Friday, August 1, 2003

Your Time is Up

Your Time is Up
By Narendra Luther

Economists of the classical school, like J.B. Say and Marshall, listed three factors of production: Land, Labour and Capital. They did not seem to have recognized that these operate under the overarching constraint of another factor - Time. Modern management experts have underscored the crucial role of Time.

Time has two contradictory characteristics. By itself, it is unlimited. But for each one of us it is limited. All of us are busy trying to kill time, but in the end, time will kill us. Of the various resource that we employ in any productive activity, time is the only on which is inflexible. Land – traditionally considered ‘fixed’-- can be acquired. Not time. Banks pay and charge interest for time. Most of our replies to letters begin with the standard apology; I did not get time earlier. Actually, it was there all the time. You did not take care to take it. It takes only few minutes to reply to any letter.

An Inflexible Resource

For most jobs, we are given deadlines. Time-overruns carry a penalty because time gone is an opportunity lost. Teachers of modern business management emphasize the value of time. Time is important not only in business; it is equally important in our private life.

Another advice dinned into our ears is to prioritize. That is necessary again because as the poet said, ‘art is long and time is short’, implying the necessity of prioritization.’ First things first’ formula is important because later things run the risk of being left out—for want of time.

Recently I read an interesting and instructive story. A man made an offer to give $86,400 to a person. There was only one condition. He must spend it within 24 hours. Now the man had numerous ideas about the things he wanted to acquire. But he was not ready to splurge the amount in such a short time. He thought of what he needed most. So, this constraint of time forced him to prepare a list of his priorities.

This happens to all of us all the time – everyday. There are 86,400 seconds in a day of 24 hours. We have to decide what to do with them. If we cannot make up our mind, that gift is lost forever. If one were to think of it, one would be surprised at the amount of loss we have suffered already.

So, planning our time is a very important. All our other achievement are dependent on that. Nothing can be done unless we allocate time to it. The goals of life are to be set considering that we have limited time. Napoleon observed in his Maxims that ‘ there is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time’.

Your Own Time

First decision is how much time you are willing to allocate to your work. The general division is eight hours each for work, eating, and sleep respectively. Depending upon your age, health, and goals, you will have to modify the allocation. Napoleon said that man needed five hours, woman six, and child seven for sleep. Only fools needed more than that. But he was an exception who could sleep on horseback. We are lucky. We have the luxury of cars and it is far more comfortable to sleep in them provided you are not driving. Once an allocation has been made, the problem of managing that time will crop up. Most of us leave our time management at the mercy of others. A friend drops in without appointment and sheer good manners will force you to let him steal your time. It is assumed that if you are at home you are free. A friend of mine asked another mutual friend if he was at home in the evening. Yes, he replied. ‘Then I will drop in at six’, said our friend. ‘No’ he replied, ‘I have an appointment at that time’.
’Appointment with whom?’ asked the other friend.

‘With myself’, he said calmly.

He was the only Indian I have met who had the courage to say that. After all an appointment with oneself is mores important than with anybody else. But we assume that if you are alone you are doing nothing -- and are available!

Modern Techniques

In a rough sort of way, most of us do some time-management. A cooking range provides four burners. That is because a housewife cooks some dishes simultaneously, or according to the time taken by them, in a certain sequence. If there were only one burner, she would be forced to cook the dishes consecutively and waste a lot of her time. A coking range enables her to do her own intuitive analysis, work out sequencing, and cut down the cooking time. When you have to do a number of things, you try to take them up in such a way that you save time by bundling them as far as possible. Management experts have formalized them into what they call Programme Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) and prepare a Critical Path Method (CPM). These methods are employed in major jobs like erection of a steel plant, which entails a multitude of activities. They help managers to sequence activities so as to optimize the use of resources. It helps them to decide whether steel should be ordered before cement has arrived and so on. On a micro level, these techniques can be consciously applied to our daily routine. In the ladder of evolution, external discipline precedes self-discipline. Many persons are excellent managers when it comes to official work. That is because they are required to observe rules laid down by others, at the risk of losing their job. The same efficient managers are often sloppy in their private affairs because of the absence of external discipline. Superior beings internalize discipline and learn to be answerable to themselves.

Two things arise from the above. We have to optimize the utilization of time. For that we have to learn not to place it at the mercy of others.

External Discipline

Here again ‘external’ aids help. If you sit down in your study at a fixed time regularly, after some time you will be automatically led to that room at the appointed time. Also, it helps to have different places for different types of activities. The dining room is not conducive to serious work. Nor is bedroom. Properly maintained, it should induce sleep, not activity.

Life can thus become orderly and its pattern conducive to optimum results. However, I must warn against the danger of a martinet existence. Too much regimentation is the enemy of creativity. My last word therefore would be that having ordered your life, introduce an element of occasional disorderliness to sample what is going on elsewhere. I believe that railway accidents happen sometime because the engine jumps off the fixed rails out of sheer boredom of routine. Avoid boredom – to yourself and others.


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