The first commandment

They’ll search out the offers and discounts in the supermarket. After a meal with friends, rather than splitting the bill down the middle, they’ll do an item-by-item break down. It’s not fair for them to pay for anything other than the exact thing they had. They’ll go into shock if you drop a few hundred on books or courses. But then, later that week, they’ll tell you about a crazy night where they spent just as much in the club.

What do these people have in common? They’re conscious of how they spend their money. They aren’t willing to spend it on anything they deem to be superfluous. 

But here’s the thing. The people who are tightest with their money are the ones who spend their time most recklessly. They are the ones who squander it on things that don’t matter.

I started Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive whilst I was on a train out of London. It was about six o’clock in the evening. Around me were individuals in creased suits, with pale skin and lined faces. This passage is from the second chapter titled “Know Thy Time.”

“Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time. Finally they consolidate their ‘discretionary’ time into the largest possible continuing units. This three-step process:

– recording time;
– managing time; and 
– consolidating time

is the foundation of executive effectiveness.
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.”

Recording time – We monitor our cash flow. We dutifully log our expenses. We keep watch over our bank accounts. We exhort ourself to not be wasteful with our money. But we’ll do none of these things with our time. We’ll spend it and have no idea where it goes. We’ll give the important and the inconsequential the same amounts of our most precious currency. If we could hire a time accountant, they’d quickly reveal to us how ineffectual our use of time truly is.

Managing time – Calendars. To-do lists. Reminders. Alarms. Apps. These are all things we use to help us manage our time. But behind all these tools and techniques lies a collection of questions: Why am I doing this? Should I be doing this? Is this the best possible deployment of my time? The technique or trick doesn’t matter. Answering these questions is the only thing that will allow you to get the most from what you have least of.

Consolidating time – You’ve cut out low leverage activities and redirected that time to high leverage ones. The final step is to craft your day so that instead of having twenty minutes here, an hour there, thirty minutes after lunch, you have chunks. High leverage activities typically require deep thinking. They require you to grasp complex issues and understand the many factors at play. To do that, you need more than twenty minutes. You need periods of uninterrupted time in which you can immerse yourself in the activity.

Doing all of the above sounds like a lot of work. And you’re right. It is. But what would you rather? Continue squandering your time on useless causes? Have it drain away to who-knows-where and due to who-knows-what? Never be able to do deep work because you can’t find a stretch of time long enough to get into an activity?

Do the hard work and make the tough decisions about your time right now. Spend some time today so that you may have more in the future.