Saturday, May 31, 2008

Time Management from a Professor with Three Months to Live

I've been tremendously inspired recently by a lecture by the
computer science professor Randy Pausch called the Last Lecture - which it
almost literally is, since he is dying of pancreatic cancer. But before
putting up some of his life advice from that, even more core to the
purporse of this blog is a wonderful talk he gave about time
management, also after he was diagnosed (skip the first 8 minutes of

Here are my notes from watching this, mostly to jog my own memory, but if
you don't have time to watch the whole talk you might be able to get some
ideas out of it. But I just wrote down a few of the items of maximum
surprise to me - you will probably pull different things out of it, so its
well worth watching, and fun too. One gratifying aspect is that he's
obviously absorbed Getting Things Done - its telltale signature shows up
in a couple of places.


If you're going to have to run with people who are faster than you, you
are going to have to find the right ways to optimize the skills you do

I think it's very dangerous to focus on doing things right. It's more
important to think about doing the right things. If you do the right
things adequately, that's much more important than doing the wrong things

You can always change your plan, but only once you *have one*!

On a to-do list, do the ugliest one first.

Do the important/due soon items first - but then, instead of doing the
unimportant/due soon items next, do the important/not due soon items next.

Touch each piece of paper once.

Have multiple monitors. "I could go from 3 to 2, but I could not go back
to 1." (compares to working on a airplane foldout tray) Left monitor is
todo list, middle is email inbox, right monitor is calendar. Then just one
project on the desk.

Use a speakerphone for when you're placed on hold.

Stand during phone calls (so that they will be brisk). Start by announcing
goals for the call. "I have 3 things I want to talk to you about." Trick
for getting off the phone: "I'd love to keep talking, but I have some
students waiting." Don't call people when you have work you're avoiding;
for the same reason, call people before lunch and at the end of the day so
they have a motivation not to chat for a long time. Headsets are a good
idea too so you can do other things.

Write physical thank-you notes, not just for obvious things like gifts.
Put a stack from the dollar store on your desk.

I can't live without post-it notes.

Don't put comfy chairs in your office, except for yourself. He put folding
chairs in his office against the wall, so conversations would be standing
unless he graciously opened one.

Gentle "no"s: "If nobody else steps forward, I will do this for you"
Moving: "Hmm, that sounds like an 8 person job. If you give me the names
of 7 other people, I'll do this for you."

Find your creative time and defend it ruthlessly. Spend it alone, at home
if you have to. Find your dead time, schedule meetings, exercise, stuff
where you don't need to be at your best.

Find ways to make interruptions shorter and less frequent: emails rather
than phonecalls. His phone routes to a message that says "please send me
email" When someone interrupts you, say first of all "I'm in the middle
of something right now." or "I only have 5 minutes" (followed by "Well I
said at the beginning I only had 5 minutes and I really have to go now")
For people who don't leave, you get up, you walk to the door, you
compliment them, you thank them, and you shake their hand. If they still
don't get the hint, just go through that doorway yourself. Clock on the
wall, so you're not checking your watch.

Time journals. Monitor yourself in 15 minute increments for between 3 days
and two weeks. Update every 1/2 hour, not at end of day. Categories on
graph paper, make ticks. What am I doing that I could delegate, what don't
I need to do, what could I do more efficiently, how am I wasting someone
elses time.

For time that is hard to deal with, like a 1 hour block between classes,
make up a fake class: Go to a specific place in the library with your

The time to aim for is right before the deadline; right at the deadline
has a lot of unnecessary costs (e.g. fedexing it). Make up a fake
deadline. Two reasons for procrastination: I'm afraid I'm going to be
embarassed because I don't do it well, and I'm afraid I'm going to fail at

The right way to delegate: give them authority with responsibility. Give
them everything they're going to need: budget, time, etc, so they don't
have to keep coming back. Always do the ugliest job yourself. SPECIFIC
thing to do, SPECIFIC date *and* time, and a SPECIFIC penalty or reward,
for THEM. Delegate until they complain. Underdelegation is a bigger
problem. Followup meetings with two-line emails restating stuff (like
agreements). Give them objectives, not procedures. Tell people the
relative importance of various tasks. Dodge upward delegation: don't learn
how to do selected things.

Meetings should have an agenda (if there's not an agenda I won't attend),
never more than 1 hour. Someone designated the scribe, in one minute write
down what was decided and delegated, and email it out to everyone ("one
minute minutes")

If the person hasn't responded to email in 48 hours, it's ok to nag them.

When on vacation, have a message that says either "call this guy to get
your problem solved" or "call me back when I get back." It's not a
vacation if you're reading email.

Turn money into time at every opportunity. Hire people to do things.

Never break a promise, but renegotiate if necessary (before the deadline).

Most things are pass/fail. It doesn't have to be that good.

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