Know Thy Time

Start with your time, not your tasks.

Peter Drucker was arguably the most brilliant management thinker in history.

Wrote 39 books. Consulted people like GE’s Jack Welch and Intel’s Andy Grove. Created and coined terms like "outsourcing", "management by objectives", and "knowledge workers".

My favorite chapter of his timeless book "The Effective Executive" is the second one, titled "Know Thy Time". The idea is simple: Our biggest constraint is not capital, expertise, or people - but time.

Most discussions of how to increase our effectiveness and make more without working more start with the idea of planning and prioritizing tasks. This sounds right, but doesn't works - our plans are rarely put into practice.

For Drucker, effective executives don't start with their actions - but with their time. Instead of listing tasks, they list their time. Where is it going? What is not worth my time and can be cut back, so I have time for what really matters?

Here are some of my favorite passages.

Time as your most valuable resource:

Effective executives know that time is the limiting factor. The output limits of any process are set by the scarcest resource. In the process we call "accomplishment," this is time. (...) Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for time.

Effective work takes time:

To spend a few minutes with people is simply not productive. If one wants to get anything across, one has to spend a fairly large minimum quantum of time. The manager who thinks that he can discuss the plans, direction, and performance of one of his subordinates in fifteen minutes—and many managers believe this—is just deceiving himself. If one wants to get to the point of having an impact, one needs probably at least an hour and usually much more. And if one has to establish a human relationship, one needs infinitely more time.

Space for deep work:

Even one quarter of the working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done. But even three quarters of the working day are useless if they are only available as 15 minutes here and half an hour there.

The book was written in 1967, but all of this continues to be true. Trying to optimize our time and do more with less doesn't work. And technology might have actually made the situation worse.

How well are you managing your time? Do you know if you're using it right?

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