A major league batter has approximately two-fifths of a second from the time a baseball leaves the pitcher's hand until it reaches home plate. In that split second, the batter must attempt to gauge speed, trajectory and placement of the pitch.
Those batters who can do it well enough to hit safely three out of 10 at bats become millionaires. Those who are a millisecond slower and can do it only two out of 10 times have to find another way to make a living.
Companies and their employees face similar challenges. They may have a little more time to deal with their problems, but if they expect to stay in the game, they have to be able to make rapid adjustments. Fortunes are made and lost by those who disregard the importance and power of time.
People have been talking about time for centuries. Proof positive is this excerpt from a book titled “Zadig or the Book of Fate,” by the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire: “Of all the things in the world, which is the longest and shortest, the quickest and the slowest, the most divisible and the most extensive, the most disregarded and the most regretted, without which nothing can happen, which devours everything that is little, and gives life everything that is great?
“The answer is time. Nothing is longer, since it is the measure of eternity. Nothing is shorter, since it is lacking in all our plans. Nothing is slower for him who waits. Nothing is quicker for him who enjoys. It extends to the infinitely little. All men disregard it. All men regret the loss of it. Nothing happens without it. It makes forgotten everything unworthy of posterity, and it immortalizes the great things.”
I have a saying that I’ve often used: Killing time isn’t murder; it’s suicide. We all start out in life with one thing in common; we all have the same amount of time each day, each week, each month and each year. Now it’s just a matter of what we do with it.
Questions that I am repeatedly asked are: How can I get everything done with so many interruptions, distractions and shifting responsibilities? What’s the trick to prioritizing? Where’s the balance between work and personal time?
My primary advice is to first get organized -- really, really organized. I don’t mean just tidying up your desk, although that might be useful for some. I’m talking about defining your immediate needs and long-term goals, and planning your time to accommodate both.
Start with a daily planner. Electronic or paper, it doesn’t matter. Choose a system that gives you at least one page per day, and then make sure you pay attention to the commitments. If a distraction is going to put you off-schedule more than a few minutes, either reschedule your prior commitment as soon as possible or plug the new item into the planner.
Then get rid of your to-do list. Why? Because there is a better way to use it. Transfer the items to a particular time and day in your daily planner. You’ll be amazed at how much your stress level goes down and how much you accomplish when you actually schedule a specific time to achieve certain things.
Give each item on your calendar your full attention during the assigned time. Don’t multitask when you deal with people. It seldom pays off. Whether talking on the phone or in face-to-face conversations, make the other person your top priority. Don’t page through your email or texts, or shuffle papers when you’re talking to someone. Make sure that your communication is clear and focused, which will reduce the need for clarification and other time-wasters in the future. Before you sign off, make sure you have a mutual understanding of next steps and make note of deadlines, which you will naturally add to your calendar.
Reserve enough time so that you don’t have to rush through things or do them over, which is a giant waste of time. Taking your time can sometimes be the best use of your time. Give your brain time to reboot and reprogram for the next challenge.
Finally, once a project is completed, let it go. Channel your precious minutes and hours into the next big (or small) item that demands your attention.
Mackay’s Moral: The race against time is a marathon; never stop training!