Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.
It’s the most common advice to plan one’s work for becoming an effective executive. This sounds eminently reasonable. The only thing wrong with it is that it rarely works. The plans always remain on paper and seldom turn into achievement.
Effective executives do not start with their tasks but they start with their time. They do not start out with planning but they start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time.
Effective executives know that time is the scarcest resource. Time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply. Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits, we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. But there is no substitute for time.
Time Management & People
■ Though man, like all living beings, has a “biological clock”—he lacks a reliable time sense as found in psychological experiments. People kept in a room in which they cannot see light and darkness outside rapidly lose all sense of time. Even in total darkness, most people retain their sense of space. But even with the lights on, a few hours in a sealed room make most people incapable of estimating how much time has elapsed. They are as likely to underrate and overrate grossly the time spent in the room.
■ Peter Drucker sometimes asks executives who pride themselves on their memory to put down their guess as to how they spend their own time. Then he locks these guesses away for a few weeks or months. In the meantime, the executives run an actual time record on themselves. There is never much resemblance between the way these men thought they used their time and their actual records.
“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” – Charles Richards
Insightful Story of a Chairman
One company chairman was absolutely certain that he divided his time roughly into three parts. One-third he thought he was spending with his senior men. One-third he thought he spent with his important customers. And one third he thought was devoted to community activities. The actual record of his activities over six weeks brought out clearly that he spent almost no time in any of these areas. These were the tasks on which he knew he should spend time—and therefore memory, obliging as usual, told him that these were the tasks on which he actually had spent his time. The record showed, however, that he spent most of his hours as a kind of dispatcher, keeping track of orders from customers he personally knew and bothering the plant with telephone calls about them. Most of these orders were going through all right anyhow and his intervention could only delay them. But when his secretary first came in with the time record, he did not believe her. It took two or three more time logs to convince him that record, rather than memory, has to be trusted when it comes to the use of time.
The effective executive, therefore, knows that to manage his time, he first has to know where it actually goes.
Executive & Time Demands
There are constant pressures toward unproductive and wasteful time-use. Any executive, whether he is a manager or not, has to spend a great deal of his time on things that do not contribute at all. Much is inevitably wasted. The higher up in the organization he is, the more demands on his time will the organization make.
■ The head of a large company once told Peter Drucker that in two years as a chief executive officer he had “eaten out” every evening except on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. All the other dinners were “official” functions, each of which wasted several hours. Yet he saw no possible alternative. Whether the dinner honored an employee retiring after fifty years of service, or the governor of one of the states in which the company did business, the chief executive officer had to be there. The ceremony is one of his tasks. My friend had no illusions that these dinners contributed anything either to the company or to his own entertainment or self-development. Yet he had to be there and dine graciously.
One of the central tasks in the work of the executive is to spend time with working people. The people are time-consumers & most of them are time-wasters. So one must take good care while spending time with the people. It’s always better to have prior appointments as it provides a good time for preparation. If it’s not done then a high amount of time will be wasted in setting the context of the discussion.
Record your time for a few weeks or months and check on how you are spending it. You may be surprised by the findings. You may find like your most time is being spent on post-analysis instead of proactive planning. Or you are spending most of your time on the activities, which your wish to eliminate as they are hindering your career growth.
This exercise will provide you better clarity on making your to-do list as well as not-to-do list. Remember to manage time effectively, your not-to-do list is as useful as your to-do list. (The excerpt is inspired from ‘The Effective Executive’ by Peter F. Drucker).