is waaaay to precious to squander either punching the timeclock @ the 9-5 or drooling like a vegetable in from of the tv. Thanks for the post dude

  • ThatGuyKC says:

    Wow, I’ve never thought of “managing time” in that context before. Kind of gives a whole different perspective on productivity.

    Thank you for the challenge of “what one thing will you get done today?”. Definitely helps to have a goal/purpose for the day.

  • Lisa Fine - lisasfoods says:

    For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to write down three things I want to do each day soon after I wake up. One of those things is to write a guest post for a blog I’ve been eyeing…I keep thinking about it, but I know if I go for a walk for an energy boost, I should be able to jump right in. It’s gotta happen, especially cause I hate to think of days going by when I haven’t.

  • Jen Gresham says:

    One of my favorite posts by you, Chris. I agree whole-heartedly. I think the key is to not hold yourself to perfectionism in your efforts to live deliberately either. I know I beat myself up sometimes for not being more focused (or even for not scheduling deliberate unfocused time).

    My goal is to live the best I can while still being gentle with myself about my faults. When that’s my frame of mind, everything else seems fall into place.

  • Bernice says:

    I love what you said about if you have an hour and what do you do with it. It’s not that shouldn’t spend time doing “nothing”, it is just that if we do, it should be a choice, not just a squandering. Spend your time intentionally, even if it is intentionally to do nothing!

  • Giulietta Nardone says:

    I’m bothered by so many of us killing time. When we get to the ends of our lives, we’ll want it back …

  • Devin says:

    Real or imagined, time is not my friend. It is mostly the limiting factor in all my deadlines. While it is not my friend, I still find its existence (real or imagined) useful.

  • Dan Miller says:

    I took the section in AONC where you talked about how Jim Collins spends his work day. That was most helpful. I’ve created my own and it’s increased my productivity immensely.

    (Based on 50 hour week)
    CREATING 50% — Research and Writing (25 hrs)
    Guest Articles, magazines, websites, books, ebooks, manifestos
    New products, promotions, attending seminars and workshops
    SHARING 20% — Speaking and Teaching (10 hrs)
    Live Events, Paid speaking engagements, Civic presentations
    Lunch apts, Interviews – Radio, TV
    COMMUNICATING 15% — Email responses (7.5 hrs) comments and notes
    PLANNING 10% — Business Meetings (5 hrs)
    Bill Paying, Strategy, Making it Work
    COMPLETING 5% — Everything Else (2.5 hrs)

  • Kathleen Parvis says:

    What a “timely” post! Today I woke up and asked my self, “How am I going to get all the things done today in one day.” I believe that time can be a destructive concept. When I lived abroad in Sierra Leone, I learned what WAIT meant. It was West African Internal Time. I now never wear a watch and try to find the balance of both worlds but it is days like today in which I need to remind myself that my goal should be to get done what can be done and be at peace. Thanks for the post to remind me to use time well. I will do my best.

  • Cara Stein says:

    Good call. Time is what life is made out of–the last thing we should do is kill it.

    I think a lot of people don’t distinguish between intentionally spacing out and recharging vs. wasting time. They sometimes look the same, but they’re not!

  • Brent Sears says:

    Done! What does done look like?

    That is what I look at when working on projects from laundry or the dished to website launches. Start with:

    Defining Done


    Do the real work


    Decide what to do next

    Thanks for your part in helping me to see how to do this Chris – It has changed my life!

  • Melody says:

    Apparently I’ve been channeling the part of me that (comfortingly) exists within you, as well: “I can choose to become the most informed New York Times reader. I can ensure that no one will know more about Frequent Flyer programs than me…” and will never get today’s earlier minutes back.

    But thank you for giving us: “what one thing will you get done today?” I will work with that, and take it from there. Appreciate this post. Cheers!

  • Laurie says:

    I always hated that phrase, “killing time.” It’s awful. If I had the internet at home, I’d waste too much time, I know I would. But living in rural back o’ beyond Michigan, where internet service is challenging, I’ve chosen to keep my home internet-free. Sometimes it’s a drag, but mostly it means I spend my time in the evenings much more wisely, reading and writing and educating myself on things that are important to me, or doing simple things I enjoy.

  • David Bourbon says:

    Excellent post. Thanks very much.

  • Bo says:

    “If nothing else happens, how will you help others while pursuing your own dreams?”

    I love that.

  • Linda says:

    I love that phrase ‘managing energy’ –so much better than time management, which has a built in negative connotation (for me anyway).

    I like to think of time as a gift. While walking the dog and child last night I was reminded about how fleeting our time here is. When you see the seconds tick off in the intersection, you’re almost forced to rush and ‘beat the clock’ (I could be passive aggressive and resist that impulse, but that would be foolhardy, at best).

    Thanks for the positive message to get one important thing done today Chris :).

  • supernalsteve says:

    Time is an illusion (all we have is the moment of now) – yet time is precious (so we should use it wisely).

    Great post Chris – especially about making conscious choices as to how we use the time that we have – if we want to relax and do nothing, then choose to relax and do nothing. How many times have I been realxing and doing nothing yet feeling guilty because I’m not doing anything spoiling the beauty of spending that time relaxing doing nothing…..

  • Farnoosh says:

    One of my favorite writing styles is when the author has a relationship with intangible concepts which also become a character all their own – in this case time and inertia. Brilliant approach to a topic that will now stay with me because of your delivery. Thank you Chris!
    (PS: We are doing a mileage run before end of 2010 to get that Exec Platinum renewed…I *know* you related to the importance of that one ;))!

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    To keep myself from feeling overwhelmed and to keep goals in perspective, I like to break my action items down into the top three for each day. I think I first read about this from Leo Babauta, but I’ve seen this suggestion repeated elsewhere. Here’s hoping it helps someone else, too.

  • Cara Lopez Lee says:

    Thanks for the great reminder, Chris. Here’s a question I often hear, “What would you do if today were the last day of your life?” But I think this can create a false choice: how many days in a row can we climb Kilimanjaro, ride roller coasters, or spend hours hugging and calling every last one of our family and friends to say “I love you”? I prefer to ask it this way, “What can I do today so that if I happen to die at the end of it, I’ll feel proud of the way I lived it, and not regret my choices.” A slight difference, that allows us to live honestly, but without extra pressure that can be counterproductive.

    After a busy year, I’ve recently found myself re-prioritizing so I can spend more time with my husband on “Il Dolce Far Niente”: the sweetness of doing nothing. I’ve had to teach myself that this is not wasted time. It’s time to rest up for those many busy hours filled with meaningful activity, and time to connect with the person closest to me. Time lived, not killed.

  • ryan says:

    Not to sound like the resident AONC kiss-ass, but you are on some kind of roll here, Chris. Thanks for the reminder. I am currently on my 8th day of intensive time-awareness. I am shocked and appalled, but also becoming much more diligent in my work, in addition to making “chill” time benefit me as a human being.

    Thanks again.

  • Wyman says:

    I am in a hurry this morning and did not take the time to read all the comments. I will later as I enjoy them as much as the post. Awesome group.

    If you have not read Steven R. Covey’s book, ” the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” it is a must.

    He talks about a 4 quatrant time management system.

    When we talk about time management we really mean how we manage out use of that 24 hours.

  • Amelia says:

    what is the one thing you will get done today Chris?

    For me, I will write at least 2000 words on my novel for NaNoWriMo.

    And something I find interesting is that the opposite of “kill some time” would be “live some time”, so how would our society look if everyone focused on living Time rather than killing it?
    Thanks for the post, again. 🙂

  • Vince says:

    Having just recently deciding to leave my job and start a business myself after following you(and a few others 😉 ) I am now getting into the swing of things on how to structure my day.

    Although, I don’t think of it as “Time Management”, I have a couple of ways of getting stuff done.

    The first thing I do is to write down some goals that I want to be done by the end of the day and rank them in importance.

    Then I use the Pomodoro Technique a friend of mine showed me. It is a great way to do things. Basically you work for 25 minutes with out distractions, take a 5 min break then start all over again. The trick is to make sure that you get 8 or more sessions a day. If you can then you are getting some major work done each day.

    It is all part of my GSD technology. Since I know many people read your blog I will simply say that GSD stands for Get Stuff Done. 🙂

  • James J. Pond says:

    I’m reminded of a book entitled: “Your Money or Your Life”; as well as, a bioneers lecture: “Time is Not Money”. It’s interesting that the term twenty-four seven was described to the machines that worked around the clock. Time is a resource, like the air we breath, the water we breath. When you’re out of time… YOU ARE OUT OF TIME!

    Many Americans describe their work as 24/7 365. When the computer was born there was talk of shorter work weeks through technology. How is that working out? Where are we going?

  • Nick says:

    Ironically, I received this link just after I read your blog post.
    Something to think about…

  • Peter Paluska says:

    This was an insightful and highly useful post, Chris. Thank you! I enjoyed reading through all the comments, as well. Excellent ideas, everybody!
    I also believe that, like watching a film, which is just watching 24 frames/sec flash by, time is also an illusion.
    Let’s focus on living fully and deliberately in each moment! I know we can do this.

    Thanks again, Chris!


  • Ryan Renfrew says:

    Time Poem

    To realize the value of one year:
    Ask a student who has failed a final exam.

    To realize the value of one month:
    Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

    To realize the value of one week:
    Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

    To realize the value of one hour:
    Ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.

    To realize the value of one minute:
    Ask the person who has missed the train, bus or

    To realize the value of one-second:
    Ask a person who has survived an accident.

    To realize the value of one millisecond:
    Ask the person who has won a silver medal in the

    Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you
    have. You will treasure
    it even more when you can share it with someone

    The origination of this letter is unknown

  • Antje says:

    Thanks so much, Chris and everyone.

    “Managing energy and managing projects”

    After having had swine flu for the last 5 weeks and hardly any energy (breathing was hard) my managing projects at the moment seems to be more like telling the family that i love them and somehow trying to stay focused on getting better to be able to travel for 8 weeks in 12 days time. This has been our dream for the last year. Considering I still struggle to walk a few hundred meters/yards a day on a good day while being overtaken by lots of 80 year olds and spend most time lying down, not sure how i will travel the 24 hours to Europe with 2 kids in economy and then explore and give back.

    So i have 12 days, I will be able to get there and the resting i need is positive. Thank you Chris, you have been an inspiration for the last 5 weeks, and I am happy to be able to type this which is much more than I was able to do a few weeks back.

    Enjoy every breath you take.

  • James Clark says:

    …logs off from facebook and gets back to work…

  • Sean M Kelly says:

    As I watched my Father die from cancer about ten years ago and I was getting stressed out about optimizing my time management system I realised I needed to change my thinking about time management. I now believe one of the greatest gifts we can actually give to another human being is our time, provided it is given in positive service to them. We will never get it back, we can always earn the money again but we will never earn the time.

    Make sure to use it wisely in serving as many as you can or perhaps serving one as well as you can.

    As Tom Waits, the singer sung “Time … Time … Time”


  • Tim says:

    I believe time can be managed, rather invested well, poorly or wasted.

    I don’t especially like the term “spent” though. Yes time gone is time gone forever, but just like money we can spend it OR invest it.

    Unlike money the ROI won’t usually be time, unless you spend it doing something that increases you lifespan like healthy exercise.

    Even then it’s better to assume time is priceless and invest it accordingly, because you can’t buy even a second with all the money in the world.

    I think the returns on invested time are, quality of life, increasing your potential, or improving the world for yourself and others.

    I have a set of priorities and when I have unexpected or planned time I choose to invest it.

    I ask myself “what can I do right now toward my goals / priorities?”

    I start with my top priority. If I can’t take action on it immediately, I work down my priorities until I find the highest one I can immediately act on.

  • Terry Krysak says:

    Before I retired, I had the privilege to be a member of the implementation team for our new acquisition of financial software for our organization.

    Our team leader produced a GANTT chart for the project and it worked like a dream.

    This can be a valuable tool for any of our projects.

  • shona cole says:

    Chris, I so enjoyed coming out last night to hear/meet you. Thanks for taking the time to really live the life of non-conformity. The fact that you are doing this book tour underlines your commitment to doing what you believe in and not what is expected. That very act is inspiring to me, for life but also as an author. You are living your words. Not many folks in the world are that authentic. I am so fortunate to be married to such a man and my life is never dull! I can recognize it so clearly when I see it, which is why I took the time to come in last night to Houston. And thanks for taking the time this morning to say hi on my blog, it was an honor to see you there, in my little space in the universe 🙂
    All the best on the rest of the tour, blessings to your wife who is without you as you travel. Yes, and another great post, I read it a few times today, lots to mull over.

  • annie q. syed says:

    this is one of my top ten favorite posts of yours by far this year. : )

    immense gratitude for the wording of it all,


  • Gonzalo says:

    The only thing equal in this world is time. Everyone has 24 hours a day

  • Susan says:

    I loathe the term ‘killing time’. It’s really all we have each moment, whether doing nothing or taking a walk or working your ass off should be respected. To kill ime indicates its something to get through. Which points to a whole different issue of why are you working on tasks that are so loathesome the time to do it needs to be ‘killed’?

  • Seth M. Baker says:

    Right on, Chris. We can’t manage time. Time passes whether we want it to or not. We can only manage how we make use of our time by controlling our focus and attention.

  • John Bulmer says:

    I have a number of ‘is’ statements in my life, and now I get to add one more about time – thanks.

    Time simply is. Can’t do much about it as it keeps marching forward. Can’t change it or stop it or make it go backwards. We simply need to live our lives in cooperation with it and make our choices accordingly.


  • Tom Gable says:

    On managing life, activities, projects, whatever, check lists are great. The classic example is the pre-flight check list used by pilots. Use the same approach for heading out on any trip via trains, planes or automobiles. For an easy read on the value of check lists in complex occupations such as medicine, try “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. Some of the case histories are amazing, particularly those from hospitals where new check lists saved lives and reduced botched procedures.

  • How Does She Do It Mom says:

    From one non-conformist to another I have to say I 100% completely agree with everything that you wrote in this post!! People around me (family and friends) fail to understand why my social time is usually time that is spent doing something productive with the intent of furthering my dreams.

  • Jaci says:

    I love this post, but I would add one thing. Don’t just respect your time – respect the time of others as well.

  • Ken Apple says:

    Time in the way we think about it is an invention of the industrial revolution. Quit believing in Time, except as necessary to not lose your job perhaps, and things will go much smoother. The trick is to pretend you are never, ever in a hurry.

  • Ireti Paul says:

    Focusing on doing one thing a day and seeing to its fulfillment really helps nail time. Like this post.

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