WARMING UP TO THE CONCEPT OF TIME
“Now go on and enjoy yourself, dance to your heart’s content and win the Prince’s heart. But remember, you have to be back before the clock strikes twelve at midnight.”
We all are familiar with the words of the Fairy God Mother in the evergreen fairy tale ‘Cinderella’. It’s these words that probably made us aware-for the first time in our lives-of the value of time. We all sympathized with Cinderella when all her splendid gown and other finery turned to rags at the stroke of midnight. Our first acquaintance with the villainous Time!
But then, is time such a villain, who should always be painted in black? We have heard the proverb that says “there are no wounds that time cannot heal.” Here of course we get the image of a wizened old woman who comes hobbling up to us with a pitcher full of balm and gentle fingers that soothe away all our pains and sorrows.
But that’s enough! This project was not made to sing the praises of time. There is no need of the romance of Cinderella or the soothing finger of an old lady when we are talking about time. And do you know why? It’s because we do not have the time for it.
We are going to try and understand time in its many faces. No, I was not referring to the faces of watches or clocks. I was referring to the many meanings that time has. Oh yes it does! You thought that time meant the same to everyone. Well think again; or maybe you could try to explain the logic behind the following cases.
Picture a farmer who plants a sapling of a tree that would probably take ten to twelve years to reach the stage when it would start to bear fruit, by then the farmer would in likelihood be under the soil himself.
Picture a jailbird in bird counting on the bars of his cell waiting for the seconds, minutes, and hours, days, weeks, months and years to go by before he can be free again.
Now picture a young couple madly in love with each other cherishing the few minutes they get to spend with each other every day, cursing time because it flies so fast when they are together and never the other way round.
So what does time mean to you? When was the last time that you realized the value of time?
The answer is probably the last time you watched one of those Bollywood thrillers in which the hero is driving a car in which a time-bomb has been planted and the hero is unaware of this. But we being the getting-to-see-it-all audience watch with bated breath as the tiny needle of the timer ticks towards the point at which the explosion is sure to occur.
But just before that, the hero hits the brakes screeches to a halt to avoid hitting that old lady crossing the road. And when he jumps out to help her cross the road the needle reaches the point and the bomb is exploded. And our hero is safe. It’s funny how the hero always escapes without a scratch in these movies. But I expect that’s why they call them heroes.
Now we are really transgressing aren’t we? So back to our subject that is Time Management. Do you know what is interesting about the concept of Time? It is absolutely uncontrollable.
Personally I believe that there is something very humbling about this concept. Just imagine a man with all his power is just like a helpless babe before time. There it is Time stands tall and strong before man and man remains vulnerable and weak before it. Man, the big strong man who tamed rivers and seas, who reached out to the skies and beyond, who harnessed wind and water and dug up the bowels of the earth is but a worm before Time.
The best he can do to win the battle against time is die is hair and use some anti-wrinkle cream on his face. In fact, the closest that man has got towards conquering time is those many history books that have been penned; they are of course chronicles of events that happened long ago and that is certainly not much to boast about.
And so now we come to our subject that is time management because after all the illustrations given above, I hope that I have made one point clear, that is that Time cannot be controlled, it can only be managed. And that is what we are going to do. We are going to learn the art of time management. I don’t want you to have an air of helplessness. You might begin to feel that if the battle cannot be won, then what is point in putting up a struggle? Ah, but there you are missing out on a very important point. In all the illustrations that I used above, I was referring to man in general and not to one particular Tom, Dick or Harry.
So you can see that this aspect of time is applicable to every human being and there is no running away from it. Every person has only twenty four hours in a day and no force on earth can alter that. So in order to get the cutting edge what you have to do is to be able to manage your time in the most effective way possible. And that is what Time management is all about. It’s about managing your time effectively and if I may I would like to add the word efficiently too.
Now, when we talk about our resources, everyone knows that we are referring to the resources like fossil fuels, forests, mineral wealth, and water bodies and so on. But surprisingly time is never included in this list. When we talk about non-renewable resources, fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and natural gas top the list. But what about time? A point that most people tend to forget is that time is the most valuable resource that we have, and time once lost, is lost forever. We can think about alternate sources of energy for fossil fuels like electricity, fuel cells, solar energy and the research goes on. But is there any alternative for time that is lost.
Again I stress on the point that time once lost, is lost forever. And hence we have the proverb, “time and tide waits for no man.”
HISTORY OF TIME MANAGEMENT
The idea of time management has been in existence for more than 100 years. Unfortunately, the term “time management” creates a false impression of what a person is able to do. Time can neither be managed, nor controlled. We can only manage ourselves and our use of time.
History of time management dates back to the 6th century AD with the St. Benedictine Monks who “emphasized and encouraged scheduled activities at all times.” The concept of time efficiency was introduced by Scottish Economist Adam Smith who developed an assembly line system for factory workers. Benjamin Franklin is considered by many to be the father of modern time management. He mostly emphasized on the effective use of time. Franklin carried around a “little black book” wherever he went, and within it, he wrote about his thirteen virtues. Each night he would reflect upon the day’s activities to judge whether he had lived up to these core values.
These values were as follows:
UNDERSTANDING TIME MANAGEMENT
“We all have time to either spend or waste and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.”
– Bruce Lee (“Zen in the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams)
Every individual on earth has the same amount of time – 60 seconds in a minute; 60 minutes in an hour; 1,440 minutes in a day; and 525,600 minutes in a year. While a vast majority of people confesses faltering to come to grips with it, extremely few can claim to have made the most of it. How is it that they have got it all done? It’s because they have managed a way to figure out how to manage their time effectively.
Time Management is more than just managing time. It is about controlling the use of the most valuable – and undervalued – resource. It is managing oneself in relation to time. It is setting priorities and taking charge of the situation and time utilization. It means changing those habits or activities that cause waste of time. It is being willing to adopt habits and methods to make maximum use of time.
With good time management skills one is in control of one’s time, stress and energy levels. One can maintain balance between one’s work and personal life. One finds enough flexibility to respond to surprises or new opportunities. It is not how much time one has, but rather the way one uses it. The bottom line is how well one manages time.
Internationally known authority on time management Dr. Alec Mackenzie in his book The Time Trap argues that the very idea of time management is a misnomer because one really cannot manage time in the way other resources can be managed: financial capital, physical capital, human capital, information and time. While each of the first four can be augmented, reduced, transferred or otherwise controlled, Time cannot be manipulated.
Dr. Mackenzie contends that when it comes to time, one can only manage oneself in relation to it. One cannot control time as one can control other resources – one can only control how one uses it. In the world in which we live, time cannot be replaced or re-created. It is therefore not for us to choose whether we spend or save time but to choose only how we spend it.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT TIME
There are several misconceptions which we all have about time. They affect everyone including those persons who may be considered quite successful and effective. Here are some of the misconceptions identified by Dr. Mackenzie:
· Time management is simple – all it requires is common sense. While it is true that the concept is simple, the self-discipline required to practice effective time management is not easy.
· Work is best performed under pressure. Psychological studies show this to be no more than an excuse for procrastination. One does not work well under pressure – only does the best one can under the circumstances. Pressure and challenge must not be confused. Lara’s performance when the West Indies Team is in trouble has more to do with application and determination rather than pressure.
· I use a diary, a to-do list and have a secretary to keep me organized. One has to keep oneself organized – no one can do it for others. The trouble with the disorganized person is that he hardly has time to listen to his secretary or look at his diary.
· I do not have the time. The effective worker or manager often gets more work done in the earlier hours of the morning than most laggards get done in the whole day. He then no longer has to work against tight deadlines and under stress which contributes to heart problems and not unusually the ultimate reduction of time on this earth.
· Time management might be good for some kinds of work but my job is creative. Time management is not about routine: it is about self-discipline. Lack of discipline prevents one from being great instead of simply good.
Time management takes away the fun and freedom of spontaneity. Is working under stress, forgetting appointments, making constant excuses and apologies to be fun? Would it not be much more fun if by better organization one had one or two more hours every day to spend with the family, to play games, read a good book, plan for tomorrow and the day and week after or just relax?
WHY IS TIME MANAGEMENT SO IMPORTANT?
Time management is a common problem faced by most of us. Oftentimes, when you are swarmed with multiple tasks at once, it becomes extremely difficult to identify which ones you must complete first. Too often, people eat up what is supposed to be their free time to be able to accomplish all pending tasks in time. It takes a considerate amount of skill in order to manage your time properly. If you are one of these people, you are usually able to control your time efficiently that you can even finish tasks ahead of time. Let’s try to analyze the importance of Time Management in different fields.
Time Management in School/College: Due to more freedom merited to college students, it can become quite challenging for new (freshman) students to cope with time management. The liberty to choose your own schedule readily creates a false notion that they can do whatever they want. On the other hand, it reflects one’s priorities and how you are able to properly appropriate them into your schedule. With lack of proper time management, a student will have trouble coping up with deadlines set by professors. Most students would tend to slack off during vacant hours that they end up accomplishing nothing. If a student has prepared his or her own list of work for the day, he or she will be able to properly allocate the time spent for extracurricular activities and assignments.
Time Management at Work: When it comes to your job, proper usage of your time is more particular. This is because you are paid for the hours of service you render to the firm. Hence, companies will try to ensure that each hour you spend at the office is utilized effectively for work. Despite of this, employees still seek out ways to have a break. If time is not properly managed, employees could easily eat up more time for their “breaks” than what is actually spent on actual work. Hence, the company ends up requiring the employee to do overtime work just to finish a project. If the overtime rendered is reflected on your paycheck, then good for you. But if not, then you reap the unpleasant effects of poor time management.
SYMPTOMS OF POOR TIME MANAGEMENT
Poor time management shows up by way of one or a combination of typical perceptible symptoms. Managers would do well to look for and reflect on whether they are subject to any of those symptoms with a view to take necessary corrective actions.
The following are some of the indicators of poor time management:
- Constant rushing (e.g. between meetings or tasks)
- Frequent delays (e.g. in attending meetings, meeting deadlines)
- Low productivity, energy and motivation (e.g. ‘I can’t seem to get worked up about anything’)
- Frustration (e.g. ‘Oh, things just don’t move ahead)
- Impatience (e.g. ‘where the hell is that information I’ve asked him for?’)
- Chronic vacillation between alternatives (e.g. ‘whichever option I choose it is going to put me at a big disadvantage. I don’t know which way to jump’)
- Difficulty setting and achieving goals (e.g. ‘I’m not sure what is expected of me’)
WHERE DOES ALL THE TIME GO?
It is quite surprising when you sit and think about where all the time in one day goes. Twenty four hours is really a lot of time. But on most days it scarcely seems enough. But this is because of certain misconceptions about time. Let us proceed to carefully examine where all that time goes and find out if twenty four hours really is. For that I have listed out certain points which will help you to get a realistic view about how much time you really have in a day.
We do not really get twenty four hours in a day. Maybe it’s because we always talk about the twenty four hours in a day, we get the feeling that we really do have twenty four hours to finish our daily business and the fact is that we do not. Assuming that you hit the sack at least by twelve in the night and taking for granted the fact that you need at least seven hours of sleep; let me fix your waking time at seven in the morning.
That means that you have already lost seven hours, which we can deduct from twenty four, giving us only seventeen waking hours. Waking hours does not mean the hours you take to wakeup but the hours that you are awake. So let us get that straight, we have only 17 hours in a day. Now if you think that all those seventeen hours can be used for productive work, you are wrong again. For this come to the next point.
The seventeen waking hours cannot be used completely for productive work. There are many things that a human being should do in order to continue to live like a human being and some of these things do take up a lot of time. Now the following list that I have drawn up is sure to vary from person to person. But I have taken the times for each action on what I felt to e reasonable times as far as any normal human being is concerned.
– Taking a shower.
Most of us take a shower at least once in a day and the time I think we can put down for that is ten minutes. For those of you cleaner ones who shower twice a day put that as twenty minutes.
– Answering the call of nature
Oh yes, we are all very cultured people who have the best of manners and upbringing. We dress ourselves properly and conduct ourselves with the utmost poise. But there are several times in a day when we have to go back to nature and summing up all those things we do in the bath room I think a good half hour should be enough.
– Getting ready and tidying ourselves
When we move about in society definitely we have to look our best and adding up all the minutes that we spend in front of that mirror, we get another ten minutes. For some people of course, this figure comes up to half an hour. But I think ten minutes is good enough.
We need to eat to live and though I accept the fact that people have different eating habits and times, I think that and I’m sure doctors will agree with me that a person needs three meals a day and should take at least ten minutes to ingest a meal and not just gobble it down. So that makes it 30 minutes for food.
– Time to relax
Please do not raise an argument now. I promise to deal with this bit later on. But right now I would like to put down one hour as the time to relax, and this includes the time that you get to yourself for prayer or meditation or just to stare out of your window or perhaps the few extra minutes that you spend in your bed after waking up, waiting for the last traces of sleep to go away.
– Time with family and friends
Please we are human beings, aren’t we? And we certainly cannot get along with our business of life without chatting a few minutes every now and then with our friends and the family too. So with your permission, I would like to deduct another hour from your waking time.
So now what do we have left?
We started off with 17 hours of waking time. And we proceed to add up all the time that we accounted for in the above mentioned points; let us see how much time we have left for productive work provided we still want to exist as human beings.
The activities mentioned above would take when put together a good three hours and twenty minutes. That is 3 hours and 20 minutes. I put it down in both numerals and words so that you can get a real taste of the figure. Now if we proceed to subtract this figure from our 17 hours of waking time, what do we get? We are left with just thirteen hours forty minutes. In figures that is 13 hours 40 minutes. And that is a fact. That is all that we get. So from now on don’t you think that it would be more realistic to say that we have just thirteen hours and forty minutes to accomplish a day’s work and not twenty-four hours. For if we continue to believe that we have twenty four hours, and then we are in effect deceiving ourselves. But wait there is more to this story than meets the eye. These crucial hours that we have painstakingly added up are not really put to constructive use. There are certain things called time waster which you have to look out for and that is what we are going to deal within our next chapter.
Till now, we have been harping about how valuable time is and how time lost is time lost forever and so on. But now we come to a strange concept and that is ‘Time Killers’. The very word sound like sacrilege doesn’t it? How can one talk about killing such a valuable resource. But that’s the way the story goes. Thee are a lot of time killers in this world and what you have to do is that you have to identify these time killers, look out for them and stay wary of tem. Only then can you put your available time to the maximum possible use.
The time killers that I have listed below are more or less general. They are things that most of us encounter. But apart from these, each one of us may have unique time killers that are particular to our style of living and way of work. Be smart and identify these killers. When I talk about killers, do not get the impression of masked men lurking in shadows brandishing guns and knives. The killers that I am referring to are quite ordinary every day things that we see and use in our lives but often do not realize how much of our time they take away.
Seven terrible Time Killers
- Telephone calls
- Chatter boxes
- Traffic jams
- Finding parking spaces
- Bad machinery
- Long queues
The list could of course go on. But before we keep adding to the list, I would like to elaborate on certain of the items listed above.
How to handle Time Killers
• The funny thing about telephone calls is that these instruments are indeed great time savers. In fact the amount of time that people get to save thanks to telephones is stupendous. The problem arises when telephones are not used properly. Most people do not understand and even if they do they forget that telephones are not to be used for lengthy conversations. For one thing, another person may be trying to reach you and there is nothing as exasperating as trying to reach a person over the telephone and being confronted with a busy tone. So the first thing about a telephone conversation is that it should be brief.
Another thing about telephones is that most people do not know how to use a telephone properly. In stead of immediately identifying themselves and asking directly for the person they want, some people go on playing a lot of “who is speaking” games once they make a call or answer the telephone.
Now coming to mobile phones there is a lot to be said and done. What should be done is turn off your cell phone when you are having a conversation or a discussion with more than one person. As soon as you get a call, you may ask the people you were talking to excuse yourself but you leave them waiting while you chuckle and giggle over your phone. Often we tend to give ore importance to the caller than to the person we were having the discussion with. Again the same rule applies here. Be brief. A mobile phone is to be used to get an important message across to a person who you were not able to reach on the land line.
* The next point is about those chatter boxes. Haven’t we all met them? They simply love the sound of their own voices and once they open their mouths, there is no stopping them. They waste not only your time but their time as well. Steer clear of such people. Believe me, it is much easier to avoid such people than to tell them to shut up and if you get a telephone call from such a person, use a caller ID facility or ask your secretary to divert the call.
· Traffic jams and finding parking spaces. Any one who has lived in the city for at least a day will know what I am talking about. There is no getting past a traffic jam at the rush hour. And will someone tell me whit is called the rush hour when that is the time when the traffic is the slowest.
The only thing you can do is anticipate the traffic jam and leave your home a half hour or one hour early. But that does not really keep the time killer at bay. It just helps you to avoid being late. In this respect you have two options. Either you could find something constructive to do while you wait for the traffic to move along or the traffic light to change or a better option would be to take subway and walk the rest of the way. You can get a long a lot faster on your feet and it is a lot better for your health as well. By doing so, you can also get rid of the headache of finding a parking space.
· Not surprisingly lengthy meetings and discussions can prove to be awful time killers particularly if the meeting does not have a clear agenda and if there are people who love top talk among the group. It has been found that most middle and senior level mangers spend nearly 70% of their work time talking. And in most organizations, parleying has been made into a fine art.
* Bad machinery is a time waster. How many of us have wanted to sit and scream and bang the daylights out of a pc that does not give us the required data or information. A computer that takes a long time to start up, a photocopier that gives shamefully faint photocopies, even a leaky faucet or a stubborn drawer or door knob can waste a lot of time and send us up the wall. If you have such equipment or machinery, get it changed at the earliest possible date. It is worth the amount of time and energy that you waste on it every day.
* Long queues certainly waste a lot of time. That does not mean that you have to jump the queue. If you can get the job done over the telephone or can reserve your ticket in advance, do it, even if it means a few extra dollars, it is worth the time you may have to spend waiting.
Apart from these each person may have particular time wasters, like for instance, a car that refuses to start in the morning, difficult hair that insists on looking like Medusas head on a bad snake day, an elevator that takes forever to reach your floor. Use your common sense and try to find alternate methods or even better, if you cannot find an alternate method, you could put the time to some use like read your morning paper in the elevator.
You will get a better idea of how to get over time killers once we handle the section called the time savers.
Lining Up Your Ducks: Prioritize!
“Lining up your ducks” is a familiar and charming phrase. It derives from the tendency of baby ducklings to swim in a perfectly straight line behind their mother. If the ducklings begin to stray too far, the mother duck will invariably “shepherd” them back into line—thus, “getting her ducks in a row.”
The application of this phrase to time management is clear. If you deal with things in a logical, orderly sequence, you’re sure to bring efficiency and results to your efforts. When your “ducks” begin to stray too far afield, danger is lurking—for them and for you.
Let’s face it. 24 hours in a day is not enough time for many people to do everything in their schedule. It is therefore imperative that people perform their activities in the order of priority. Time management experts like Stephen Covey S R (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; Simon & Schuster) have developed a model called a time management matrix.
This model enables managers to prioritize their activities and use their time more effectively. With the help of the model, they can evaluate their activities in terms of importance and urgency.
The art of prioritizing covers 4 major task groups:
- Important and Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Not Urgent but Important
- Not Important and Not Urgent
TIME MANAGEMENT MATRIX
Important and Urgent
Quadrant 1 represents things which are both urgent and important – labeled “firefighting”. The activities need to be dealt with immediately, and they are important.
These tasks are the ones that must be done right away, or consequences may result. An example would be bills that are due today. If you don’t pay your bills on time, you would incur additional charges or they might cut off their services to you. Activities belonging to this category need to be acted upon without delay. You should give them the highest priority.
Important but Not Urgent
Quadrant 2 represents things which are important, but not urgent – labelled “Quality Time”. Although the activities here are important, and contribute to achieving the goals and priorities – they do not have to be done right now. As a result, they can be scheduled when they can be given quality thought to them.
A good example would be the preparation of an important talk, or mentoring a key individual. Prayer time, family time and personal relaxation/recreation are also part of Quadrant 2.
Urgent but Not Important
Quadrant 3 represents distractions. They must be dealt with right now, but frankly, are not important. For example, when a person answers an unwanted phone call, – he/she has had to interrupt whatever he/she is doing to answer it.
Not Important and Not Urgent
Quadrant 4 represents Time Wasting. You might think activities in this section are not worth people’s time, so they won’t engage in these activities much. You would be surprised to know that people spend most of their time doing things that are both unimportant and non-urgent, such as watching TV and movies, playing video games, senseless chatting for hours on the phone, shopping for new clothes, etc.
Of course, it is essential for people to relax and unwind once in a while.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” as they say. But you should be strict in limiting your time for these activities; that is, if you really want to accomplish a lot in your life.
Treat activities belonging to this section with the lowest priority. If you really want to succeed, strictly limit your time in doing these activities or don’t do them at all. Focus on those that will bring you fruitful results.
Numbered Priority Tactic
Here’s one of the most powerful techniques that you can use to manage your time efficiently – the Numbered Priority Tactic.
Buy a very small notebook that you can put in your pocket. You should be able to bring it anywhere you go. At the front page of the notebook, put the title: Important and Urgent. At the back page, put the title: Important but Not Urgent.
If an idea or event you encounter is Urgent but Not Important, then forget it. You want to utilize your time well, won’t you? If you think it’s significant in some way, then you may put it under Important and Urgent. Ignore Not Important and Not Urgent tasks.
Every time something comes up during your daily work or on your mind, put it in the appropriate page of your little notebook. So let’s say your boss told you to submit a report due tomorrow. Write it down on your notebook under Important and Urgent. Then your friend told you that there’s a big 2-day sale at the downtown furniture store. You may put it under Important and Urgent if you simply must have that furniture you’re drooling for months. But if you think your house would do fine without it, then don’t write it anymore. As you’re walking down the street you suddenly thought of a great new idea for your part-time business. You may put it under Important but Not Urgent.
As the day goes on, write down each and every idea, thought, or event that comes to your mind. As the list increases in each category, examine each of them carefully and start numbering each item in the order of priority – with 1 being the highest priority. Start working on Number 1, and never go to Number 2 until you’re done with Number 1 for each category. If distractions come about, you may take care of them first but always come back to your numbered list when you’re done.
Because priorities may change, you may switch or change the numbers of the items in the list. You may also transfer one item from Important and Urgent to Important but Not Urgent, and vice-versa. When you do any changes, make sure your notebook stays clean. Transfer your writings to a new page when you see that it’s getting untidy. Start off with a new page every day.
This method can enable you to achieve more in one week than what most people can accomplish in a month. The important thing you must do is to buy that little notebook and to start doing this super tactic right now! Time is running fast.