June 20, 2022

The History of Time Management

Nowadays, we’re all about productivity. If we wash away all the surrounding noise, it seems time management is the #1 struggle any modern business professional has. The concept comes up in many highly discussed topics like work-life balance, meeting deadlines, fighting burnout, sustaining motivation, general happiness and mindfulness, just to name a few. Some might argue that ever since technology has become an everyday element of our personal and professional lives the struggle increased, due to constant digital distractions in the form of push notifications, alerts and buzzing disrupting workflow, and a general sense of data overload.

Truth is, people striving to plan their days more efficiently is hardly a modern notion.

The concept of time management can be traced back to the early days of the industrial era,  it’s meaning changing and its importance growing with the changing of the times. In this article we make 4 stops along the history of time management, to understand what it meant in different centuries and to examine how it was viewed and applied by the average working people of each period.

1. Bye-Bye Big ‘Ol Clock in the Sky

Benjamin Franklin's autobiography

Did you know that all the way back in the 18th century, founding father Benjamin Franklin kept a book tracking his daily activities, with a goal to keep what he referred to as “order” in his life. In an autobiography that was published after his passing, Franklin noted his concern that unplanned requests for his time rendered his meticulous schedule-keeping futile.  The historical icon was on to something, and it wasn’t long before this  notion began to occupy minds on a greater scale.

Roughly around that time began the rise of the industrial revolution, globally prompting an entirely new relationship with time. While an agricultural work schedule was dictated by the sun and other weather factors, factory work was not.

The invention and widespread use of electricity and artificial lighting meant people had to adjust to a new reality where the role of the sun was overtaken by the clock. The new trade-based economy meant that success relied on a timely trading of goods, which influenced the growing notion that time management is a necessary skill for business. A few other concurring factors influenced this overwhelming realization, including the development of postal services, the invention of the telegraph, and the spread of railroads – all built on strict systems that rely on accurate time keeping.

2. Cue – Taylorism

Factory workers in the 20th Century

Frederick W. Taylor was an American inventor and engineer who is known as the father of scientific management. His system of industrial management, known as Taylorism, greatly influenced the development of industrial engineering and production management in the early days of the 20th century (Mee, 2022).

Taylorism stated that the task of factory management was to determine the best way for the worker to do the job, to provide the proper tools and training, and to provide incentives for good performance. In his proposal, Taylor broke each industrial job down into its individual motions, analyzed these to determine which were essential, and timed the workers with a stopwatch. This method effectively eliminated worker’s unnecessary motions, resulting in heightened productivity (Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia, 2018). Notably, the formidable businessman Henry T. Ford applied Taylor’s concept to his Model T assembly line in 1913, which could produce a Model T car in an impressive 93 minutes.

3. Covey’s Seven Habits


In his mega best-selling book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey offers an approach to being effective in achieving goals by aligning oneself to what he coined as “true north” principles. He argues that these principles are based on a universal and eternal character ethic. Covey describes effectiveness as the balance of acquiring desired outcomes with caring for that which generates those outcomes. First published in 1989, the book has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and is believed to have direct impact on the following rise in global GPR, being dubbed the #1Most Influential Business Book of the 20th Century.

 According to Covey, the seven habits of highly effective people are:

1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win-Win
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the Saw

If you want to read a summary of the book that goes into a bit more detail, Anum Hussain wrote a great one for Hubspot’s blog.


Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix

4. Time Management is Life Management


Fast-forward to more recent times, time management is widely viewed as a set of skills that can be taught, acquired, nurtured, and reinforced. Theory suggests that if we could only master these skills, we will be the most efficient, organized, and ultimately happy versions of ourselves. You might not entirely buy into this theory, but these skills are still undeniably beneficial to all business professionals that strive towards maximizing efficiency in their work.

Some time management skills you should be mindful of include:

·       Scheduling
·       Planning
·       Prioritizing
·       Goal setting
·       Decision making

To harness and elevate these skills, many modern professionals advocate for Product Information Management (PIM)software or productivity and workflow management tools, as well as a variety of apps, like Monday.com, ClickUp, Notion, and Any.do.

If using a digital solution isn’t your cup of tea, a good old-fashioned pen and paper can suffice. Just make sure to first analyze your current time management behavior so you can identify what changes can be introduced to your workday to increase effectiveness and overall success.

Best of luck in your next negotiation!
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