Dave’s Laws of Time Management

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Time. It’s that weird phenomenon that’s always happening all around us, that we can’t see – and can’t control.

But, when has something like that ever stopped human beings from trying to control things anyway?

Again, what follows is not a guide to good time management or tips. It is a collection of what I believe – based on my own observations – to be universal ways that things just are, regardless of our attempts to make things go otherwise.

Herein, I articulate some of the laws that govern humankind’s relationship with time.

Dave’s First Law of Time Management

Everything Takes Longer Than You Think It Will

Whether you’ve ever been part of a major project at work or just remember trying to get homework assignments completed and turned in on time, you’ll see that this is true.

It’s always something. Maybe you made a mistake and have to re-do some – or even all – of your work. Maybe the materials you need to complete your work weren’t delivered on time. Maybe the person you’re working on the project for changes their mind about what they want and makes changes to the desired end state of the program. Maybe there’s bad weather. Maybe Godzilla rises up out of the ocean and stomps the city you’re working in flat.

Or – even more out of our control – maybe it’s a combination of many different things. Maybe each member of the team suffers delays all caused by different things.

It doesn’t really matter why it happens. It just matters that it does, in fact, happen.

Corollary to Dave’s First Law of Time Management

The First Law Will Still Apply Even When You Attempt to Take It into Account

As far as I can tell, there is simply no escaping the First Law of Time Management.

You can account for extra time in your estimates, but it won’t matter. Whatever you’re trying to do will somehow still take longer than the new amount of time you thought it would take.

Just like gravity, even though we can’t see it, the First Law is just always there. You can fight it all you want, but you might be better off just accepting it.

Dave’s Second Law of Time Management

Adding a Project Manager Will Make the Project Take Longer

No offense intended to anyone out there with a job title of Project Manager, this is just something that seems to happen.

Note that, for the purposes of the Second Law, the term “Project Manager” doesn’t only apply to people who’s job it is to manage projects. It applies equally to whoever takes the lead to ensure that the project gets done.

If the project manager is a micromanager, it’s obvious to see how they might add time to the project. Daily status meetings, status reports, not being allowed to move on to the next step until the project manager has signed off on the previous step, and numerous other things can happen to slow the overall work.

Even with fairly hands-off project managers, time is still added to the amount of time the project takes – it just happens in ways that the people working on the project might find less annoying.

Dave’s Third Law of Time Management

Any Project Without a Project Manager
is Far Less Likely to Ever Be Completed

Yeah, this happens too.

Without someone owning the entire project, being the one to work to ensure that forward progress is being made, there’s a decent chance the project might not ever be completed.

Without that person driving the process, the project risks becoming a lower priority to the people working on it, which can be the beginning of that slippery slope that causes the project to just fade away.

Some projects without that person driving things never even get off the ground, and just remain an idea of something you might have done someday.

This leads us to the tricky part.

The Paradox of Project Management

The Second Law of Time Management and the Third Law of Time Management Both Apply to Projects Simultaneously

On the surface the Second Law and the Third Law might seem to be in opposition with each other, but they aren’t. They are both true at the same time.

So, adding a project manager will make a project take longer to complete (the First Law still applies as well), but if you want your project to succeed you need a project manager.

Again, this doesn’t need to be someone with the title in charge of a global enterprise-wide project to update the corporation’s entire IT infrastructure. This could be someone who is the driving force to get a group of friends together for dinner.

Dave’s Fourth Law of Time Management

Each Person Added to a Decision-Making Process
Will Double the Amount of Time it Takes to Arrive at a Decision

It doesn’t matter what the decision is. It could be something as large as “Do we want to acquire this multi-billion dollar company?” or something as small as “Where are we going to go for dinner?”

There wasn’t any mistake it the wording of the law – it’s an exponential effect, not an additive one.

For example, let’s say that you’re going to pick the restaurant where you want to eat dinner tonight. Let’s also say that it would normally take you one minute to decide. You’re going to dinner with a friend, and you want them involved in picking the restaurant. It will now take at least two minutes to decide. If another friend was also going to be coming along and gets added to the restaurant-picking process, it will now take at least four minutes to decide. Adding a fourth person to the decision-making process will cause it to take at least eight minutes to decide. And so on.

In fact, the Fourth Law can be described by a mathematical formula:

T_{dec} = T_1 * 2^{(n - 1)}

Where:

  • T_{dec} is the minimum amount of time it will take to arrive at a decision. (Remember, the First Law always applies.)
  • T_1 is the minimum amount of time it would take one person to arrive at a decision.
  • n is the number of people involved in making the decision.

Pay attention the next few times you’re trying to pick a restaurant or decide what movie to watch. You’ll see that, just like the other Laws, the Fourth Law appears to be universal.


Please share your thoughts on these Laws – or your ideas for other areas of time management deserving of their own law – in the comments below.

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