• Time​—Are You Its Master or Its Slave?
  •  Time​—Are You Its Master or Its Slave


    “WHY are you late?” inquired the teacher as Albert walked into the classroom. “Because I ran alongside my bicycle all the way to school,” Albert replied, almost out of breath.

    “Why didn’t you ride your bicycle?” asked the teacher curiously. “Because,” explained Albert, “I was so late I didn’t have time to stop and get on the bike.”

    This exaggerated, comical story illustrates a situation that many of us face daily. Rushed, with many tasks to be done and deadlines to be met, we may feel that we are racing from one thing to the next. But, like Albert, we sometimes slow ourselves down by concluding that we do not have the time to stop and reorganize for effectiveness.

    Nevertheless, we could save time, accomplish more in the long run, and reduce stress if we did pause to sharpen our skills in managing time. Then, instead of viewing time as a relentless master, it could become a helpful servant.

    How can you achieve more effective

    management of your time? Following are some suggestions. As you read them, choose those that fit your needs and adapt them to your circumstances.

    Plan Your Day

    Imagine that your day has just begun. Before you is a seemingly endless number of tasks. The thought of all these duties may cause you to dread the day. Where should you begin? By planning your day.

    Many start by writing what is known as a To Do List. One person with many responsibilities in a large organization notes how he stays on schedule. He states: “I keep a written list of things to be done. As new tasks present themselves or come to mind, I add them to the list. Then I cross off each item as it is completed.”

    Might a similar written plan help you to organize your daily activities? You may respond: ‘That might help me get started, but I would never finish everything on my list!’ And you are probably right. That is why it is helpful to . . .

    Set Priorities

    You can set priorities by numbering each item on your list according to importance. Then, to the extent possible, handle each activity in that order. Naturally, there will be times when you may choose to make an exception and not handle a matter in strict priority order, according to your circumstances and preferences. So stay flexible. Your objective is to stay in control so that what you do accomplish each day is by choice rather than by chance.

    Do not rush from job to job or worry about doing everything that you have listed. Time- management consultant Alan Lakein stresses: “One rarely reaches the bottom of a To Do List. It’s not completing the list that counts, but making the best use of your time.”

    You will have accomplished this if the bulk of your time was directed toward what is truly important. As for the unfinished items, see if they can be delegated to others or transferred to tomorrow’s list. A hard look at lower-priority items sometimes reveals that they do not need to be done at all. On the other hand, an item at the bottom of today’s list may have a higher priority tomorrow.

    But how do you go about determining which activities on your list are of high priority? After all, when looking at a long list of duties, many things may appear to be equally important. So to set priorities effectively, you must . . .

    Distinguish Between “Urgent” and “Important”

    A wise king in Bible times said that a man should “see good for all his hard work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13 ) Some tasks yield better results than others. So when looking over a list of duties, consider the

    results each one will bring. Will finishing the job produce significant benefits? Will you “see good” for your hard work? If not, it may not be a high-priority task.

    True, at first glance everything on your list may seem urgent. But are urgent matters always important, deserving a major time investment? Michael LeBoeuf, a professor of time management at the University of New Orleans, makes this observation: “Important things are seldom urgent and urgent things are seldom important. The urgency of fixing a flat tire when you are late for an appointment is much greater than remembering to pay your auto insurance premium, but its importance [the tire] is, in most cases, relatively small.”

    Then he laments: “Unfortunately, many of us spend our lives fighting fires under the tyranny of the urgent. The result is that we ignore the less urgent but more important things in life. It’s a great effectiveness killer.”

    So when setting priorities, ask yourself which activities are truly important. Then try to spend most of your time on these. Perhaps an urgent matter does not need immediate attention. Does it justify a large time investment? Can you handle it quickly and move on to an activity that will result in greater accomplishment? Better yet, can it be delegated to someone else?

    No doubt you will agree that it is more rewarding to work at something that yields important results than it is simply to be busy at whatever activity happens to be at hand. Try to direct as many of your efforts as possible toward activities that result in true accomplishment.

    The 80/20 Rule

    Applying the principles discussed thus far, what percentage of your day’s activities would you expect to categorize as top priority? Of course, that will depend upon your specific responsibilities. But a number of time- management experts feel that, in many cases, you can narrow the top-priority items down to about 20 percent. They cite, as a guide, the 80/20 rule.

    This principle was formulated by the 19th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It states that only about 20 percent of the causes produce about 80 percent of the results. If you are alert, you may discover that there are a number of situations in everyday life where Pareto’s principle applies. But how can the 80/20 rule be applied to your use of time?

    Analyze the items on your To Do List. Perhaps you can be 80 percent effective by accomplishing two out of ten items listed. If so, those are the two most important items on your list. Also, analyze a project before diving in. How much of it

    is truly important to your objective? What part of the job will produce the most significant results? This portion of the task is priority.

    Time- management consultant Dru Scott, after discussing Pareto’s principle, explains how to make it work for you. She says: “Identify the vital ingredients necessary to achieve your objective. Do these things first. You will get the most results in the least amount of time.”

    Enjoy the Benefits

    Perhaps at this point you can better appreciate that being the master of your time is not a matter of being preoccupied with never wasting a minute or rushing from crisis to crisis. Rather, effective time

    management means selecting the appropriate task for right now. It means discerning what activities yield the best results and spending your time on these whenever possible.

    There are no fixed rules for personal organization of your time. To benefit from the suggestions in this article, be flexible. Experiment. Adapt. Discover what works best for you. Read the ideas in the box on this page and see which ones will help you turn a relentless master into a helpful servant.

    By getting better control of your time, what a sense of accomplishment you will have at the end of each day! Though more duties likely remain for tomorrow, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you directed your efforts toward the most important things. You will “see good” for your hard work.

    You may even feel that​—at last—​there is enough time for the things that really matter. Then you will not be a victim of hectic circumstances, but you will be the master of your time. That will bring not only increased effectiveness to your work but likely increased joy as well.

    [Box on page 27]


    1. Have a clear set of values and goals in life. It is the key to setting daily priorities.

    2. Work on tasks requiring concentration when you are most alert.

    3. Make phone calls when you are most likely to contact the person.

    4. Delegate work whenever possible. It frees you to accomplish more, and it gives experience to others.

    5. When doing paperwork, try to handle each piece of paper once, rather than giving it a temporary ‘parking place.’

    6. At meetings with others, stick to an agenda. Have specific starting and finishing times.

    7. Organize your work area with needed tools close at hand.

    8. Do not feel obligated to accept every social invitation that comes your way. Learn to say no tactfully.

    9. Standardize shopping and packing lists as much as possible rather than writing up new ones repeatedly.

    10. Get sufficient rest and relaxation so that you can work effectively.

    11. Set deadlines.

    12. Do not procrastinate.

    13. Break overwhelming tasks into smaller ones.

    14. Do not be a perfectionist. Concentrate on what is truly important.

    15. Make good use of waiting time. Write a letter, read, or accomplish some other essential task.

    16. Know that there will be occasions when you will need to spend time on activities you would not choose. Do not waste time fretting about it. Instead, work to get it done.

    [Picture on page 25]

    Many find it helpful to make a priority list of things to be done

    [Pictures on page 26]

    Personal organization and the setting of priorities can make all the difference in the world

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