Learning to Master Time

Concept in brief.

Time is a resource that you can apply to accomplish your goals, just as money and effort. You can deterministically outperform your peers and competition by acquiring skills at a continuous and long-term sustainable clip.

Concept in action.

  1. Learning. Develop a strategic plan of what strengths you want to set you a part for your career.
  2. Pace. Develop a pace to grow in those areas each year. Examples: Learning budget for training. Reading goals. And intensive education.
  3. Application. Create projects and align your work to apply those skills regularly calibrate how well you’re doing.
  4. Strategic patience. The skills you leverage today, are skills that your past self acquired. While others may sprint, by continuously investing your skills will compound and develop into an insurmountable (and lucrative) performance gap within ten years.


When you begin to master the product discipline, time is on your side. Like a chess player calling out “checkmate in six”—you leverage deliberate planning, consistent decision making, and patient setup to lead to successful outcomes for your product and your business.

When we set out to build Nordstrom Looks, we contracted a third-party vendor to develop the underlying technology. Our executive sponsor wasn’t confident that we could develop the machine learning capability in-house. (In reality, we didn’t, have the capability. However, we developed the competency over time as we built the product.)

Resigned that to working with a partner, and convicted that the 3rd party couldn’t deliver on our needs, what to do?

We regrouped and developed a gambit. We agreed to collaborate with the 3rd party and advocated for a composite API design pattern. My direct team would build the front-end experience, which would be powered by the 3rd party API. However, our front end wouldn’t talk directly to their API. Instead, we’d integrate with our composite API to adjust their response to suit our front end contract.

The vendor suspected the software design pattern was a threat but couldn’t articulate a convincing argument against, so we quickly moved on to other matters. We knew, and I’m sure they suspected that this pattern provided our team with the freedom to build the front end separate from the third party. Since we owned the composite API and needed data to develop against, we now had the authority to create a “prototype” service to power that front end.

In short, we gained the technical justification to build an outfitting service in-house.

Less than two months later, the vendor fell significantly behind on their commitments. Our engineering leaders recommended ending the contract. In that same meeting, we demoed our progress, which comprised an end to end experience built by a single engineer, which demonstrated that we could dynamically serve outfits on the fly.

With patience we made our desired outcome inevitable.

We knew that given sufficient time, the front end vendor would fail.

When they would fail was unknowable, but we knew that they would fail to meet their commitments. So we implemented a strategy that had allowed us to checkmate in three.

As a product manager, you can apply the same principles to your career.

Let us take the example of three product leaders.

Bob is naturally good.

Lauren stumbled her way into her career.

Karen is a hustler.

Bob, through schooling and ambition, entered his career with more skills than his peers. Since joining the workforce, he hasn’t coasted; he’s acquired one new skill each year. By year 10, Bob has a substantial advantage over his average peers who have acquired a new skill every two years.

Lauren didn’t have any skills she viewed as directly applicable to her career when she started. However, she’s invested regularly in skill development. She’s acquired two skills a year. By year 10, Lauren has a similarly large gap over her average peers. However, in a recent performance review, leaders point out she’s growing at an accelerated rate and may be ready for more scope versus Bob.

Kristy didn’t have directly applicable skills when she began her career. However, she knows why she wants to be a Product Manager; and develops her career with purpose. She acquires one skill a month. Twelve a year, and organizes her time to sustain the pace without burnout.
By year 10, Bob is regularly complaining that Kristy isn’t as good as he is. However, he stills views, Kristy, as the same person in year one. He hasn’t accepted that she’s developed skills at a far faster rate, and as a result, she’s able to take on a far greater scope.

Now we all know “skill” acquisition is difficult to quantify. So let’s simplify. Instead of “skills” let’s say that Bob, Lauren, and Kristy were readying books applicable to their career.

Kristy has read one book a month for ten years.

To catch up to Kristy over the next decade, both Bob and Lauren must read 22 books a year for the next ten years. To catch up to Kristy in the next five years, they must read 32 books a year for the next five years.

Year 111212
Year 102020120
Year 20To match Kristy by Year 20 must read 22 books a yearTo match Kristy by Year 20 must read 22 books a year240

So does this mean you simply need to read as many books as you can each month to master time and outperform your peers?

The good news, if you’re a historically slow reader like myself, is not quite.
There are two axes: learned and applied skill.

Most people learn and never apply what they learn. It’s like reading a book on how to write, and never putting the lessons in practice.

So you can outperform your peers and do great work, simply by mastering the ability to apply what you learn—even if you learn less.

Mastery is the pursuit of “applied skill” and when you both learn a lot and apply a lot, you enter the polyglot domain.

Bisy Backson, is a Pooh and Taoh of Pooh reference, referring to someone always focused on the next and never the now.

Like a marathon runner with a consistent and successful mile pace, you can make a successful career outcome a guarantee by not focusing on the point in time but by integrating learning and applying skills as a part of your life’s routine.

In doing so, you will master time.

Plus y’all pacin’ strange,

y’all either stop or you sprint,
Run when it’s sunny,

and hide if it change to rain

Brother Ali – Take Me Home

2 responses to “Learning to Master Time”

  1. Camille Edwards Avatar
    Camille Edwards

    Great read!


  2. Kamini Saldanha Avatar
    Kamini Saldanha

    Really interesting article Mikal, definitely motivated me to a) finish the book I am reading and b) start a more serious schedule for my personal goals.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: