Self Management and the Perception of Time

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By Andrew Mitchell

Build a time machine or open the doors of perception? Self management and finding the right type of busy.

I’m looking back at a stream of WhatsApp conversations between colleagues, collaborators and friends, and we invariably start with something like this:

Andrew: Hey mate, how are you going?

Stephen: Busy! But good. You?

Andrew: Same…

The exclamation mark sometimes appears in different frequencies but in essence this is where we sit. The subtext being, I am managing and all is OK. This could be the beginning of a conversation between family members, employees or even our MYP or DP students.

However, many of us, if not all, have had conversations like this:

Tamara: How are you?

Andrew: Ok, how was the Macbeth production? I’m up to my eyeballs with stuff, was totally snowed under, stressed, missed the booking deadline.

Tamara: You, disorganised? 😉

Andrew: Predictably disorganised! 😀


No subtext needed. Busy, but definitely not ok!

Of course also as educators we hear learners saying things like this:

Student: OMG my EE is due next week, I have all this CAS stuff still to do, plus a Philosophy IA.


So the question is, how do we try to create the conditions in our lives where we answer, “Busy, but good” more than the alternative?

Look online? It seems like every day there is a new list of:

  • 10 things that make our lives easier…
  • 10 skills all managers should master…
  • 10 lists of 10 things you should read about when you have 10 minutes!

The key is time, and importantly the way we perceive it. I’m reading Stephen Hawking’s last published work Brief answers to the big questions and was struck by something seemingly simple: a change in concept of time as absolute, to time as being relative enabled scientists to reimagine the way the universe works. And it even made the conversations about time travel more possible.

So, is a TARDIS or a DeLorean the answer?

Perhaps not, but if we understand that how we think about time can change the way we think and act, then we can see how the two halves of self management – Organisational Skills and Affective Skills – must be developed side by side.

A perfectly organised planner with all our IA and EE deadlines in it is only half the battle. Shifting our perception of time and understanding that, although an IB deadline planner may be imposed on us (as students or teachers), we do have control over how we allocate the time we have to meet those deadlines. This mind shift can potentially alleviate much of the stress surrounding the “busy”. And it is this control of time which is essential, enabling us to add the “but good” to the end of the sentence.

Couple this with mindful practices which can help us to increase the productivity of our time, by reducing distractions, delaying rewards and focusing on one task, and we can even begin to be able to enjoy the busy.

The organisational skills we develop in ourselves and our students are sharpened by continually practicing them; identifying goals and prioritising them; overcoming procrastination and breaking tasks down into manageable pieces. The affective skills equally need to be practiced. The great news it is that it is not 1+1=2. But both aspects of self management added together equals your very own time machine.

So we aren’t gonna teach you how to build one, but you may be able to better manage your HG Wells extended essay. Leaving you time to listen to more Jim Morrison songs or read William Blake.

Andrew Mitchell is MYP Coordinator at BEPS Secondary in Brussels, Belgium

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