Navigation: An introduction to time management


Lecture video segments

The tools advice and various other parts of the lecture, while interesting the very first time you watch the lecture, isn't quite so much consecutive times. Here's a table of contents for the lecture (it's not entirely complete):

  start |   end
        - 0:04:23 # general introduction
        - 0:05:55 # lecture introduction
        - 0:08:50 # core talk (how to value your time)
        - 0:10:11 # lecture clarification 
        - 0:12:18 # core talk (time famine, life advice)
                  # core talk
0:19:05 - 0:23:23 # core talk (to-do lists)
        - 0:43:06 # specific tool recommendations and useful tips
        -         # core talk (scheduling yourself)
0:43:06 - 1:10:40 # core talk
1:10:40 -         # general advice

Short summary

Time management is not so much about managing time as it is about living your dreams.

Time management is the art of allocating your time so that you will lead a happier, more wonderful life. The overall goal is fun. If you're not going to have fun, why do it? Life really is too short, if you're not going to enjoy it. Time management allows you to get more things done in your finite time, avoid wasting precious time and deal with the real problems in our lives, which are stress and procrastination.

Managing your time well makes you successful, while bad time management leads to stress.

  1. Time is the only commodity that matters
  2. Value your time just as you value your money (equate time and money), if not more
  3. Set goals and priorities
  4. Ask yourself "This thing I'm thinking about doing, why am I doing it?"
  5. Do the right things adequately, instead of the wrong things beautifully
  6. Do not lose sight of the power of inspiration
  7. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  8. Learn to say "No"
  9. Find your creative time and defend it ruthlessly
  10. Find your dead time and do stuff during that where you don't need to be at your best
  11. You better find out where your time is going (time journal)
  12. Deal with interruptions
  13. Try not to interrupt other people
  14. Understand procrastination
  15. Delegate authority with responsibility
  16. Exchange money for time at every opportunity
  17. Never break a promise, but renegotiate if need be

Full summary


What are we going to talk about today? This is a very pragmatic lecture. It is inspirational in the sense that it will inspire you by giving you some concrete things you might do to be able to get more things done in your finite time. I'm going to talk specifically about how to set goals, how to avoid wasting time, how to deal with a boss, how to delegate to people, some specific skills and tools that I might recommend to help you get more out of the day. And to deal with the real problems in our lives, which are stress and procrastination. If you can lick that last one, you are probably in good shape.

The talk goes very fast and I'm very big on specific techniques. I'm not really big on platitudes. Platitudes are nice, but they don't really help me get something done tomorrow.

I like to talk about "The Time Famine". I think it's a nice phrase. Does anybody here feel like they have too much time? Okay, nobody, excellent. I like the word "famine", because it's a little bit like thinking about Africa. You can airlift all the food you want in to solve the crisis this week but the problem is systemic, and you really need systemic solutions. A time management solution that says, "I'm going to fix things for you in the next 24 hours" is laughable, just like saying: "I'm going to cure hunger in Africa in the next year." You need to think long-term and you need to change fundamental underlying processes because the problem is systemic, we just have too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

The other thing to remember is that it's not just about time management. That sounds like a kind of a lukewarm, a talk about time management, that's kind of milk-toast. But how about if the talk is: How about not having ulcers? That catches my attention! So a lot of this is life advice. This is, how to change the way you're doing a lot of the things and how you allocate your time so that you will lead a happier, more wonderful life.

The overall goal is fun.

People who do intense studies and log people on videotape and so on say that the typical office worker wastes almost two hours a day. Their desk is messy, they can't find things, they miss appointments, are unprepared for meetings, they can't concentrate. Does anybody in here by show of hands ever have any sense that one of these things is part of their life? Okay, I think we've got everybody! So these are a universal thing and you shouldn't feel guilty if some of these things are plagueing you because they plague all of us, they plague me for sure.

The other thing I want to tell you is that it sounds a little clichéd and tried, but being successful does not make you manage your time well. Managing your time well makes you successful.

How to value your time

As a culture we're very, very bad at dealing with time as a commodity, we don't look at it the same way as we do at, for example, money. We don't really have time elevated to the same status as money. People waste their time and this always facinates me. Very few people equate time and money, even though they are very, very equatable.

While not everybody is good at managing their money, most people do at least understand the importance of it. They don't look don't look at you funny if you ask to see their monetary budget for their household. In fact, if somebody asks for your household budget, you presume that that person is talking about money, while in fact the household budet that actually matters is the household time budget.

So, start thinking about your time and your money almost as if they are the same thing. That also means you have to manage your time, just like you manage your money.

Goals, priorities and planning

Anytime anything crosses your life, you've got to ask: "This thing I'm thinking about doing, why am I doing it?" Almost no one that I know starts with the core principle of, there's this thing on my To Do list, why is it there? If you want to know whether something is important, try asking yourself what will happen if you don't do it.

The other thing to keep in mind when you're doing goal setting is, a lot of people focus on doing things right. I think it's very dangerous to focus on doing things right. I think it's much more important to do the right things. If you do the right things adequately, that's much more important than doing the wrong things beautifully. Doesn't matter how well you polish the underside of the banister. Keep that in mind.

So you've got to really be willing to say: this stuff's what's going to be the value and this other stuff isn't and you've got to have the courage of your convictions to say and therefor I'm going to shuff the other stuff off of the boat.


The other thing to remember is that experience comes with time and it's really, really valuable, and there are no shortcuts to getting it. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. So if things aren't going well, that probably means you're learning a lot and will go better later.

[This is, by the way, why we pay so much in American society for people who are typically older but have done lots of things in their past because we're paying for their experience because we know that experience is one of the things you can't fake.]


Do not lose sight of the power of inspiration.

The power of dreams are that they give us a way to take the first step towards an accomplishment.


Planning is very important, one of the time management clichés is: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Planning has to be done at multiple levels. I have a plan every morning when I wake up and I say, what do I need to get done today, what do I need to get done this week, what do I need to get done each semester, that's sort of the time quanta because I'm an academic. That doesn't mean you're locked into it! People say: "Yeah, but things are so fluid! I'm going to have to change the plan!" And I'm like, "Yes! You are going to have to change the plan. But you can't change it, unless you have it!" And the excuse of, I'm not going to make a plan because things might change is just this paralysis of: I don't have any marching orders. So have a plan, acknowledge that you're going to change it but have it so you have the basis to start with.

To-do lists

[...] (Please see the video 0:19:05 - 0:23:23 or the transcript)

Scheduling yourself

Verbs are important: You do not FIND time for important things, you MAKE it. And you make time by electing not to do something else.

There's a term from economics that everybody should hold near and dear to their heart, and that term is "opportunity cost". The bad thing about doing something that isn't very valuable is not that it's a bad thing to have done it. The problem is that once you spent an hour doing it, that's an hour you can never again spend in any other way. And that's important. How do you keep these unimportant things from sucking into your life? You learn to say "No".

Creative time

Everybody has good and bad times. The big thing about time management is, find your creative time and defend it ruthlessly. Spend it alone, maybe at home if you have to. But defend it ruthlessly. The other thing is, find your dead time. Schedule meetings, phone calls, exercise, mundane stuff, but do stuff during that where you don't need to be at your best. We all have these times. And the times are not at all intuitive. I discovered that my most productive time was between ten p.m. and midnight which is really weird but for me it's just this burst of energy right before the end.


Let's talk about interruptions. There are people who measure this kind of stuff who have stopwatches and clipboards and what they say is that an interruption takes typically 6-9 minutes, but then there's a 4-5 minute recovery to get your head back into what you're doing. And if you're doing something like software creation, you may never get your head back there, the cost can be infinity. But if you do the math on that, five interruptions blow a whole hour. So you've got to find ways to reduce both the frequency and the length of these interruptions.

In the same way you try not to interrupt other people. I save stuff up so I have boxes for Tina or for my research group meeting and I put stuff in those boxes, and then once a week or however often when the box gets full, I walk down the hall and I interrupt that person one time and say, "Here are the eight things I have for you."

Time journals

Time journals. Time is the commodity, you better find out where your time is going. Monitor yourself and update it throughout the day. You can't wait till the end of the day and say: "What was I doing at 10:30?", because our memories aren't that good. So what you do - and I really hope that technology within another five years or so will be so good that the time journals can be created automatically or at least some facsimile of it, but until then what we do is, we monitor it ourselves.

This is what an empty time journal would look like. The details aren't important but the key thing is that, when you fill it in, you've got a bunch of categories and what I was doing, and you can do this very informally but you'll get a lot of real data about where your time went. And it's always very different. Anybody who has done monetary budgeting, you look at it and you go, "Wow, I didn't know I was spending that much on dry cleaning." Or restaurants or whatever. It's always a fascinating surprise. And you always spend more than you think. But with time budgets, you find out that the time is going wildly differently than you would have imagined.

When you've got your time journal data, what do you figure out from that? What am I doing that doesn't need to be done? What can someone else do? I love every day saying, what am I doing that I could delegate to somebody else? What can I do more efficiently? And: How am I wasting other people's time? When you get good at time management you realize that it's a collaborative thing. I want to make everybody more efficient, it's not a selfish thing, it's not me against you, it's: How do we all collectively get more done? As you push on the time journal stuff you start to find that you don't make yourself more efficient at work so you become some sort of über-worker person, you become more efficient at work so you can leave at five and go home and be with the people that you love. People call this work-life balance.

The other thing about time management that makes you really start to look through a crystalline lens and figure out what's important and what's not.


Let's talk about procrastination. There's an old saying: "Procrastination is the thief of time.". Procrastination is hard and I have a little bit of an insight here for you: We don't usually procrastinate because we're lazy.

If you are procrastinating, you've got to find some way to get back into your comfort zone. Identify why you are not enthusiastic. Whenever I procrastinate on something, there's always a deep psychological reason. Usually it's, I'm afraid of being embarrassed because I don't think I'll do it well, or I'm afraid I'm going to fail at it.

Sometimes it involves asking somebody for something. One of the most magical things I've learned in my life is that sometimes you just have to ask and wonderful things happen. But you just have to step out and do that.


Let's talk about delegation. Nobody operates individually anymore and you can accomplish a lot more when you have help. However, most people delegate very poorly. They treat delegation as dumping. "I don't have time to do this, you take care of it." And then they micro-manage and it's just a disaster.

The first thing if you're going to delegate something to a subordinate is, you grant them authority with responsibility. You don't tell somebody: "Go take care of this, but if you need to spend any money, you've got to come back to me for approval." That's not empowering them, that's telling them you don't trust them. If I trust you enough to do the work, I trust you enough to give you the resources and the budget and the time and whatever else you need to get it done. You give them the whole package.

The other thing is, delegate but always do the ugliest job yourself. So when we need to vacuum the lab before a demo, I bring in the vacuum cleaner and I vacuum it. Do the dirtiest job yourself so it's very clear that you're willing to still get the dirt on your hands. Treat your people well. People are the greatest resource, and if you are fortunate enough to have people who report to you, treat them with dignity and respect and to sound a little bit corny, the kind of love that they should have from someone who cares about them and their professional development.

Challenge people. I've been told that one of the tricks is, you delegate until they complain. I don't know about until they complain, but what I've found is that underdelegation is a problem. People are usually yearning for the opportunity to do more, they want to be challenged, they want to prove to you and themselves they can be more capable so let them.

Don't give people how you want them do it, tell them what you want them to do. Give them objectives, not procedures. Let them surprise you with a way of solving a problem you would never have imagined. Sometimes those solutions are mind-blowing. Good or bad. But they're really much more fun than just having them do it the way you would have done it.

[There was more relevant content in the lecture about delegation] (see transcript)

General advice

Turn money into time, especially junior faculty members or other people who have young children. This is the time to throw money at the problem. Hire somebody else to mow your lawn, do whatever you need to do but exchange money for time at every opportunity when you have very young children because you just don't have enough time, it's just too hard.

[There was a lot more general advice in the talk] (so see the video or read the full transcript)

Attic/ProjectMonkey/An introduction to time management/Randy Pausch (last edited 2024-04-11 15:38:33 by EmmanueleBassi)