Taming Time

Time is precious. Ask the coach whose team is behind in the final seconds of a game. Ask the air traffic controller in charge of scheduling takeoffs and landings at a major airport. Ask the news reporter who has just received a breaking story from the AP wire. Ask the cancer patient who has recently learned they have only two months left to live.

Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have. Our days are identical suitcases—all the same size—but some can pack more into them than others. No one has a magical ability to make time, but if our lives have direction, we can make the most of the moments we have been given.

Time is more valuable than money, because time is irreplaceable. “You don’t really pay for things with money,” says author Charles Spezzano in What to Do between Birth and Death. “You pay for them with time.” We exchange our time for dollars when we go to work and then trade our dollars for everything we purchase and accumulate. In essence, all we possess can be traced back to an investment of time. Time stewardship is perhaps a leader’s greatest responsibility. In the words of Peter Drucker, “Nothing else distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”

In this edition of LW, we’ll look at five characteristics of people who use time wisely. The goal of the lesson is for us to understand how to maximize the precious minutes given to us each day.

Five Characteristics of a Wise Steward of Time

#1 Purposeful

People who use time wisely spend it on activities that advance their overall purpose in life. By consistently channeling time and energy toward an overarching purpose, a person most fully realizes their potential.

We cannot reach peak performance without a peak purpose. Purpose enlivens all that we do. In fact, I believe the two greatest days in a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they discover why. Uncovering purpose helps to refine passion, focus efforts, and sharpen commitments. The cumulative result is to amplify the achievements of the wise steward of time.

#2 Committed to Values

People who use time correctly underscore their values with the time they spend. By acting in accordance with their beliefs, they find fulfillment. Failure to identify values leads to a rudderless existence in which a person drifts through life, uncertain as to what they hold dear. Clarity of values is like a beacon of light, guiding the way through life’s twists and turns.

When extended to an organization, values inspire a sense of broader purpose. They make work worthwhile. In an organization, if vision is the head and mission is the heart, then values are the soul. Values endow day-to-day operations and transactions with meaning.

#3 Attuned to Strengths

People who use time correctly play to their strengths. By doing so, they are most effective. People don’t pay for average. If your skill level is a two, don’t waste substantial time trying to improve since you’ll likely never grow beyond a four. However, if you’re a seven in an area, hone that skill, because when you become a nine, you’ve reached a rare level of expertise. As Jim Sundberg says, “Discover your uniqueness; then discipline yourself to develop it.” You are blessed with a unique set of skills and talents. Find them, refine them, and let them carry you toward success.
I have identified four main strengths in my life. I lead well, create, communicate, and network. That’s it. I stick with those strengths and avoid getting caught up in commitments outside of those areas. By narrowing my focus to four strengths, I gain the greatest return on my investments of time.

#4 Choosers of Happiness

People who use time correctly choose happiness by prioritizing relationships and recreation. While choosing happiness may seem simple and obvious, far too many leaders are trying to prove themselves and validate their worth. These leaders chase after power and prestige, and along the way, their friendships wither, their family is ignored, and they skip vacation after vacation. In the end, any success they earn is a hollow and lonely achievement.

Family and friendships are two of the greatest facilitators of happiness. Prioritizing time to cultivate relationships is a hallmark of a healthy leader. Likewise, scheduling leisure combats stress and allows us to delight in the hobbies that bring us joy. However, in the end, happiness is an inside job. We are wise to surround ourselves with family, friends, and fun, but ultimately we determine our internal response to the people and circumstances in our lives.

#5 Equippers

People who use time correctly equip others in order to compound their productivity. They realize the limitations of individual attainment, and they build teams to expand their impact. By developing an inner circle of leaders and investing in them, wise time-users multiply their influence.

Equippers recognize that legacies are carried on by people, not trophies. They pour themselves into the lives of others and watch the ripple effect of their leadership spread through those they have taught and mentored. Equippers seek significance over the long term, which causes them to have a vested interest in the success of their successors.


As much as we would like, we can’t find more time—it’s a finite and constantly diminishing resource. However, we can learn to spend time wisely.

People who use time correctly are…

1. Purposeful
2. Committed to Values
3. Attuned to Strengths
4. Choosers of Happiness
5. Equippers


Called the nation's foremost expert on leadership, John C. Maxwell is founder of The INJOY Group, a collection of three distinct companies that employ 200 people and provide resources and services that help people reach their personal and leadership potential. In addition to building a successful organization, John has authored more than thirty books, including the New York Times best sellers The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and Failing Forward.