Summary of ‘Time management’, by Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch’s lecture on time management is, in my opinion, the best presentation on productivity techniques ever recorded. I have watched the talk at least half a dozen times, I learned something new and important on each occasion. The summary below leaves out the funny jokes and engaging stories, focusing exclusively on the actionable bits of advice.

  • The talk addresses the following topics:
    • How to set goals.
    • How to avoid wasting time.
    • How to deal with your boss.
    • How to delegate.
    • How to handle stress and procrastination
  • Americans are very bad at dealing with time.  By contrast, they are very good at dealing with money.
    • But time and money are very similar.  A key question to ask is, “Who much is an hour of your time worth?”  Knowing this figure is very helpful for making decisions involving trade-offs, such as whether you should do something yourself or pay someone else to do it instead. Think about time and money as if they are almost the same thing.
    • So time, like money, needs to be managed.
  • The talk borrows heavily from the following books:
  • The problem of “time famine” is systemic, just as the problem of African famine is.  As such, it requires long-term interventions that target underlying fundamental processes.
  • Time management is ultimately about living a more enriching, fulfilling life.  It’s about having more fun.
  • Being successful doesn’t make you manage your time well. Managing your time well makes you successful.  Someone who is less skilled could still be more successful by developing the relevant metaskills: the skills to optimize whatever skills you do have.
  • Every time you are about to spend time doing something, ask yourself:
    • Why am I doing this? What is the goal?
    • Why will I succeed?
    • What happens if I chose not to do it?
  • Don’t focus on doing things right.  Focus instead on doing the right things.
  • Keep a list of the things you want to accomplish, and whenever you catch yourself not doing something that will get you closer to one of those goals, ask yourself why you are doing it.
  • 80% of your value results from 20% of your input, so focus on this 80%, work hard at it, and ignore the rest.
  • Planning is critical, and must be done at multiple levels: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
    • Yes, you will have to change the plan, but you can’t change your plan unless you have one.  And having a plan that is subject to change is much better than having no plan at all.
  • Keys to having a working to-do list:
    • Break down projects into small tasks.
    • Do the ugliest thing first.
    • Tackle important, non-urgent tasks before you tackle unimportant, urgent ones.
  • It’s crucial to keep your desk clear, since it’s then much easier to process anything that lands on it.
    • Touch each piece of paper only once. Apply this same principle to email.
  • A filing system is absolutely essential. Have a single designated place where all papers are stored.
  • Use multiple monitors. The cost is trivial.
  • Have a calendar.  Even if you can keep commitments in your mind, you’d be using up scarce brain space.
  • Rules for using the telephone:
    • Always stand when talking on on the phone.  This will motivate you to keep your calls short.
    • Start your calls by announcing your goals. “Sue, this is Randy. I’m calling you because I have three things I want to get done.”
    • Have something on your desk that you are interested in doing next, so that you are not tempted to talk for longer than necessary.
    • Call people just before lunchtime.  They’ll be eager to eat, and as a result they will keep the conversation short.
  • Things to have on your desk
    • Speakerphone. You’ll be able to do other stuff while waiting on the phone.
    • Headset.  You’ll be able to use the phone while doing other stuff (e.g. exercising).
    • Address stamper.
    • Box of Kleenex
    • Stack of thank-you cards.
      • Thank-you notes are very important: they are a tangible way of telling people how much you appreciate them, and they are so rarely used that people will remember you.
    • Recycling bin.  Use it for papers only.  Since it will take weeks to fill up, you can recover papers recently thrown out by mistake.
    • Notepad.
    • Post-it notes.
  • Alternative systems may work for you.  But you do need to think about what does work for you.
  • Make your office comfortable for you, but optionally comfortable for others. E.g., have foldable chairs, which you can unfold only for guests whom you must meet for sufficiently long periods.
  • Consider the opportunity cost of doing things.  Every time you do something unimportant, you are not doing something important instead.
    • Learn to say No.  A useful formula: “I’ll do it if nobody else steps forward.”
  • Find your creative time and defend it ruthlessly. Match your energy levels to the effort different tasks require.
  • Minimize the frequency and length of interruptions.  Each interruption takes about 12 minutes of your time on average.
    • Turn off email notifications.
    • Say “I’m in the middle of something right now” or “I only have five minutes”.  If you want, you can extend that time later.
    • If someone just won’t leave, walk to the door, compliment them, thank them, and shake their hand.
  • Keep a time journal. Don’t wait until the end to complete it; update it regularly throughout the day.
    • A time journal gives you valuable information about how you spend your time, allow you to identify tasks that
      • you can delegate to somebody else
      • you can do more efficiently
      • are particularly important or unimportant
  • If you have a gap between two appointments, create a “fake appointment” and spend that time productively.
  • Be efficient, not effective. What matters is the overall outcome.
  • Doing things at the last minute is really expensive.
    • If you have something that isn’t due for a long time, make up a fake deadline and act like it’s real.
    • Identify the underlying psychological reason why you are procrastinating about something.
      • Fear of embarrassment.
      • Fear of failure.
      • Anxiety about asking someone for something.
  • How to delegate:
    • You grant authority with responsibility.
    • Do the ugliest job yourself.
    • Treat your people well.
    • Be specific
      • A specific task
      • A specific time
      • A specific penalty or reward
    • Challenge your people
    • Have a written record
    • Make it clear which tasks are the most important
  • How to deal with others:
    • Reinforce behavior that you want repeated: praise and thank people.
    • If you don’t want things to be delegated back to you, don’t learn how to do them!
    • Meetings:
      • People should be fully present
      • They shouldn’t last more than an hour
      • There should always be an agenda
      • Keep one-minute minutes.
  • How to deal with email
    • Don’t delete past messages.
    • Don’t send requests to a group of people; email people individually.
    • If people don’t respond within 48 hours, it’s okay to nag them.
  • If you have a boss,
    • write things down
    • ask them
      • when is your next meeting with them
      • what things they want to be done by when
      • who can you turn for help
    • remember that your boss wants a result, not an excuse
  • General advice on vacations:
    • Callers should get two options
      • “I’m not at the office, but contact x”
      • “Call back when I’m back”
    • It’s not a vacation if you are reading email
  • General advice:
    • Kill your television.
    • Turn money into time.
      • E.g., pay someone to mow your lawn.
    • Above all else, make sure you eat, sleep and exercise enough.
    • Never break a promise, but renegotiate it if need be.
    • Recognize that most things are pass/fail.
    • Get feedback.
  • Time is all we have, and one day you may find that you have less than you think.
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  • aldentas

    I just watched the video and wanted to find some notes to highlight for the next month. Thanks a lot for writing this up, Pablo!