Book Summary: Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

time management from the inside out summary

Time Management From the Inside Out is different from many time management books in print today.

While many focus on the strategies and techniques to manage your time better at work or in business, Julie Morgenstern focuses on helping you manage time in your life as a whole.

She incorporates three main “steps” that everything falls under: you analyze where you are at, strategize where you want and need to be, then you attack and get it done.

In this summary, we will go through each chapter and give a basic summary of the major points.

Before we start, it’s important to note one important fact she gives in the introduction: there is no one right way to manage your time.

Each person is different and may do it differently, but there are basic principles that we can follow to make us more effective.

Chapter 1: What’s Your Motivation

Morgenstern says that “Time management from the inside out is about designing a life that is custom fit for you based on your unique personality and goals.”

To help you have the motivation and push to change and manage your time better, you need to have the “why”.

Why do you want to manage your time better? More time with family and friends? To get more done? Are there other reasons or goals?

Write your “why” down.

Big picture view

As the craziness of life comes, you need to have a big-picture view to help you keep perspective and on track.

Morgenstern says that a big-picture view is “your overriding vision, your belief, simply put, of the meaning of what your life is all about, of what you want it to be.”

Time management is not about managing your time perfectly every minute, every day. Interruptions and crises will come.

As Morgenstern says, “..good time management is not about creating the perfectly balanced life in which everything always goes as expected. It’s about having the tools to get back in balance, to come back to center, and to stay true to your own goals when you get thrown off-track.”

Chapter 2: What’s Holding You Back?

Sometimes there is something that throws us off from the time management change that we need. There are three main forces that we can use to diagnose to see where our issues are.

      • Level 1: Technical Errors – there are skills or such that you need to learn to be able to do it effectively.
      • Level 2: External Realities – there are external factors that are affecting you. By identifying it, you are more able to address or manage it.
      • Level 3: Psychological Obstacles – these are internal forces and fears that hold us back. By recognizing them, you can begin to break free of them.

Each time you get thrown off, ask “Is my problem technical, external, or psychological?”

If it’s multiple of them, deal with the technical and external first, and sometimes the psychological will go away on its own.

Each area has errors that we sometimes make.

Each time you get thrown off, ask “Is my problem technical, external, or psychological?”


1: Tasks have no “home”

You don’t have “spare time” to get it done. Set a time when you are going to do the task and do it.

2: You’ve set aside the wrong time.

You set a time for it, but it’s not at a time when you are able to do it well. For example, if you are your most creative in the morning, and you want to write, if you set writing right before bedtime when you are tired and exhausted, it won’t work well.

3: You’ve miscalculated how long tasks take

When tasks take more time than you expect, it can be demoralizing and frustrating.

4: You’re the wrong person for the job

Sometimes there is someone else who can do it better and/or who would enjoy doing it more than you.

5: The task is overly complex

When tasks are overly complex, it can make us procrastinate. Break it down into simpler steps and simplify it.

6: You can’t remember what you have to do

If you try to remember everything, you are likely to forget and get frustrated. Make sure to write everything down.

7: Your space is disorganized

When you are disorganized, you waste time looking and searching for items. If everything is organized, it makes it easier and saves time.

8: There is an absence of planning time

You need to take time to plan so that you focus on what’s most essential and on how to do your tasks most effectively.

9: you have an unrealistic workload

Cut down on what you have to do. Eliminate tasks that aren’t really important, delegate tasks, or diminish them and make them simpler.


1: A health problem limits your energy

Make sure to take care of yourself so that you have the energy you need. If you have temporary or permanent health or energy problems, make adjustments for it. When your energy is limited, it becomes even more important to prioritize your to-do list, focusing on what’s most important.

2: You are in transition

There are transitions in life that we face – moving, changing jobs, getting married, kids. When you face a transition that’s disorienting, focus on one or two activities that anchor you, such as exercise, sleep, or time with loved ones, and make sure it’s in your schedule. Then, build a framework around those activities to accommodate the change.

3: You are in an interrupted environment

Sometimes interruptions can’t be helped. Acknowledge it and then plan for it. When you plan, leave plenty of time for interruptions and crises to happen. Try to set a time of uninterrupted work where you get a coworker or someone to help cover for you while you get stuff done.

4: Other people’s chaos

If other’s people chaos is hurting you, talk to them about it. Negotiate. Focus on the common goals and build from there. If there are unaccommodating, you may have to adjust around them.


1: Unclear goals and priorities

If you don’t have goals and priorities set and written down, you won’t know what to focus your time on.

2: Conquistador of crisis

Some people thrive on chaos. They consider themselves a great crises manager and set themselves up to be in constant disaster.

Handling crises well is a great quality; however, you need to focus on your goals and do the most important tasks and not get hung up on the unimportant.

3: Fear of failure or success

Sometimes you may not start or do something because of the fear of failure. At the same time, it may be because you fear success and what that would mean.

4: Fear of downtime

Some people have a fear of downtime. They don’t know what to do with it or how to handle it. They feel like they always have to be busy.

5: Need to be a caretaker

Some like to be caretakers – they feel good about helping others and always want to help, but they don’t let others help them. They always say yes and take other people’s problems. One big problem with that is that they don’t have time for everything.

6: Fear of completion

Some fear completion of a task. When you complete it, it closes off other options. Some may bounce between tasks without ever finishing them.

To help overcome it, remember that there will always be other tasks to do. Spend time with people who finish tasks. Change your mindset from creator to editor and finish it.

7: Need for perfection

Morgenstern says that “The need for perfection often comes out of a need for approval”. It can also come from a fear of criticism or humiliation.

Things don’t always have to be perfect. Find a way to get started and get going on it.

8: You fear structure will stifle creativity

The structure allows creativity to flourish. Many successful artists, writers, etc. find great freedom in structure and the schedule they set.

Often when we leave ourselves open to the spontaneous, the urgent takes control and doesn’t leave time for the important.

The biggest obstacle

However, with all these obstacles that we may face, Morgenstern says that the biggest obstacle of all is your perception of time.

Chapter 3: Making Time Tangible

Morgenstern says that if you want to be successful, you need to change your perception of time. You need to see it in more visual, measurable terms.

You need to find space for each task in your schedule, in the same measure you would organize a closet.

The critical question

The critical question to ask is: “How long will it take?”

Morgenstern says that asking how long will it take? “is the number one gateway skill to good time management.”

One problem that we often have is that we miscalculate how long a task will take to complete. Another is that we look at tasks qualitatively, what we want to do, versus, quantitatively, how long it will take.

time management critical question: how long will it take?

Improving your own estimating skills

To improve your estimating skills, Morgenstern gives exercises to help.

Exercise 1: target three tasks

Choose three tasks that you tend to procrastinate on and time yourself three times for each of them. If the times are different, see what the factor is: time of day, different approach, etc.

Exercise 2: Keep track in your daily planner

As you complete a task, write out the actual time next to your estimated time in the planner.

Hidden Time costs

There are often hidden time costs that hurt you when you are estimating time. These include:

      • Travel time, to and from
      • Setup time/cleanup time
      • Stewing time
      • Interruption time
      • Unexpected problems time
      • Refreshment time

Multitasking slows you down

Multitasking slows you down. If you struggle with focusing on one task, set apart 15 minutes and force yourself to work on that one task. If you need more time, do it again.

Over time, you can move up to 30-minute periods and beyond.

Estimating time for big projects

To estimate time for big projects, break them down into smaller tasks. You can also ask for help from people who’ve done similar projects.

Other people and interruptions

Don’t let others control your schedule. If someone comes by to talk or calls, tell them you don’t have time now or that you have X amount of minutes and that’s it. If they need more time, you can set a time with them later.

People will come to respect your boundaries as you hold to them.

Chapter 4: The Wade Formula

There are two main steps you need to take to give yourself the breathing room you desire. You need to:

      • Manage your giant to-do list
      • Conquer your paper clutter

WADE Formula

To help you take charge of your many to-dos, use the WADE Formula.

W – Write it down – write down everything that you have to do in one location.

A – Add it up – estimate how long each task will take.

D- Decide – decide what you will do and when.

E – Execute your plan – take action on your plan

Write it down

Write everything down in one consistent location, such as a planner or master to-do list. Don’t use napkins, post-it notes, or scraps of paper. Write down everything, every meeting, appointment, phone call, project, and task.

Writing everything down will help you stop worrying about forgetting something and help you focus on getting stuff done.

Add it up

Add up the time for everything you need to do. Every day is a container that can fit a certain amount of tasks. If not everything you need to do for that day will fit, you will need to decide.


Often we will have more tasks than time. Use the four D’s:

      • Delete: Delete tasks that aren’t really important.
      • Delay: Can some of the tasks be put off to another day? We tend to focus on the easy tasks that aren’t as important versus the more important, harder tasks. Which of the less important tasks can you put off?
      • Diminish: Can you diminish the amount of time it takes for a task or what needs to be done? For example, can you use a template versus creating something from scratch?
      • Delegate: Are there any tasks you can delegate to someone else? Is someone better suited to do certain tasks than you? Are there tasks that you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy that you are able to pass along?

Chapter 5: Where Paper Meets Time

Morgenstern says that “Paper clutter is more often a symptom of poor time management than poor organizing skills.”

There are three main steps to overcoming paper clutter:

      • Step #1 – Assess the backlog.
      • Step #2 – Weed it down.
      • Step #3 – Stay ahead of the game.

Step 1: Assess the backlog.

Sort all your papers into 3 piles: to-do, to-file, and to-toss.

Then, add up all your to-do’s.


      1. What is this document?
      2. What is the next action that I will need to take on it (Read, fill out, decide, call, etc.)?
      3. How long will this task take me to do it?

Put the time estimate on a sticky note and put it on the paper.

Step 2: Weed it down

Make sure to apply the four D’s to them. What can you delete, delay, diminish, or delegate?

You should try to reduce your backlog by at least two-thirds.

Use your planner to eliminate a lot of paper clutter. You can put the tasks from meetings, phone messages, etc. in the planner, or schedule looking at a document that you will file.

Toss everything that you can – junk mail, old magazines, and newspapers, early drafts of letters, expired coupons, etc.

Morgenstern gives 10 questions to ask to help decide whether to keep or toss:

      1. Are there tax/legal reasons to keep it?
      2. Do I refer often to this piece of paper?
      3. Will it help me complete a project I am working on right now?
      4. Do I have time to do anything with this piece of paper?
      5. Does it tie in with the core activities of my job?
      6. Do I trust the information is up to date?
      7. Does it represent a viable business opportunity?
      8. Will it help me make money?
      9. Would my work suffer if I didn’t have it?
      10. If I ever need it again, could I easily get it from someone else?

Step 3: Stay ahead of the game

There’s no way to read everything out there. Be selective and reduce your reading pile. If you don’t read something you subscribe to, cancel it. Also, work on speed reading. It can help you get through material faster.

A bad filing system hurts you as well. Improve it and set it up to help you find what you need, when you need it.

Set time to process paperwork. Have a place where you put all your mail and go through it at your set time. Don’t carry work material with you if you haven’t scheduled when you are going to work on it.

Chapter 6: Choosing the Right Planner For You

While this book has a lot of relevant information for today, it was published in 2004 before a lot of the current technology we use today (e.g. smartphones).

She emphasizes having a planner and discusses having a PDA or similar or paper planner. We’ll discuss briefly her points from the chapter, but you will likely need to translate it to how you use your phone or another device (though paper definitely is still an option if you go that route).

Everyone needs a planner.

If you’ve had trouble using one in the past, there are three possible reasons:

      • You didn’t pick one that was right for you.
      • You didn’t take the time to make it yours and master its features.
      • You didn’t make it the only place to write tasks and appointments.

Whatever you use (even if it’s an app on your phone), make it the one place you write everything.

She says that if you are visual/tactile, you may prefer a paper-based planner. You are more visual/tactile if:

      • You tend to remember where on a page you write something down.
      • You think by writing things out.
      • Writing helps you remember things.
      • You write your to-do list in terms of associations or groups rather than sequence or priority.

She says linear digital people generally prefer electronic. You may be linear digital if:

      • Your thinking flows from a keyboard.
      • You are likely to do a word search for a name.
      • You think in terms of sequence and priority rather than in groupings or associations.

Chapter 7: Understanding your unique relationship to time

Our relationship with time is unique and individualized. The issues we face may be different from those around us. Each of us has strengths, weaknesses, personality types, and preferences that affect it.

To understand your relationship with time, you need to look at three areas:

      1. What’s working and what’s not
      2. Your time management preferences
      3. Your energy cycles and source.

What’s working

What are you good at? What are you happiest doing? What can you delegate easily? What is easy for you to say no to? What do you never procrastinate on? What do you always find time for? What do you have goals well defined on?

What’s not working

What do you never have time for? What do you not enjoy doing? What do you not have goals well defined for? What do you always procrastinate on? And on.

Apply your results

If you are having trouble starting a task, ask why.

Morgenstern says, “Often we possess the time-management skills we need, but apply them only selectively. For example, if you are always on time for something, but late for others, you have the capacity to be on time.”

Ask yourself what about the things that you are on time for or do well motivate you. Try to apply those principles to your problem areas.

Your time management preference

What are your preferences? Do you prefer long or short bursts of concentration? A fast or busy schedule? Tight or long deadlines? Working independently or with others? And on.

Know what your preferences are.

Your energy cycles and sources

Your effectiveness is affected by your energy levels. Know when your peaks and valleys are. If you are doing something at the wrong time of day, it can hurt you.

Your unique energy boosters

It’s important to know what helps boost your energy to help avoid energy drops. Examples might be changing activities, exercising, taking a break, taking a nap, looking at a photo of a loved one, and so on.

Variety is important

Sometimes switching things up is all you need to book your energy. Try to add variety to your day as you plan it.

Chapter 8: Where does your time go

Each of us may divide the departments in our lives differently, but, however we divide it, it’s important to balance our time between those departments.

You should simplify your life into three to six departments (such as family, work, spirituality, friendships, romance, health, etc.)

Go through your planner for the past two weeks (or track for the next two weeks) and see how much time you spend in each department. You can use different colored highlighters to mark each category.

There are 168 hours per week. Divide the time of each department into 168 and see what percentage of time goes to each department.

Balance is an indicator of goal clarity.

She says that “the areas we spend the most time on are the areas where our goals are the most clear. “

Things to search for:

      • Hidden pockets of time
      • Things to cut
      • Time of day
      • Pace
      • Routine

Chapter 9: Defining your goals and activities

It’s important to be clear about your goals so that you know how to focus your time.

      • Define your big-picture goals
      • Select activities to help you achieve those goals

A goal is a destination.

An activity is how you get to the goal.

“Exercise” and “spending time with family” are not goals, they are activities. We often fail activities such as “exercise” because we focus on the activity and not the final destination, the goal.

Define goals in the departments that you set.

You should write down one or two big-picture goals for each.

Don’t worry about other people’s opinions or what they want. Dream big goals and release the ones you don’t want.

If you have forgotten what makes you happy, start keeping a joy journal. If you are consumed by self-doubt, picture yourself 10 years from now and “give yourself permission to want what you want.”

Once you have your goals, choose a few specific activities that will help you achieve them and revise your list of activities annually.

Chapter 10: Time mapping: creating your ideal balance

Morgenstern says that “A Time Map is a budget of your day, week, or month that balances your time between the various departments of your life.”

A Time Map:

      • “Ensures balance
      • Guarantees time for your core activities
      • Allows you to live in the moment
      • Provides a framework for daily decision-making”

Time maps reflect your priorities and goals.

With a time map, everything has a time and place in your life.

You do this by carving out distinct times for each department of your life. In other words, for each area of your life, you schedule time for it. This helps to ensure balance.

There are less structured methods if needed, such as checking off a certain amount of hours for each department, or a list of activities in different departments to do when opportunities open up (such as when you have a few minutes while watching a little one).

Chapter 11: Sort

While an activity is how you get to a goal, a task is part of an activity.

SPACE Formula

To help sort your time, you can use the SPACE Formula.

      • Sort – group potential tasks by life category and goal
      • Purge – eliminate the excess, the duplicate, meaningless, ineffective, cumbersome tasks
      • Assign a home (a specific day/time) to the task you decide to do
      • Containerize tasks to keep them within the allotted time
      • Equalize – refine, maintain, and adapt your schedule to your changing needs

For every task and to-do, ask:

      • Which of my big-picture goals will this help me achieve?
      • Where in my schedule does this task belong?
      • How long will it take?

Chapter 12: Purge

We need to delete, diminish, delegate, or delay tasks that aren’t important.


Often if you want to start eliminating tasks, you need to start saying “no” to people.

“Stress is when your gut says no, and your mouth says yes.”

If it doesn’t line up with your goals and what you need to do, tell people no. Practice saying “no” and “I can’t” in the mirror if you need to.

If your boss wants you to do something, let him or her know that you are doing X, and that to do Y you will need to cut X (or another upcoming task). Ask your boss which one he or she would prefer you to work on and cut.


See if there are ways to do a task faster or trim it down. Is there a memo you can copy and redo? Is there a template you can create (or find) and use?


Though it can be hard for some people, it’s good to delegate the right kinds of tasks.  It helps you focus on what’s most important to you and your job. Other people can often do some of the other tasks better than you,  and they may enjoy the tasks that you don’t.


It’s okay to delay tasks that don’t have to be done right away in order to focus on items that are more important. Delaying can help you keep from becoming overwhelmed.

Chapter 13: Assign a home

It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive. Yes, crises and interruptions come, be when you are proactive, you have more control.

When you are always reacting to circumstances, you feel out of control and lose time and productivity.

By assigning a task a place and container, it helps you get things done faster.

It’s important to create start and stop times for specific tasks (or depending on preference, start and end times during which those tasks will be done).

Assigning a specific limit:

      • Helps you stay on track on moving forward.
      • forces you to place relative values on every task. Often tasks grow over the time we give them.

Arrange your day honoring your time map or according to your own natural rhythms.

If going by natural rhythms, you still need to decide when you are going to do something (such as on what day). There’s a difference between being flexible and being vague.

Whatever you use, it’s important to treat the time you block off as if they were appointments with real people.

Chapter 14: Containerize

Containerizing is a critical time management skill. To do it by:

      • Conquering your procrastination
      • Overcoming the habit of  chronic lateness
      • Minimizing interruptions and their impact on you

Conquering procrastination

Procrastination is the biggest enemy of a successfully planned day.”

Once it starts, one activity spills into another, and it becomes a domino effect. It becomes even worse when you procrastinate by doing meaningless tasks. It results in an energy drain, and then you may beat yourself up for it, which wastes more time and energy.

If you are only procrastinating on certain tasks, it is probably a technical issue. There may be a skill you need to learn. If you procrastinate on everything, it’s likely psychologically based.

To get unstuck, trust your instincts and make a decision. Focus on a goal or do a different step. If a task is overwhelming, break it down into smaller parts. You can also combine the hard task with something you enjoy.

Chronic Lateness

People who are always on time feel that lateness is rudeness. It’s saying “my time is more important than yours”.

If you are late, are you late by different amounts of time or late by the same amount of time every time?

If different, it’s probably a technical issue or inability to say” no” that you get sidetracked. If by the same every time, it’s likely psychological. Ask, “why do you want to be late?”

To help you be on time you can work on your time estimating skills, avoid doing “one more task”, understand why others get upset by lateness, and find something good to do while you wait when you arrive early.

Minimizing Interruptions

Ask: “Can it wait?”

It’s important to know that most crises that come your way aren’t really crises. They just feel urgent.

When you schedule your time, don’t make it so tight that you don’t have room for interruptions. Interruptions are going to happen, so plan for it.

You can help manage interruptions by letting people know you will be unavailable at certain times, getting someone to watch the kids even when you are at home, letting the voicemail catch calls, turning off notifications, avoiding eye contact, scheduling time to read and respond to email, etc.


Julie Morgenstern gives some great advice on how to organize and manage time for every department in our life. It’s important for us to write everything down and map our time according to how we work as individuals. However we work it out, we need to make sure we focus on what’s most important first, and apply the 4 D’s when necessary.

What is your next step starting today?

Buy the book

To read the entire book, purchase it here on Amazon. 

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