Just a minute

Just a minute

The initially simple education we get about money clearly involves forecasting. ‘Earn what you need, give what you can, save what you must’ involves three forecasts if it is to work. Odd, then, that the lessons we are taught about timing don’t have the same punchy, authoritative ring. In fact we learn most about timing as children from parents, teachers and others who keep telling us ‘Just a minute’ when what they mean is ‘Wait, I may be half an hour or longer’.

Money is important but time is more important. You can’t retrieve it, buy it, borrow it – even though some people claim to be living on ‘borrowed time’. What they mean is that their time is nearly up. Organising your life efficiently – which includes providing yourself with opportunities to relax and be lazy – is all about forecasting time. Get your judgment of time right and you will become time-rich. The time-rich are the happiest people in the world.

“What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” An important message and one we need to revisit as time pressures grow and things get increasingly hectic. It’s not that we need to have blank minds, more that we should be letting our minds wander. That’s how they become creative. Blank Mind Time (BMT) is when the little grey cells stop their regular work for a rest but start inventing and imagining the most wonderful range of ’what ifs?’  

Let’s look first at the concept of wasting time. We all do it. We are accused of doing it more than we actually do. The people who are least accused of wasting time are those who rush from one appointment to another, who always seem to be in a hurry and who excuse themselves from further talk in the middle of a phone conversation. They are in truth the worst offenders. They have forgotten to sort out their priorities. So ‘everything is vital’.

Not true. Many things are comparatively trivial. We do them because we know the answer, they can be done fairly quickly and there is not too much thinking involved. If this is your behaviour change it by first changing your attitude. The easy things to deal with must be renamed ‘playtime’. They are essentially matters that cause you little mental effort. They are not work but Admin. That’s why those who do it get paid so little. They are not really ‘work’.

Next comes routine. Routines are essential if we are not to spend the whole of our lives thinking about brushing teeth and so on. But routines are built up by a series of things that need doing, not necessarily in the right order. They therefore entail a lot of re-working. Once a year you need to look at all your routines and see how much time you are losing because the system – which is supposed to save time – actually wastes time.Those who have had to deal with animals know that once a good routine is established it can reliably last a long time.

You are now on the road to prioritising. This is the most important key to time management. A well-known Chairman once told me that he dealt with only those things that were impossible and had no solution. ‘As Chairman, it is my duty to deal with this group of issues. If I dealt only with the possible I would be a middle manager’. A good way to set up your priority list is to put the impossible at the top of it, not tucked away in a corner where we realise it says ‘I don’t know’.

The list is not the end of it, of course. You have to carry it out.

What motivates us to solve insoluble problems, to tackle the issues nobody else wants to deal with? At its simplest level, the survival of the business or organisation. Survival is a strong human instinct. If you are identified with a company or group you will want it to live on. But in every man and every woman there is a strong instinct to lead. Sometimes denied, sometimes forgotten, it is still latently there. It is our masthead, our beacon and it goes before us everywhere.

You have to do all this ‘keeping time’ – something you can only do if you can forecast well. We can never forecast perfectly but we can be better if we adopt a simple discipline. Forecast everything, especially those things that have to do with time. For example. when you wake in the night, forecast what time it is before looking at the clock. This is the most difficult of all forecasts to make because your brain does not estimate time while you sleep.

Especially forecast the time it will take you to get to the next meeting / place / event. You are awake while all this is going on, so you should be able to make good forecasts. Keep doing this and they will improve.

The other person’s time is as valuable as yours. Treat their time as precious and they will be more inclined to treat yours as important, too.

After all, it is your most precious gift.