Good time management anecdotes and analogies

Look for things to kill.

“Robert Townsend suggests that every company should have a vice president in charge of killing things. He says, ‘General Foods, the AFL-CIO, the Bureau of the Budget, and the Ford Foundation should make it a practice to wipe out their worst product, service, or activity every so often. And I don’t mean cutting it back or remodeling it–I mean right between the eyes.‘ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 90

Read selectively.

“Perhaps the most succinct comment on selectivity in reading is by James McCay, who asks, ‘Would you like to be able to read 50,000 words a minute? There are many time when it is easy to do this if you know how. All you have to be able to do is to recognize within one minute that a 50,000-word book does not suit your purposes, and decide not to read it.‘ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 97

Getting things done means finishing what you start.

“In baseball, victory is determined not by hits but by runs. The player who gets to third base and no farther doesn’t get credit for three-quarters of a run.

It’s that way with a task. Getting started is fine, and carrying it forward is fine, but until the task is completed you haven’t done what you set out to do.  Yet many people form the habit of “working for a while” on a project, then  setting it aside, kidding themselves into thinking that they have accomplished something. All  they are doing is leaving men  stranded on base!”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 114

Watch out for upward delegation.

“In a Harvard Business Review article, William Oncken, Jr., and Donald Wass give a perceptive analysis of what they call “subordinate-imposed time”:

“Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and he notices one of his subordinates, Mr. A, coming up the hallway. When they are abreast of one another, Mr. A greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see. . . .” As Mr. A continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the same two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager know (a) enough to get involved, but (b)  not enough to make a on-the-spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Mr. A part company.

Let us analyze what has just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the”monkey”? The subordinate’s. After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager’s. Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully executes a leap from the back of a subordinate to the back of his superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding.

. . .The only way to end upward delegation is to toss the ball right back to your subordinates. When they habitually come to you with problems and ask you to make a decision, simply ask, “Which course do you think would be better?” Force them to  make decisions (or at least firm recommendations) themselves, and unless some very serious mistake is likely, don’t second-guess them.”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 116-7

Memorize these words: Next time. . .

“A famous New York psychiatrist, nearing the end of a long and illustrious career several years ago, said that the most useful concept he had discovered for helping people turn their lives around was what he called his “four little words.” The first two were if only.

“Many of my patients have spent their lives living in the past,” he said, “anguishing about what they should have done in various situations. ‘If only I had prepared better for that interview . . .’ ‘If only I had expressed my true feeling to the boss . . .’  ‘If only I had taken that accounting course . . .’ ”

Wallowing in this sea of regret is a serious emotional drain. The antidote is simple: eliminate those two words from your vocabulary. Substitute the words next time, and tell yourself, ‘Next time I’m going to be prepared . . .Next time I’m going to speak out . . .Next time I have a chance I’m going to take that class . . .’ ”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 44-5

Conquer procrastination with the “Salami Technique”.

“A salami in its original state, before it has been cut, is unwieldy and looks unappetizing. But cut it into thin slices and it takes on quite a different aspect. Now you have something manageable, something you can “get your teeth into.”

When you realize you are procrastinating on a major task, slice it up into as many small, manageable “instant tasks” as possible. Promise yourself that you won’t force yourself to get involved with the main job, provided you do at least one of the small steps on your list.

. . .Remember the first slice–the first instant task–is always to list in writing the small steps involved in getting the job done.

“Divide and conquer” applies to tasks just as it does to armies or enemies.”

from Edwin Bliss’s book Getting Things Done, p 84-5

20 time management rules

These are 20 rules of time management I picked up from Edwin Bliss’s excellent 1970’s Time Management classic called Getting Things Done.

  1. When filing,  remember that a few fat files work better than a lot of thin ones.
  2. When you stuff up, don’t say “If only“;  say  “Next time.
  3. Finish what you start. Don’t accumulate a long list of unfinished projects.
  4. Read selectively. You can waste a lot of time reading.
  5. Protect prime time. There are times when you think better than other times — use that time well.
  6. Start the day off with your most unpleasant task on your to-do list. That way, you’ll feel wonderful for the rest of the day, knowing you’ve got your most dreaded chore out of the way.
  7. Schedule large chunks of time for the important things and control interruptions.
  8. Reduce your commute time –or your wasted commute time.
  9. Create positive tension e.g.  set yourself deadlines, go public with your goals, invite others to evaluate your work, enter friendly competitions with others, etc.
  10. Break all tasks down to bite-sized pieces ( Bliss call this the salami technique).
  11. Plan before starting anything. Think:  “Is there a better way to do this?”
  12. Conduct post-mortems after projects. Ask yourself “How would I done this better. What will I do next time?”
  13. Identify mental blocks and use the salami technique to break the obstacle down into tiny pieces.
  14. Remember to pat yourself on the back whenever you do something well.
  15. Give very specific instructions. People can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell them precisely what you want.
  16. Learn to touch-type and use voice-recognition software.
  17. Replace neurotic perfectionism with the more practical concept of “good enough”.
  18. Learn to “focus like a laser”.
  19. Say “no” more often; make fewer promises.
  20. Use the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) to identify your most likely high-yield activities and allocate lots of time to those activities.

    Time management jokes

    Funny jokes:

    The first-grader asked his mother why Daddy brought home a briefcase full of papers every evening.

    She explained, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office and has to work nights.

    Well, then,” said the child, “why don’t they just put him in a slower group?

    From Edwin Bliss’s wonderful time-management book Getting Things Done

    Funny one-liners:

    It is astonishing  how long it takes to finish something you’re not working on.

    By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.
    ~Robert Frost

    However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
    ~Winston Churchill

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.
    ~W. C. Fields

    If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: “meetings.”
    ~Dave Barry

    Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow.
    I know that I should stop it. In fact, I will–tomorrow!

    ~Gloria Pitzer

    Time Management Tips

    1. If you have special instructions for a job, don’t write them down. In fact, save them until the job is almost done.
    2. If a job I do pleases you, keep it a secret.
    3. If you give me more than one job to do, don’t tell me which is priority. I am psychic.
    4. Do your best to keep me late. I adore this office.
    5. Never give me work in the morning. Always wait until 4:00 and then bring it to me. The challenge of a deadline is refreshing.
    6. If it’s really a rush job, run in and interrupt me every 10 minutes to inquire how it’s going. That helps.
    7. Wait until my yearly review and then tell me what my goals should have been.

    What are some good time-management questions to ask myself?


    When dealing with a crisis:

    “How can I prevent this crisis from happening again?”

    After finishing something:

    “What did I do right? What would I do differently next time?” (Brian Tracy)

    At the start of the day:

    “What are the three most important things for me to do today?”

    “What things can I do today that could make a big difference?”

    Many times throughout the day:

    “Is this the best way to spend my time right now?”

    “What is the best way to spend the next 10 minutes?”

    “If I had to do this task in half the time, what short-cuts could I take?”

    “Why am I doing this?”

    Clarifying objectives and priorities:

    “Why am I doing this? What am I trying to accomplish? Is there a better way?”

    When reading something:

    “Is this the best way I could be spending my time right now?”

    “How can I use this information?”

    When a subordinate raises a problem and asks you what to do:

    “What do you think we should do?”

    When someone phones or drops by and you want them to get to the point:

    “What can I do for you?” (Getting straight to the point.)

    “I’m working to a deadline right now. Can I call you later?”

    When you’re not doing something because of fear:

    “What’s the worst that can happen? Can I handle that?”

    When you’re not doing something because it’s difficult or chucky:

    “What’s the next tiny step that can get me closer to my goal?”

    “How can I break this down into bite-sized pieces?”

    “What else can I try?”

    “Who can help me?”

    While working on a project:

    “Is this working out? Is there a better way?”

    When you’ve completed one bit of a project:

    “What’s the next action?”

    When you’re requesting someone to do something:

    “Have I spelled out exactly what I want this person to do?”

    At poorly run meetings that are not action-focused:

    “Before we move on, what have we decided to do  about this [agenda item]?”

    How can I organize myself to get more things done?

    Answer:  Apply David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method. Watch these videos for ideas:

    People showing how they’ve applied David Allen’s “Getting Things” Done method: