While the majority of businesspeople repeated the time-worn slogan ‘Time is money’, Benjamin Franklin would say that time is life ‘Up stuggard, waster not life, in the grave will be sleeping enough’. A person is hard-working and efficient in relation to how he or she uses time. Skillful use of time is the hallmark of great executives, those who turn round ailing corporations and then expand them.
In his book ‘Getting things done, the ABCs of time management’, Edwin C. Bliss writes on the introduction page, “I first became interested in patterns of time use many years ago when as an assistant to the United States senator, I was struck with similarities in the operating style of the more successful member of Congress. They learn to set priorities in relation to their own goals rather than someone else. They learn to screen themselves from unwarranted interruption, they learn to delegate, to plan to concentrate on important things and to disregard trivia”.
The above is a good summary of what time management is all about. There are 24 hours in a day and great achievers in business, science and technology as well as writing, plan in advance how much of this time they will devote to the most important tasks, how much to the less. Unless there is indeed spare time, they discard matters which have nothing to do with their goals in life or in business.
The higher you go up in business or public life, the more tasks and the more people will be demanding your attention. There are occasions when you cannot decide what to do first since the tasks appear to be equally important and urgent.
Bliss recognises three categories of time use. These are;
(1) Important and urgent. For example, your boss requires you to produce an article for tomorrow’s newspaper by 10 am. You have to put aside everything and accomplish this assignment.
(2) Important but not urgent. Bliss says attention to this category is what divides effective individuals from ineffective ones. In this category, we have plans you have such as to write a book, to learn a language and to undergo an annual medical check-up. These may not be urgent, but if you keep postponing them you may achieve nothing in life.
(3) Urgent but not important. In this category are those things which clamour for attention but which you can ignore without endangering your chances of success in life. These include invitations to dinners and meeting a visiting celebrity. It is up to you to weigh the other assignments against these and decide which matter most to you. Always your priorities should take precedence over the priorities of others.
Those who do a lot of work do not brook interruptions even from close friends. Alexander Dumas, the French writer of historical fiction would sit at his desk for 14 hours non-stop. If a friend knocked to see him without prior appointment, Dumas would just raise up his hand to acknowledge his friends’ presence at the same time silently requesting him to go away for the time being.
Another French writer, George Simenon, who was to French fiction what Agatha Christle was to English fiction, a writer of matchless detective stories. He would for two weeks disconnect telephones to his study to refuse to receive any guests, completely cut himself from the outside world. At the end of those two weeks, he would take to his publisher another manuscript of a best-selling novel.
We may not all live up to such type of concentration. But all great advisers on time management say what counts is not the number of hours you spend on the task but the uninterrupted time. You must allot big chunks of time not bits and pieces to all your major tasks. Elementary economics teaches us that life involves choice-making. If you want to buy something, you will have to give up another. With the limited amount of money, you may find it impossible to buy all the things you would love to.
In managing time, the first things to list down your tasks in order of their importance, start with the most important and go until you finish it. Then go to the next important. By the end of the day, you may not do all the jobs you had put on the plan. Do not worry; you will derive a lot of satisfaction from accomplishing the priority tasks. For the following day, you draw another priority list.
The late J. Paul Getty, who up to 1956, the year of his death, was the richest American, stated that in America, top chief executives worked on average 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, seldom took vacation and lives to ripe old age. How do chief executive officers in Malawi and other Africa countries compare to that?