If ever a survey were to be conducted to find out the most common excuse for not doing a particular thing, “I don’t have the time” is likely to be the winner all hands down. Unless the activity in question does not come with a do-by-date deadline most other activities often suffer from the above excuse. Let us do an exercise. Without quoting the above excuse, spare a few minutes to look back at your last week. How many times have you not done something that you either wanted to or had an opportunity but never did it because you thought you didn’t have the time? I will for our understanding leave out activities which depends on the cooperation of multiple people and concentrate on us, the individual.
A confession. This note was triggered by a few Tweepals and friends who wondered how I got the time to write these frequent notes given the work pressure, constant travel et el that my work envisaged. I will not indulge in any meaningless bilge like “passion for writing” as the reason and narrow down to the core of the question, Time. The most quoted corroborator for the ‘no time’ excuse is our work. Earning bread or studies being the partner-in-crime. So to further facilitate the easy understanding of the issue under discussion, let us stick to one area of our primary activity, work in my case. And since waiting for you to look back would be time consuming, let me as usual volunteer.
I take you back to the time when I started my career as a frontline sales officer with a territory which comprised of about 20 cities in East India. As you would have guessed this gave me enough reasons to constantly crib about the lack of time and the resultant heart burn. Trains or buses running behind schedule, lack of connectivity between cities, natural calamities like landslides, floods or manmade ones like flash bandhs/hartals etc. And finally the more mundane ones like the slow business sentiments conspiring with the elements to force multiple visits to a customer, unforeseen engagements of the client like an accident or a death or simply a big queue of suppliers ahead of you to meet the customer. The more I ran the more I was behind schedule and soon I resembled a sleepless zombie, a lost ant. A natural sense of irritation graduated to a sense of victimhood, the visible target of the rage being the company who had possibly given me the quarterly target to be achieved in a month. Simply put 48 hours was not enough time in day for me. And naturally my work suffered and my hobbies lay buried.
I was I must confess very fortunate to work with a mentor at a time when ‘Bosses’ were in vogue. The mentor in question post a routine review meeting held me back for a chat. I stayed back with trepidation assuming the pink slip was about to be served. He gave me not the slip as I feared but a few sheets with columns printed on them titled ‘Time Table’. No, not a new schedule or a reworked Permanent Journey Plan, PJP in Salesmenspeak but blank sheets, but for the columns a La ‘XL’ sheet with the cells bordered. I was advised to fill the exact time taken by me on each activity. Note, all activities. Most obscure ones to the most important. Work related and otherwise. In short map my time, every minute of it, for one week. The only note of caution thrown at me was to log every activity sincerely along with an assurance that no negative action would be taken based on this exercise. Out of a combination of curiosity and fear of reprisal, I started to jot down every minute, every second of my life for the next seven days. And then on the prescribed day presented the same to my mentor.
I was asked to read out aloud the log of all my action from the moment I entered the office to the end of office hours and the time I spent doing them. As I started to read aloud the words jumped at me. It took me eight minutes to travel the distance of 30ft from the office entrance to my seat. I overshot every tea break by about 13 minutes and lunch break by another 14, there were on an average 7 smoke breaks lasting 12 minutes each, colleagues dropping in for a casual chit-chat into the cabin and vice versa about 22 minutes, 7 minutes was spent on loo breaks and 10 minutes was consumed on pack up. I was told to calculate the time overruns and spent on ‘unproductive’ work. He of course was gracious enough to concede that the ‘loo break’ need not be categorized as either. The next 10 minutes was spent on a discussion, he talking and me listening. I was given a few guru mantra which I share with you now:
1. Identify the wastage of resources, in this case time.
2. Reduce the wastage and with practice eradicate it.
3. Resources saved are resources earned, redeploy the same productively.
4. Keep a tight leash on controllable factors through discipline.
5. Be aware and be prepared for the possible uncontrollable ones.
6. Spread this process among those who play a role leading to wastage of your resources.