Do You Need Time Management or Time Ownership?

Let me ask you… who owns your time?

Of course, each of us owns our own time. But, if we take an honest look at how our time is spent, many of us are not truly taking ownership of our time.

Nearly every day, I hear from people that they don’t have time to do the work they want to do. They have back-to-back meetings, are constantly answering messages, always having to put out “fires”, or dealing with a variety of endless distractions. Often, they end up working after hours and feel like they aren’t making enough (or any) headway into what they really want to accomplish.

This is definitely a recipe for burnout. But, do you know what it’s not? It’s not a problem of too little time. It’s not even a problem of poor time management skills. Let’s explore the idea of time management… 

What is Time Management?

Essentially, it’s the ability to use time productively. By this definition, time is simply a tool. It’s something for us to use in achieving our goals. The term ‘time management’ usually refers to our time at work, but of course, all of our time – both personal and professional – is valuable and finite.

Let’s consider the idea of the 40-hour week. The 40-hour week is not natural.

What I mean is, it isn’t found in nature. It’s not something we evolved into. Instead, it’s a completely human-made concept made popular about a hundred years ago by Henry Ford, who was looking at it in terms of workers on an assembly line. 

If we return to that basic time management definition, the 40-hour week probably made sense in an era of assembly lines and minimal distractions.

Now let’s jump into today’s work environment with the constant “pinging” of emails, texts, alerts, instant messages, colleagues stopping by our desks, and meeting after meeting after meeting. It’s as if our work environments were designed to let in as many distractions as possible!

No wonder so many of us feel hopeless about how to manage time better. If time management is about using our time productively, then we’re already set up to fail.

Instead of focusing on how to manage time, we need to shift our mindsets towards how to own our time.

Management vs. Ownership

It may seem simplistic, but changing the way you think about time can spark a profound mindset shift that sets you up for success. Instead of thinking about time as something to manage, start thinking about it as something you own. Your time is a finite resource and you owe it to yourself, and the people around you, to use your time in a way that’s right for you, and empowers you to achieve what you want to achieve.

Here are a few examples of what that mindset shift might look like:

Instead of… Try… It’s empowering because… 
“I ran out of time to finish this.”“I didn’t give myself what I needed to get this done.”It creates accountability. You didn’t give yourself what you needed this time, and you know what you need to do differently next time.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t have time to meet with you this week.”


“I’ll move some things around and fit you in.”

“I understand this is important to you. My top priorities this week have already been scheduled. Let’s meet next week.”You’re aligning your decision making with what matters to you AND respecting that someone else has their own priorities. Remember, respecting what matters to others does not equal sacrificing what matters to you.
“I’m heading out of the office, but if there are any urgencies, you can reach me on my cell.”“I’m heading out of the office. If there are any urgencies, please email me and I will see it during my scheduled email time tomorrow morning.”Let’s face it. Unless you are literally saving lives, or the company is on the brink of shutdown, dozens of jobs hang in the balance and your immediate response is the only thing that can save them… nothing is so urgent that it needs your response at 8pm on a Tuesday. Your time is yours. Own it.
“I wish I had time to exercise, but I’m just too busy.”“Starting today, I’m going to block off regular time for exercise.”You are the only person who can give yourself time for self-care. No one is going to create that time for you. By being proactive in blocking off time, you are prioritizing your own well-being.
“I’ve had this goal for months, but I never have time to work on it.”“This goal is important to me, so I’m going to block off time every day to work on it. That means saying no to some things and that’s ok.”Being intentional in what you say “yes” and “no” to is a huge part of owning your time. Deciding, purposefully, what you will allow into your schedule is practicing accountability and self-leadership.


How Time Ownership Serves Others

There’s such a sense of urgency today and a lot of time management tips focus on getting as much done as possible in as little time as possible, or on fragmenting your life into blocks of work with little bits of personal time peppered in between. This is especially true when it comes to time management for leaders and is facilitated by today’s technology, which has us always connected to the world around us through our devices.

This doesn’t serve you. It doesn’t serve others either.

You know that quote about putting your own oxygen mask on first? I love that concept because it isn’t just about taking care of yourself, it’s about taking care of others as well. Think about where that comes from: on an airplane, if the oxygen masks come down, you’re supposed to put yours on before helping anyone else. The reason is that you might lose consciousness. You could be helping the person next to you, pass out midway, then both of you are out cold and no one has a mask on!

It took me a long time (and a few burnouts) to fully grasp the deeper meaning of the oxygen mask analogy. If you don’t prioritize yourself, you are not the only one who suffers. 

Here’s what happens when you don’t prioritize your own goals, values and purpose:

  • You lose sight of the big picture
  • You lose motivation
  • You become vulnerable to triggers
  • You disconnect from your inner leader
  • You become closed off to new ideas
  • You get caught in Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor mindset

When you don’t give yourself time to align with what matters to you, you are not leading from your highest self. Instead, you are leading from your lower brain – the part where your primal drives and fight-flight-freeze-fawn response lives.

In this way, you are always operating on high alert. That’s not a good thing. In this state, you’re more likely to make mistakes, miss opportunities, and react to the people around you in ways that create barriers instead of connection.

And it isn’t just you and the people around you who suffer either. Corporations do better when their people have more control over their own time and are empowered to prioritize non-work elements of their lives such as family, friends, leisure, health, interests, and so on. There’s a great 5 minute TED Talk from Harvard Business School professor, Ashley Whillans, that’s worth checking out. In it, she explores the personal and corporate impact of poor time ownership, as well as a few strategies for better balance. One of my favorite ideas she shares is to set team goals such as no one answering emails between 6 PM and 8 AM, then to be each other’s accountability partners, checking in with one another, and sharing struggles and tips.

Owning your time empowers you to prioritize connecting within, developing your inner leader, and tapping into the part of your brain where logic, executive skills, and creativity exist. When you focus on how to improve time management, you’re always looking outside yourself and that critical inner connection gets neglected. Begin within. Get clarity on what matters to you and use your time to align all aspects of your life with that. You will be better for it, and the people around you will benefit as well.

Here Are 5 Ways to Own Your Time

  • Block off time everyday to just work. Intentionally.
    Put it in your calendar, set your devices to ‘do not disturb’, log out of email and instant messaging, close your office door if you have one, or put on headphones. Only accept meetings outside of that time.

    Once you have that time blocked off, be intentional about how you use it. Consider your big picture and what you want to accomplish, then determine the daily steps and activities that will make it happen.

    I recently had a VP client get so inspired by the idea of scheduling intentional time that he shared it with his team and encouraged them to block off time as well. So many time management principles for leaders miss the mark on leading by example. Because time ownership is a whole way of being, it has the power to positively influence others.

    When you own a home, you don’t let other people live in it. You own your time. Don’t let other people live in it.
  • Acknowledge what you’re proud of.

    When you close your laptop or log out at the end of the day, take a moment to acknowledge 3 things you are proud to have accomplished. It can even be simple things like, “I ate a healthy lunch and I’m proud of that!”

    Giving yourself internal validation – instead of looking externally for acceptance – is a powerful practice for developing your self-leadership skills. The more you practice it, the more conscious you will become of how you’re choosing to use your time, and how those choices are (or are not) serving you.
  • Plan to plan.

    Intention is the keystone of time ownership. Acting with intention means taking the time to decide for yourself – without interference from the outside world – what you will prioritize.

    Put a weekly event in your schedule to plan for the week ahead. I like to do this on Sundays at 7 PM so that I wake up on Monday morning knowing I’ve already set myself up for a successful week.

    When planning, start from your big picture vision of what you want to create for yourself. Schedule that time before anything else. Make sure to incorporate personal time – not as an afterthought, but as a meaningful part of your whole life. Plan for things like laundry, groceries, exercise, journaling, meditation… things that matter to you, fuels you and/or help you live a life of peace and ease. (Let’s face it. No one is fueled by laundry, but life is easier when it gets done.)
  • Why before how.

    Your “why” is your purpose and your big picture vision of what you want to create. Starting with your own “why” ensures no one else’s “why” can edge in on your precious time.

    When you find yourself tempted to sacrifice your “just work” time, for example, ask yourself, “Why did I give myself that time? Why was it important to me?” Then ask, “Why am I considering sacrificing it?”

    Chances are, the thought of sacrificing that time isn’t coming from the best part of yourself. It’s coming from your Gremlins; from those limiting beliefs that consistently have you reaching for someone else’s oxygen mask before your own. Before even considering how you might fit something into schedule, reconnect with your why
  • Practice disconnection.

    Your brain is not designed for the constant “pinging” of devices, or the compulsive consumption of fragmented media – short videos, snippets of news, social media posts, listicles, viral images and so on. All of this keeps you constantly looking outside yourself to the detriment of your inner connection.
    Everything starts with your inner connection, including how you allow your time to be used. When you’re focused outward instead of within, everything happening around you eats into your time. You’re letting go of your ownership.

    Developing your inner connection and taking back ownership of your time demands disconnecting from all those external distractions. Turn off your device. Put it in a drawer. Close your email application. Delete social media apps and even news apps. Instead, set aside finite blocks of time for checking in with these things. When that time is up, shut them all off again. Make purpose your default, not distraction.

How These Strategies Impact Your Personal Life

Owning your time is so much more than success at work. It’s about cultivating a life of intention, living consciously, and making things happen for you. As I often say, what’s happening in one area of life will spill over into other areas. Lean into that concept to set off an inner domino effect.

Once you start practicing time ownership at work, you will naturally start to notice where you can apply it in other areas. There are 3 key areas where you may experience the biggest impacts:

  • Healthier boundaries. By becoming conscious of how you use your time, you will also become conscious of relationships that drain your time and energy. Setting boundaries in your personal life is not easy, but at work, being able to say something like, “I understand your concerns, I’ve made my commitments this week and I intend to stick to them,” will start to give you the strength to set similar boundaries outside of work.
  • Meaningful relationships. So many of us fall into the trap of sacrificing personal relationships for professional success. We think things like, “When work slows down, my partner and I will take some time together,” or “After this project, I’ll see my friends,” or “My kids understand that my hard work is for them.” It’s well-meaning, but the result is that relationships suffer, and relationships are a huge part of what gives life meaning and joy. By owning your time, you start to own your part in your relationships, and good things follow.
  • Genuine self-care. Genuine self-care is taking time to feed your body in healthy ways, making time for exercise, scheduling all those medical and dental appointments, and engaging in activities that stimulate your mind and spirit purely for the joy of it. The result is more energy, greater creativity, higher engagement, a clearer mind, better emotional regulation… There’s so much to gain from caring for yourself the way you deserve. Owning your time is how you make that happen.

Stop letting everything around you claim squatters rights on your calendar. Own your time and you will make huge steps towards becoming the CEO of your life.If you would like help making the mindset shift towards time ownership and putting it into action (or in making this happen for your team), I invite you to connect with me.