Make choices, plan, keep a to-do list and prioritize: practices to live by.

Nobody understood the value of time better than Randy Pausch. The Carnegie-Mellon computer professor, a virtual-reality pioneer and much-loved teacher, gained worldwide attention with the YouTube posting of what became known as The Last Lecture, given in September 2007, nine months before his death from pancreatic cancer at age 47.

More than 6 million people have viewed that lecture online.

Pausch, who lived longer than most diagnosed with the disease, gave another lecture a few months later, focusing on how to manage time. Time, he told a packed house at the University of Virginia, is more important than money, "because if you've wasted it, you can never get it back."

Again speaking plainly about the terminal disease that was going to take his life, he praised the folks at Disney, who had put together the entire theme park, in the days before computers, in just 365 days. When asked how they did it, Disney apparently said, "We used every one of them."

That was Pausch's message, and it began, he told students, with choice.

"It's much more important to do the right things adequately," he said, "than doing the wrong things well."

Decide, he encouraged them, what has value and what doesn't.

"A very small number of things in your life are going to mean anything. Shove the other stuff off the boat."

A funny, down-to-earth speaker with a strong sense of mischief, Pausch reminded the audience that being able to know what has value doesn't come overnight.

"Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment," he said.

"If things aren't going well, we're going to learn a lot and be able to use it later."

But you can't start using your time or make choices if you don't have a plan, he said. You might have to change the plan, but you can't change it if you don't have it.

"Failing to plan is planning to fail," he said.

First, he said, it's important to keep a todo list, one in which big goals are broken down into small steps. He suggests the format pioneered by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which breaks jobs down into four quadrants: Important and do soon, important and not do soon, not important and do soon, not important and not do soon.

The Time Management Matrix
Urgent Not Urgent
Important QUADRANT I
crises, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects
prevention, PC activities, relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, planning, recreation
Not important QUADRANT III
interruptions, some calls, some mail, some reports, some meetings, popular activies
trivia, busy work, some mail, som phone calls time wasters, pleasant activites
  • The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Stephen R. Covey: Books
  • Time Management (pdf)
  • Quadrant II
    Answer this question: What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life? Chances are whatever you name, it is a Quandrant II activity.
    Effective, proactive people spend most of their time in Quadrant II.
  • What It Takes to Say "No"
    To be effective, you need to stay out of Quadrants III and IV. To do this, you need to tell yourself and other people "no" to actvities which lie in these areas. Suggest Quadrant II activities instead.
  • Weekly Organizing
    Plan your week instead of your day. Each Sunday, look at your roles and goals from your mission statement, and assign activities throughout your week which fulfill these roles and goals. Double and triple them up, so that if your mission is that you want to be a good father, a good husband, and stay in shape, then on Thursday afternoon when you all have free, go jogging with your wife and son.

Every activity we do during the day can be put in one of four quadrants:

The first, important and do soon, and last, not important and not do soon, are obvious, he said. But what matters most is that you realize the next category to tackle is important and not do soon, thereby starting on stuff that is due later.

You can also save time by keeping your desk clear, he said, using the rule of touching a piece of paper just once. This is also true for email, he pointed out. "Read it, file it or delete it."

Phone use can be a real time-waster, Pausch said. Counter stress by using a speaker phone for all the times you have to wait for connections, and stand up while having a conversation so you are aware of the need to finish up without chit-chat. Use a headset to avoid distractions.
"In most offices, people come into each other's offices and suck the life out of each other," he said. "Interruptions take six to nine minutes, but then another four to five minutes recovery, so five interruptions blow a whole hour."

"If someone's in your office and they don't get it, stand up, walk to the door, compliment them and thank them and shake their hand.

"If they still don't leave when you're at the doorway, just keep going," he said.

And since you've basically got to make time for the things that matter, learn how to delegate and to say no, gently, to requests that aren't interesting.

"You make yourself more efficient at work so you can give time to your family or other interests," he said. "It's called a timelife balance. Make your time precious."

Monitor yourself, keep a time journal, informally, and you get a lot of real data about where your time went, he told students. "It's always a fascinating surprise."

And what about procrastination, that thief of time? First, it costs a lot, Pausch said. And pushing things to the deadline creates a lot of stress. So make up a fake deadline and act as though it's real.

"If you are procrastinating, identify why you're not enthusiastic. Are you afraid of failure?"

Sometimes it involves asking for something, and that act of asking can be magical, he said.

"You can accomplish a lot more when you have help. But if you're going to delegate, give them authority with responsibility."

Keep in mind that by definition all bosses are idiots, he said.

"When you have a boss, write things down, find out what is needed, who you can turn to. Remember the boss wants results, not excuses."

By the same token, treat your people well, "because if you don't, they will get you, and you will deserve it. Make their chore specific, say what it is and when you want it, and reward them, not you. Challenge people, communicate clearly, give them objectives, not procedures."

Reinforce the behaviour you like with praise.

Some simple ways to get time back: stop watching television, exchange money for time if you have a young family, eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. Never break a promise, but renegotiate if you have to. Get a daytimer, make a to-do list in priority order, keep a time journal, make a note for 30 days from today to ask: "What have I changed?"

"Time is all we have," Pausch said. "And you may find one day that you have less than you think."

Donna Nebenzahl

Urgent-Important Matrix