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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Brad Aeon, Management

Everything you always wanted to know about time management (but didn’t have time to ask)

Date & time

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 (all day)


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


I’ve structured my dissertation around these three questions. What do we know about time management? Does it actually work? What, exactly, is time management? These are fundamental questions; addressing them is necessary pave the way toward a more thorough, evidence-based and, ultimately, socially useful conception of time management.

The first article asks the question: What do we know about time management? To address this question, my coauthor and I reviewed the literature. We found that scholars usually assess time management’s effectiveness by its impact on performance (in school and at work) and wellbeing. However, findings were mixed—we couldn’t really tell whether time management boosts performance and enhances wellbeing. We also noticed that the time management literature was surprisingly narrow: there is a plethora of useful insights in sociology, psychology, and behavioral economics that the time management literature had almost completely overlooked. To address this issue, we integrated these insights spanning various disciplines to show how internal (e.g., individual differences) and external factors (e.g., national culture) can affect the way we manage time. Our main point is that unless researchers control for these factors, studies will keep yielding confusing results. The first article of this dissertation thus not only reviews the state of the literature but also offers novel perspectives to guide future research.

The second article asks the question: Does time management actually work? To find out, we conducted a meta-analysis on the topic. In line with the first article, we found that most studies assess time management’s effectiveness by its influence on performance and wellbeing. The meta-analysis is, of course, more conclusive than the first article for three reasons. First, the meta-analysis is more comprehensive, covering more than 50,000 people over many decades. Second, the meta-analysis allows for moderation testing: we can control for factors that affect time management outcomes, such as national culture. Third, the meta-analysis, unlike our qualitative review, is quantitative: we can determine not just whether time management works, but also, and importantly, to what extent. By and large, time management works. It has a moderate impact on performance (both in professional and academic settings) and an even stronger impact on wellbeing (especially life satisfaction). The findings of this meta-analysis also challenge our intuitive ideas of what time management is and what it does. We elaborate on this last point in the third article.

The third article asks the question: What is time management? One may point out that this question should have been addressed at the very beginning of the dissertation. That is a valid point. However, figuring out first what we know about time management (and whether it works) has led me to an interesting conclusion: the literature has a very narrow, ahistorical, Anglo understanding of time management. Only in drawing from sociology, history, psychology, philosophy, economics, and gender studies, at the very least, can we get a fuller picture of time management. Thus, defining time management only at the end of this dissertation makes sense: I needed to first review the literature, figure out what was missing, and take the time to draw from other disciplines to acquire a broader understanding. Only after doing all this was I able to develop a definition of time management that, I think, applies not only in modern North American settings, but also in a wide variety of cultures and historical periods. The third article, of course, goes way beyond just defining time management. This theory paper uses cultural evolution principles to describe how time management, as an idea, evolves in different settings. Just like genes, time management can survive or die out depending on the surrounding environment. The main advantage of this theory is that it goes beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to time management that many scholars have used until now. There is no one best way to manage time. Rather, people use time management strategies that more or less fit their environment—maladaptive strategies perish; adaptive ones prevail. Overall, the appeal of this paper is not so much that it addresses the question of time management is as the question of what time management is for.

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