My first exposure to the idea that my time had to be managed was back in 1978 when I heard about a book called The Time Trap, written by Alec Mackenzie and regarded by many as the first classic work on 20th-century overwhelm – and what to do about it.
I was running the admin office for a consulting actuary and, in the rapidly expanding world of small self-administered pension schemes and director pension plans, we had our work cut out managing a flood of new business enquiries.
Even Mackenzie paid homage to an earlier expert – telling the story of The Bethlehem Steel Corporation and its president, Charles Schwab, who, in the early 20th century, presented consultant Ivy Lee with an unusual challenge: ‘Show me a way to get more things done,’ he asked ‘and if it works I’ll pay you anything within reason.’ Lee handed Schwab his instructions… ‘Write down the things you have to do tomorrow,’ he read. ‘Now number these items in order of importance.
• Make a list
• A, B, C the list
• Do the As first
• Make sure you have a long-term plan
• Have an overall mission, values, roles and goals
• Establish regular meetings and conversations in your calendar to work
ON your business as well as IN your business
(Michael Gerber – The E-Myth Revisited).
Perhaps most important of all – and yet often overlooked:
• Take an hour a day for your own ‘peace and solitude’
• Switch off the social media
• Turn off the technology
• Be alone with yourself
• Look deep inside… and ask yourself if you are happy with the person
you meet there.
First thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and keep going until you finish. Then begin number two and do the same – on to number three. You may not get everything done but you will get the most important things done before you get distracted.’
And so was born the daily to-do list that survives, even in electronic format, to this day.
In the late 1970s, Mackenzie’s seminal work was overshadowed by the success of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People – one of the biggest selling books of all time. Covey took the daily to-do list to the next level by asking readers to arrange their ‘rocks, stones and sand’ that encouraged us to set aside time to focus on the big issues that require longer term consideration than simply what we have to do today. In his later book, First Things First, Covey considerably expanded his thoughts on time management and introduced four quadrants of time:
• Important and urgent
• Urgent but not important
• Important but not urgent
• Not important and not urgent.
He went on to suggest that (in this example) quadrant three may be the most important – and yet commonly overlooked – because we are consumed with quadrants one and two. Since then, The Dave Allen Company has become the latest variation on the theme of prioritisation, creating the Getting Things Done movement and producing another wave of print media and electronic time management systems.
I’ve used some form of daily ‘to-do’ list since the late 1970s, evolving from a simple WH Smith ‘page a day’ foolscap diary in 1978, to The Franklin Covey Planning System for many years and into electronic lists now that I’ve become an Apple fanatic.
Having said that, maybe I’m old fashioned but all the e-lists failed to capture my attention or satisfy my need for a tactile relationship with my time.
I have watched as our time has been progressively eaten away by the demands of the electronic and information age.
The latest comedy cinema trailer from Orange suggests that all movies should carry a regular break every 15 minutes so that the audience can check their social media status.
It is estimated that over 40% of those using social media in the evening are watching TV and video simultaneously.
There is none of the ‘peace and solitude’ recommended by time management experts. As I approach my 60th birthday and reflect, I love the connection that social media delivers – and yet regret the intimacy of an earlier age. I watch as my clients, family, friends and colleagues drown in their responsibilities but also devote more and more time to the trivialities of social media (guilty as charged before you say so).
We are our own media channels now – and the responsibility sometimes leaves us no time to connect at the human level.