By Younas Chaudhary
Until 19 years old, I had little respect for time. The culture was so laidback in Pakistan that if we invited someone for a dinner at 7 pm, they would most likely come around 9 pm. And there would be no apologies for the tardiness.
However, when I joined the Pakistani Army in 1971, I learned how important time was in our lives. The Army academy taught me discipline and punctuality. If I was told to be outside on the field grounds at 0500 hours (military time), I would be there all decked out in full uniform. I adopted this habit, and it has given me dividends throughout my life.
I am an early riser and even now, I still wake up before 6 am. I am usually not thrilled when certain Pakistani friends invite me to meet at a certain time, because I know that nine times out of ten, they will be late, saying they are “following Pakistani time.” This annoys me, because punctuality has now been ingrained in me, and I dislike it when someone comes late.
Characteristically, if we call a Pakistani for a dinner or a wedding, most likely they will not come on time. But conversely, if an American invites us, we will be there exactly on time or even early.
As I look back in life, I can recall many opportunities that I missed because of poor punctuality. But at least I believe there was a reason behind each one; looking back years later, I realize that God did that to give me something better in the future.
The reality is that time whizzes past us, and we do not have the opportunity to rewind. Many of us waste time, and this impacts our productivity. I truly believe certain coworkers do not have time management skills.
We have an abundance of work opportunities in the USA, but most people do not take the time to improve their lives and take advantage of them. Often, I encounter people who fail to appear for interviews on time, who do not do their assigned tasks on time, and who are classic time wasters who like water cooler talk but do not want to do anything productive. Yet being on time is the beginning of a trusting relationship.
I am semi-retired now, but during my working years, I always reached the office at 7 am sharp, leading some people to characterize me as a workaholic. I think a more accurate characterization was merely that I was disciplined and consistent in my habits, because I valued the priorities of my company. In addition, it set an example for my fellow coworkers, and in time most started emulating my behavior.
Today, we have so many workplace distractions. According to Carl Newport, who wrote the bestselling book, “Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World,” continuously monitoring your email inbox prevents deep work and causes a person to do what Newport calls “shallow work.”
In addition, the distractions on the Internet make us lose focus, but we should remember that we have excellent calendar systems that can keep us on track. Even still, we waste a lot of time on meaningless social media applications that provide no rational benefit given our company’s priorities for gaining value.
To manage your time effectively, you must be self-disciplined. Do not browse your social media accounts when you are at work; instead, do deep work—the work that is aligned to the priorities of the company and that is otherwise meaningful to your work.
Another of our biggest time wasters is long meetings. We spend a lot of time calling useless meetings with very little purpose and essentially no agenda, and these hurt our productivity and undercut the profitability of the company.
I have found that to be successful, you should concentrate most of your time—at least 70 percent—on your top priorities. You need to constantly remind yourself about this and write a weekly list of your ongoing top priorities. For example, if we operate 100 oil wells, my biggest concern will be identifying the 15 poorest-performing wells and troubleshooting them to restore them to profitable production. I will also closely monitor the 15 best-performing wells to keep tabs on my money-makers. But I will not spend much time on the 70 wells in the middle.
I use simple and precise tactics when managing my time. Most of my meetings are quick stand-up meetings where I meet the managers with a specific list of items to do. I also go to my managers’ offices and talk with them face-to-face about specific ongoing tasks and specific pending issues. I follow up these meetings with succinct emails recapping the meetings’ action points. This saves everyone’s time and leads to better results.
Here are a few tips to manage time:
- Understand clearly that time is a limited resource.
- Have a daily schedule with a list of tasks to do. Try to stick to it.
- Use your time for the high-priority tasks that are essential to the success of your business.
- Time is money and treat it as a valuable resource that should not be wasted.
- Use a timer and evaluate how much time you spend on certain tasks.
- Make sure you stick to and honor your deadlines.
- Do not waste time on unnecessary distractions.
- During office hours, engage in the deep work that you are most comfortable with.
- Limit social media use when you are engaging in valuable deep work.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.