Electronic Design

What's All This Time Management Stuff, Anyhow?

Once upon a time, in 1956, I was attending Mount Hermon School in central Massachusetts. At the end of the school year, I was asked to stay over to help out at Commencement ceremonies. I didn't think anything of it at the time. I wandered into the Commencement ceremonies, and was quite surprised when they announced that the winner of the second prize for writing Book Reports, for the Junior Class, was Robert A. Pease.

I nonchalantly ambled up to accept the prize----and tried to recollect----when did I write any Book Reports? After a good deal of thought, I remembered the gray January afternoon when, after lunch, I went down to the Library with a high-priority assignment: Because of my procrastination, I had to read 3 books and write book reports on all 3 by 5:00 PM----on that day. Well, I sort of read 3 books real fast and wrote a report about each book, and I handed in the reports by 5:00 PM. As a matter of fact, I did recollect that my English teacher, Mr. Jack Baldwin, had not returned those book reports to me....

And then in June the English Department judged that I had shown some excellence in the art of writing about some books I had read. To this day, I don't have any record of what I wrote. I don't think I ever did get those 3 book reports back from my teacher, nor do I even recall exactly what 3 books I wrote about. But I must have done a pretty good job of planning what I wanted to say on the first draft, because that was the only draft that ever got done....

The other day I went to take some training in a course on "Time Management." I showed up promptly at 8:30 AM and settled down to hear Tom, the instructor ask, "What if you haven't fulfilled the tasks you had to do? What do you feel?" Then we all knew how to speak out, "GUILT." And the instructor went on, "... and guilt, added to procrastination, tends to causes paralysis, and forces your productivity even lower....leading to more paralysis...." LOWER?

At exactly that point, I began to recall the circumstances of my book reports. Did my procrastination in writing book reports cause me to be guilty and lose all productivity? I knew I had a job to do, so I did it. And I was rewarded for "a job well done." Guilt and paralysis did not take over.

I was especially reminded of this because at the exact same time that I was listening to Tom explain about guilt, procrastination, and paralysis, I was not paralyzed----I was writing down the specs for a new data converter. I had designed the circuit a couple days ago, and a report was due. I had not had enough time to write down the specs, even though I knew in my head what I meant to do. So I documented my notions on paper during the "Time Management" lecture....

In the fall of 1959, a couple years after I won that Book Review award, I was going to MIT, living out in the slums of Cambridge. I decided to try to live within my budget. I got a notebook, and I logged in the money I had at the beginning of the term----perhaps $125.50, as I recall, and then I wrote down all my purchases and expenses. As I approached the end of the term, my budget notebook said that I had $2.85 left, after subtracting all my expenses from my balances. I looked in my wallet. I had $12.85 left. I double-checked my subtraction. No errors. So I decided that I had two choices: either throw away that discrepant $10 bill, or, throw away the notebook. After 2 seconds, I decided to throw away the notebook, not the $10 bill. I never went back to trying to have a "budget" again, if it would lead me to a choice as silly as that.

Try and think of a budget you can beat----mere dollars. Now think of a budget you can hardly beat----minutes and hours. (Let's ignore strange time-zone games.) If all 24 hours in a day were available for all tasks, would you still need to borrow some more hours? If time is money, is there anything more valuable, more irreplaceable, than time?

I value my time. I don't get up at 5:30 AM, work all day, and then study things until after midnight as a joke. So why do we play games with time? As I said, I value my time. Often on a weekday evening, I may "borrow" an hour from the weekend. When I get to Saturday, I am shot, and I know I have built up a sleep deficit. I know I have to pay back some of my sleep debt. I need to take a nap. Okay.

After a nap on Saturday afternoon, and perhaps on Sunday, too, I have gotten honest enough to balance my sleep budget. I pay my debts. I can live through next week....

Once the Time Management lecturer, Tom, finished explaining about paralysis, he suggested that we should list, describe, define, and prioritize our goals and objectives. If we say that our families are first, but we admit that on 5 days a week our higher priorities are for taking care of our job, is that bad? No, being honest about our priorities is probably good. Is it bad for RAP to have a priority when it comes to replying to any reader who writes a letter or asks a question? The answer may not be so simple.

But the Time Management instructor went on to list all of the things we typically want to do in a day. Even without wasting any time, if we allocate time only to tasks that are of high value, there's not any time left at the end of the day, he observed. "If I'm doing one thing, then I'm not doing another----so I am procrastinating...."

Then we went to lunch. I had a choice: I could either make a couple phone calls, or get some info off a computer, or eat lunch. What was my highest priority? Easy----I did all three. I munched a sandwich and waited for the computer to boot up. Called Bob Milne and left a note on his phone machine. Ate a cookie and talked to a couple other guys while ordering the printer to print out. Obviously, one-track-minded people who can only do one thing at a time would have a disadvantage. I know a guy who used to read a book as he drove to work.

Still, no matter how carefully you manage your time and tasks, I'm sure that you, too, tend to run out of time before you run out of tasks. Everybody who is any good at anything always gets loaded up with more tasks than he/she can conveniently accomplish----and is always too busy....

What if I could buy a little machine, no bigger than a VCR, that I could set beside my bed? After I turn it on, I go to bed, good and tired, at 3 AM. Then I would awaken at 5 AM feeling as refreshed as if I had 8 hours of sleep. Maybe 1 day per week I would need to put in a little debt-make-up sleep, but that's not a big deal. WHAT amount of $$$$ would you be willing to charge on your VISA card to pay for that box----the box that gives you back 6 hours per day??? Would it help you get your job done, and your tasks around the house, too? Unfortunately, at this time I do not know where you can buy that "time machine." But I have been told that when it becomes available, it will have a Russian patent number on it.

The lecturer from Franklin Time Management did not try to brow-beat us into using his "Daily Planner System." He just pointed out that anybody who already had enough money for financial security for his family for the rest of his life did not have to worry about saving time. But the rest of us might consider that if there's a system which makes us more efficient so that we can get all our work done promptly, and then have time left over for FUN and personal PROFIT, then we really might want to exploit that system. A good pitch----a wise salesman, proposing to sell us the one thing we can't buy anywhere----a "time machine."

Should I worry about my usage of my time? Should I feel guilty? Well, it's not the kind of thing that worrying, or panicking a lot, will make better. If I am doing my job, then inventing new worries out of thin air will not help anybody.... However, being dishonest about my time is not so good, compared to just being honest. If I'm able to keep my boss happy, but my kids never see me, and my wife gets frustrated because I'm never around when she needs me, maybe my allocation of time isn't so good. Maybe I could use some kind of "time machine" to help me find the time to do the things I really want to do.

After all, some of the things I use my time for aren't as valuable as others ----though I may not find out exactly which ones they are for many years. What if I spend a few hours to help some guy with a thorny problem? Can I justify that if the guy only works for a little company, not a huge corporation? Well, sometimes it does make the customer feel really good about me and my products and my company. Sometimes this makes good business for his company and mine, too. And other times I guess I probably wasted my time. But, even the Time Management Experts were honest enough to reprint a quote by Francois Auguste Rodin: "Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."

All for now. / Comments invited!  RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer


Mail Stop D2597A

National Semiconductor

P.O. Box 58090

Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090


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