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Years ago I took a Stephen Covey seminar from the man himself on time management. He told us a lovely story that afternoon which I remember to this day. He spoke about a professor who came into his classroom with a huge empty jar. "We are going to fill this up!" he told his students. Then he proceeded to put some very large rocks in the jar. When no more would fit he asked the students if the jar was "full."

"Oh Yes!" they replied. But they were wrong! The professor then took out some smaller rocks and slipped those into the jar.

"How about now?" he asked the students, "Is the jar full?"

"Oh yes," they replied, because it didn't look like there was room for another rock. But they were wrong. Next the professor took out handfuls of pebbles and started to pour them into the jar.

"How about now?" he asked again, "Is the jar full." By this time some of the students were on to him and were reluctant to reply. "You are right," he admitted, "The jar is NOT full." The professor then put the jar under the faucet and filled the jar with water. Now every remaining space in the jar was taken. Now the jar was full! "So what does that teach us?" The professor asked the students.

"That we can do more than we expected?" suggested a student.

The professor clarified with a useful time management skill. "It teaches us, we have to get the 'big' rocks in first." Meaning, if you do not do the most important things first, the ones that will affect other projects down the road, you have not prioritized your time well. You will find yourself constantly treading water and floundering. Especially in a business environment, you may notice while it doesn't seem like there is time to do things correctly, there is somehow always enough time to correct once and expensive mistake has been made.

Once upon a time when msmuffintop had an afternoon job, she worked at a company that sold motorcycle parts and accessories. She was the shipper. She noticed the people who built the website had not charged enough for shipping, and felt the algorithm should be corrected. "We don't have time! We don't have time!" complained the employees who were building the website. They were reacting to the complaints from management, the people who signed paychecks, who wanted to see ten thousand items up for sale on the website.

So there was never time to fix the shipping estimate. On each air filter sold the company lost a couple dollars. Although the wholesale discount was huge, the cost to ship it, plus pay employees, plus list the item for sale altogether was more than the money being collected. When msmuffintop explained this anomaly to management, they scoffed. "We have a 20 per cent profit margin to work with," management explained. None the less, paypal was taking a cut, shipping was at a loss, there were final value fees and the time and cost of having employees answer questions. The stuff was not selling itself.

Of course a few dollars loss per item wasn't noticeable when the company was doing well. Msmuffintop noticed there were other items where the shipping was so off an extra twenty dollars was being collected. While this was charming in an up market, in a recession, buyers consider the cost of shipping. Three years after telling everyone her concerns, msmuffintop found herself laid off. Why? The company wasn't making any money! How much time would it have taken to correct the shipping algorithm? Apparently the cost of doing business.

Another free time management tool lies in decision making. My former boss at the insurance brokerage I worked at told me in the choice between "urgent" and "important" chose "important" every time. Important has long term consequences, and "urgent" is just that. Sometime people would ask me to sign things, and they were in such a hurry they didn't want me to read it. Remembering the sage advice of my former boss, I read contracts one hundred per cent of the time. Guess what? Sometimes they end up being things I don't want to sign anyway.

My former husband found himself guilty of a felony for not reading a contract. While he was married to another wife she was on welfare, aid to dependent families. He thought it was odd she still qualified after they were married. "Its fine," she assured him, "as long as you sign this paper." So he signed it, without reading what it said, only to be convicted of welfare fraud, rightly so in my opinion. After all, why should the rest of us taxpayers pay for that woman to own a horse, and live the life of leisure, if her husband was supporting the family on an electrician's wages? There are needy people in the world, many of them children, who don't even have enough food who have trouble receiving aid for reasons like they lack a permanent address.

In order to understand what is the most important thing to do, you ought to consider the whole scope of the operation. For example, in your personal life if you have chose between your career and a relationship, you may well chose career if you are young. Laying the right foundation is what will enable you to retire one day. However, if you have children, the priorities are different. Children are only small once and for such a short time. If you miss that period, you won't get it back, at least not with those children. Starting over with a second family may seem like a good option, except you never really get to wipe the slate clean. The original children are still out there, often moody and spiteful over the loss of their family. This affects the second family, even if it stays intact.

So in time management often the most important five minutes is the first five minutes which you spend considering what to do before you start.