Proactive time management

time management skills, a to z:
from attila to zen master


We are in the office of Mr. Attila, the well-known CEO of The Huns, an organization whose aggressive approach to growth is now legendary. Everything here at The Huns’ headquarters oozes power. A pile of skulls in a corner is a tasteful reminder of the organization’s famous “take no prisoners” style.

Wasting no time, we dive into the heart of the matter: Is Mr. Attila a Palm Pilot user? Or which other…?

We do not have time to complete this sentence. Attila’s withering look says it all. He has about as much use for Personal Digital Assistants as he has for the MBA’s he eats for breakfast.

Does he use any time management tools? Attila brandishes his sword and spits on the sharp blade. Hmm... Oh yes, of course: it’s all about clear-cut decisions.

Cut to another scene. We’re now in Zen master’s serene abode. Not only is the desk clean, there is actually no desk in the room. No chair either. Zen master is sitting on a cushion, calm, focused. But, when he hears our question, he erupts into rollicking laughter.

We ask, chastened: if he has no use for time management tools, does he, at least, have any words of advice? “Do what needs doing”, he says. “And, when you do it, be fully present”.

Wow! This is so inspiring, so relevant to us. We sure will remember these wise words as we face computer screens in our cubicles! Thank you, Attila. Thank you Zen master!

However, back at the office, facing our own computer, we discover that we have some difficulty translating these words of wisdom into practical steps. So we decide to ask the computer for advice. We go to the mighty Amazon: pray tell us more about time management. And mighty this Amazon is, indeed. There are over 100,000 books on the topic. This must surely be one of the most arcane fields of study known to mankind!

One begins to understand why so few of us feel any good at managing our time: it would take several lifetimes to study all the literature on the topic, let alone figure out a way to put all this information to practical use.

We know it’s hopeless to attempt to read exhaustively all that has been written about time management. Nevertheless, we decide to take the plunge, and to see what some of these books have to say.

At first, we feel daunted by the variety of approaches. It seems that just about every author speaks a different language, uses a different set of concepts…

Daunting, but exciting. Like so many people, we recently read The Da Vinci Code, and The Rule of Four. So we’re very excited about sinking our teeth into mysteries… Very eager to engage in exegesis, and hermeneutics, and all sorts of mental acrobatics… An arduous task, if there ever was one; but a rewarding one.

Oh, what a surprise!
Little by little, a pattern emerges.

These books reveal to us is that it is not actually time that we manage: there is no way to speed up or slow down the pace of time.

What we can manage is how we use time. Which, essentially, means making decisions: on what to do and not to do, when to do it, how to do it… These books also teach us that the secret of good time management is to do what needs doing, and do it well.

Come to think of it, we kind-of-knew that already. Why then are so many books written about something that is so widely known already?

Maybe the problem is not that we don’t know what to do. In fact, we pretty much know what we should be doing to better manage our time. Or, at least, when told what to do, we realize that we already knew.

Maybe the problem is to figure out why we don’t do what we know we should be doing.

Or, rather: our challenge is to pay attention to those moments when we catch ourselves not doing what we know we should be doing.

This is something we can practice day in and day out, many times a day.

All day long, we have opportunities to make decisions about what to do and not to do… when and how to do it…

Making these decisions in a conscious way changes our patterns: not only do we accomplish more of what we want, we also strengthen our time management skills.


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