The Foundations of a Good Time-Management Strategy

man shooting arrow
Kairos is about a particular moment in time such as a perfect moment to deliver a particular message, like an archer trying to hit a moving target and knowing just when to let the arrow fly in order to do so. Photo by tbkbt at

It is my belief that before we begin plugging things into our calendars, we should take a deep look at what we value most. What are the most meaningful things in our lives that move our needle toward a rich life? Although these things will differ for each of us, the struggle to balance vocation and our lives outside of work is a universal challenge.

If you own or operate a business, the idea of where to spend time can be a formidable challenge. One of the greatest sources of frustration and discontentment in our lives is the feeling that we never get to do the things we really want to. We most often feel as if we are beneath the wheel, ineffective and barely managing from one crisis to the next. So let’s take a look at a couple of steps that will help us get our priorities straight.

First, we must do some inside work and determine what we value most. Interestingly, whenever I ask this question, things like family, health, friends, faith and travel come up first; meanwhile, money is either way down on the list or not even mentioned. Stephen Covey, renowned author and prioritization guru, calls these highly valued things “big rocks.” Once we determine what our “big rocks” are, we must give those priority and be intentional about placing them first in our “time jar.”

Next, we would move to less valued but perhaps necessary tasks, such as work or school. These are represented by pebbles. Finally, this would leave all of the busy, small things and material possessions, which would be represented by sand.

If we start filling our schedules with less important things first, we have no time left for the predominant ones. In contrast, if we begin with the rocks, all of the other things fit into the spaces around the “big rocks.” If we run out of time for the small things, it is no big deal, they are merely pebbles and sand. Since it is family, health, and relationships that bring the most fulfillment to our lives, they must go into our calendars first, on purpose and with intention!

We understand that family and relationships are important in our lives. Connecting with others in life and business is key to success and fulfillment. There are always people in our lives with whom we would love to spend more time, but we never seem to find any extra. This inspires me to speak a bit about the concept of time itself. Let’s explore this idea, and perhaps we can think of time a little differently.

The ancient Greeks had two different words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is where we get chronology, the idea of linear time. I view chronos as the adult in the room. Chronos time is why we have calendars, watches and all of those planning systems we struggle to use. It is needed to keep appointments and production schedules on target and to help remember your kids’ birthdays. The construct of time in this way is an incredible tool to aid in keeping society humming along. It is, without a doubt, very important. However, it is not the final word when thinking about time.

Let’s look at kairos. Kairos is more about a particular moment in time. It is defined as, “creating a perfect moment to deliver a particular message” and “circumstances that open moments of opportunity.” For example, there is a point in time when an archer is trying to hit a moving target and knows just when to let the arrow fly in order to do so. Have you ever been on your way to a timed appointment and run into an old friend and lost track of time? If so, that is a kairos moment.

Kairos is the playful side of time and more fl ow based. Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, said, “Time is like a river, you can swim upstream, hold on to a branch or let go.” I do not think many of us are good at letting go in this way. We are so worried about our schedules that we ignore the ability to connect in a meaningful way with people in our lives.

In business, people are the single most important thing. We have our families, our teams, and our clients. Our ability to connect and be present when we are in front of them is of paramount importance and directly affects our ability to lead. To be clear, we must have a healthy balance between chronos and kairos. We should not ignore our calendars, but we need to allow them to breathe some, to allow moments where we are not simply running past people to get to the next “thing to do.” When we are with our people, we need to be present and intentional in that moment. Being present makes for good listening and understanding and strengthens the bonds between us.

The following anecdote shows how this concept played out in our business back in the winter of 2019.

My team and I were on a large project at a townhome community. It was the end of the day on a Friday, and everyone was in their trucks getting ready to leave. Often on projects like these, residents will come up and ask questions about trees that are not on our list, and conversations ensue. This process can become frustrating. As we were pulling out, an older gentleman was walking toward the truck waving his arms and looking somewhat distressed. All I could think of was, “He is going to ask me about a tree,” and the thought crossed my mind to ignore him and continue the journey home. It was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit that day, and the man was in his pajamas and slides.

I stopped to ask him what the matter was, and he told me in a thick Spanish accent that his name was Miguel and that he stepped out to get the mail and the door locked behind him. Miguel was in his ’80s and lived with his son and had some health issues. Miguel’s son was at work and he had no cell phone on him and did not know his son’s work number by memory. I gave Miguel a thick sweatshirt to keep him warm while we figured out what to do.

My daughter, Mikaela, was working with me that day and suggested trying a window and perhaps looking at the back of the condo. We walked around back and saw a bathroom window on the second floor. Mikaela climbed up and tried it to no avail. I noticed an adjacent sliding door with a porch. My daughter climbed over there, tried the slider, and was in! She went down the steps and opened the front door. This brought a huge smile to Miguel’s face, and gratitude filled his heart. He asked when we would be back working on site, and I told him Monday.

At the end of the day on Monday, while on the other side of the complex, I saw a car with a young man in it who was staring at me and wondered who he was. It was Miguel and his son. They stopped to say thank you and gave us a bottle of wine and one of Spanish champagne. We hugged, laughed, and smiled.

The point to the story is that, even though I was about to present on this topic at our local tree conference, I was just about to drive right by Miguel in a hurry to stay on schedule and get my team off the clock. Had I not checked myself and stopped, we all would have missed an incredibly rich, brief encounter with a beautiful man and his son.

Remember, starting a new habit or discipline may be tough at first. We may not be great at it right away; however, if we fail, we have to give ourselves some slack, get back on the horse and try again until we develop the habit of putting “first things first.” This discipline will lead us to a rich and contented life.

Paul Biester, CTSP, is founder and CEO of Tree Awareness, Inc., an accredited, 21-year TCIA member company based in Woolwich Township, New Jersey, and founder of Forged Consulting.

This article was based on his presentation on the same subject at TCI EXPO 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To listen to an audio recording of that presentation, go to this page in the digital version of this issue of TCI Magazine online, under the Publications tab, and click here.

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