Proverbs and Sayings on Time Management [With Meaning and Example]

Proverbs and sayings are popular nuggets of wisdom, often in circulation for centuries and even millenniums. This post contains proverbs and sayings on time management, divided into five categories.

If you’re looking for more proverbs and sayings, you can find plenty of them in the resource below. It contains proverbs on topics such as life, family, friends, love, health, happiness, money, hard work, time, time management, teamwork, leadership, business, education & learning, and more.

1. First, ask the big questions

When it comes to managing time and becoming more productive, we often jump straight into small things such as scheduling and overcoming procrastination, but fail to ask big questions that matter much more. Proverbs in this section cover such big questions.

Don’t carry coals to Newcastle.

Once upon a time, Newcastle was known for its coal mines. Coal was mined here and taken to other parts of England. So, if you carry coal to Newcastle, you’re doing unnecessary work. What does this proverb hold for time management? Before getting into nitty-gritties of time management, ask the big question, should I even be doing this task.

Example: Tom unnecessarily wrote 50+ articles on his website on a topic that was unrelated to the service he was offering. He shouldn’t have carried coals to Newcastle.

Catch not a shadow and lose the substance.

It’s not uncommon to forget the main goal and wander off into unnecessary trivialities.

Example: We started out with building a product for masses and then we diverted to a niche product that is more likely to work. And now we’ve gone so much deep into this niche product that it’s taking forever to finish. I think we’ve drifted. It’s rightly said, catch not a shadow and lose the substance.

No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.

If you’re too busy, you won’t be able to reflect on clearly.

We should periodically reflect on whether we’re on right track or not. Some keep on doing ceaselessly and, in absence of reflection, drift, thereby wasting lot of time and resources.

Example: Bill Gates, in his Microsoft days, used to take out few quiet days every few months to reflect on the path the Company was on. One needs still water to see one’s reflection.

Best is oftentimes the enemy of good.

Some are so obsessed with creating the best possible output that they take too long to finish, by when its utility goes down. A good outcome, finished in time, can sometimes be a better option.

Example: We drafted the best possible recruitment rules, but when released it was found to have several lacunae. We could’ve instead released a good version quickly and got the same feedback. This is a fit case of best being the enemy of good.

2. Schedule well

An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.

People are generally more productive in the morning: first, they’re fresh after night’s sleep; second, there are fewer distractions in the morning. That’s probably the reason many business and political leaders are morning persons. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, for example, begins his day at 4:00 AM.

Example: I get up at 6:00 AM and get so much work done by the time I leave for office. I’m a living example of the dictum that an hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.

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Lose an hour in the morning, chase it all day.

It’s better to accomplish significant part of day’s work in the morning so that you’re on top of your schedule and not chasing things later in the day.

Example: Unlike my regular routine, yesterday I got up late. As a result, I was behind on my task list through the day. Rightly said, lose an hour in the morning, chase it all day.

The early bird catches the worm.

Similar to the last one

Let your head save your heels.

Plan your schedule carefully so that you waste as little time as possible. For example, you can combine multiple activities that are similar in nature (like phone calls or meetings) to avoid switching back and forth.

Example: I often schedule most of my meetings in the second half of Monday to get similar kind of work done in one go. Let your head save your heels.

3. Focus on few tasks

Working on few projects is a well known tactic to improve efficiency. Here are few proverbs in this regard.

Don’t have too many irons in the fire.

When horse carriages used to be an important mode of transport, blacksmiths sometimes used to put too many irons into the fire to meet high demand of horseshoes, resulting in none of the irons getting adequately hot. The proverb implies that if you work on too many projects at the same time or try to master too many skills, you won’t do justice to any of them.

Example: I’m working on too many projects as I couldn’t say ‘no’ to people, and as a result the quality is suffering. I shouldn’t have had too many irons in the fire.

He who undertakes too much seldom succeeds.

Similar in meaning to the previous proverb. Undertaking too many projects will undermine the quality of all.

Example: Besides his day job, my colleague is doing a part-time certificate course and takes occasional projects as freelancer. I’m not sure if having so many things on the plate is a wise thing to do because he who undertakes too much seldom succeeds.

All lay loads on willing horse.

A person who says ‘yes’, even if hesitatingly, to any work given to him will soon find himself overloaded with work.

Example: When I joined the Company two years back, I was too polite to say ‘no’ to work people asked me to do, and soon I was buried under work. All lay loads on willing horse.

Eagles don’t catch flies.

Don’t take trivial matters to senior management in your organization. You’ve to resolve them, not they. The proverb teaches us to delegate or outsource if we can, which will free us to focus on few important things.

Example: You shouldn’t call the AVP for such small disruption in the supply chain. Resolve it yourself. Eagles, after all, don’t catch flies.

4. Control procrastination

Procrastination, which afflicts almost everyone, poses possibly the biggest roadblock to managing time. Here are few proverbs on procrastination.

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Don’t delay something that can be done today. If you do, then tomorrow may stretch to day-after-tomorrow and then to….

Example: Since you’ve free time, you should at least start writing your article now. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

The next four proverbs are similar in meaning to the last proverb.

Procrastination is the thief of time.

Put off for one day and ten days will pass.

Any time means no time.

Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.

He who is outside his door already has hard part of his journey behind him.

A Dutch proverb. A person who has taken the first step in completing a task (in other words, overcome procrastination) has completed hard part of the task.

Example: Typing the first sentence of the essay was like finishing hard part of the journey by stepping outside the door.

In order to get where you want to go, you have to first leave where you are.

Similar to the last one

If and when were planted and nothing grew.

We wait for situation to be ideal before working on something. This is just another form of procrastination.

Example: Although he got up at 6:30, Tom didn’t start his work till 8 because he wanted to first have breakfast.

5. Others

Don’t burn the candle at both ends.

Avoid working from morning till late in the night. Some pull off such hours, thinking that long hours will result in proportionate output. But that’s not true. Studies show that human productivity drops off significantly after 5-6 hours of intense mental work.

Example: I work in bursts of 2-3 hours, and my day has adequate dose of sleep, exercise, reading, and social life. I deliberately don’t burn the candle at both ends, and I’m more productive that way.

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Anil Yadav

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