Time really is money | Sunday Observer

Time really is money

27 December, 2020

A friend approached me one evening and asked: “Can you run your eye through this short story in your free time?” I wondered for a moment whether there is a thing called “free time.” Even when I take a nap in the afternoon, that is leisure time – but not free time.

Time has different degrees of value depending on what you do with it. Doctors and other professionals have placed a premium on time. One day I was asked to interview a visiting foreign dignitary by my editor. When I rang him up he said he could give me only five minutes. I grabbed it because both of us knew the value of time.

On another occasion I wanted to interview the managing director of a leading company. When I phoned him he agreed to give me an interview while he was being driven to his office. These are only two occasions which forced me to take note of the value of time.

If you walk into some government offices, you will see many officers idling or engaged in swapping gossip over the phone. Their mobile phones ring continuously and they have hardly any time to do their official work. How many valuable man-hours are wasted in idle gossip? On the other hand, those who know the value of time, master time-saving tactics.


There are many things you can do to save time and make the maximum use of it. The first step is to establish priorities. Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief “Cosmopolitan,” always keeps an issue of the magazine on her desk. Why does she do so? Whenever she feels lazy to do any work, she invariably glances at the magazine. Then she is reminded of her duty and she gets back on track. Even a student should prepare a list of priorities. Otherwise he will mess up everything and achieve nothing in the end. When you have a sense of priority, you will find it easy to finish one job and start another immediately.

You cannot prepare a list of priorities in your mind. It has to be committed to writing. When I was a student I used to prepare a list of priorities every evening. The list contained ten to 15 things I had to do on the following day. I also had to review the progress every now and then throughout the day. According to Harold L. Taylor, a Canadian time-management expert, you should give each task a specific time slot. If you follow this procedure regularly, you will reap very good results.

When you prepare a priority list, you will have a problem of deciding which tasks are more important than others. To solve this problem, time-management experts have suggested a solution: Apply the 80/20 Rule. If you are a businessman, 80 percent of your business will come from 20 percent of your clients. Then it is easy to select the most important clients from the 20 percent category. William E. Moore, a man who sold paints in the United States, followed the 80/20 Rule to the letter and became a leading businessman.

Time-saving devices

If you are doing a job which requires you to write many routine letters to your clients, you have to adopt time-saving devices. Instead of writing personally, try to have a set of routine memos, letters and fact sheets in your computer. Some editors in the past (before the arrival of computers) had such readymade rejection slips, replies, acknowledgements and requests for donations.

When I started writing to the newspapers in the 1950s I used to collect the rejection slips sent by editors. Today the practice of sending rejection slips seems to have died down. The letters can be called up, copied and customized by changing a few words. If necessary you can add a handwritten note to give it a personal touch.

In the distant past journalists had to meet their sources to get a story. As there were no mobile phones, sometimes they found it extremely difficult to track down their sources. Today with the mobile phone you can approach your source anytime anywhere. The telephone has become a time-saving device. Reporters ring up police stations, hospitals and fire brigade early in the morning to get their stories. However, if you are using a phone, get right to the point without talking about the weather. In fact the art of mastering time on the telephone is a skill which has to be taught and learned by everybody. If the person you called is busy at the moment, leave a detailed message on his voice mail. This will help you to get a quick answer.

Another lesson in time-management is that if you have to do something, do it now. Many people waste time in doing the preliminaries. If you know how to dive in, you will get things done quickly. Remember the old adage: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW!


As children we have been taught the futility of procrastination. If you are in the habit of postponing important tasks, you will never get them done. Similarly, never try to be a perfectionist.

Perfectionists waste just as much time as procrastinators. If you are working to a deadline, you cannot afford to be a perfectionist. Engineers and editors have deadlines to meet.

An engineer will not waste time in making a perfect design. Similarly, an editor will not waste time in producing a perfect editorial. They will do a task as best as they could within the deadline.

Today, we watch many interviews on television. Some of them go on for hours wasting our time. Once, Ted Turner, a television presenter, received a request from a professor for an interview just before Christmas. Turner was extremely busy at the time and he gave the professor five minutes for the interview.

At the interview, however, the professor wanted to say something more after the five minutes. But Turner cut him short by saying that his five minutes were over. Turner wished him “Merry Christmas” and the interview came to an abrupt end.

In third world countries such as Sri Lanka even some top politicians have no regard for time. They usually come late to state functions.

However, leading businessmen know how to control the agenda by using suitable hints. Once, a journalist overstepped his time limit while interviewing a top businessman. The businessman leant forward in his chair and started stacking his papers together sending out a signal that time was running out.


Almost all of us get invitations for public and private events. We simply cannot attend all the functions. If you are unable to attend a particular function, simply say, “I’d love to, but I have another engagement.” You do not have to explain what it is. This is because the person who invited you would not expect it and even your enemies would not believe it.

Late-comers to workplaces have ready-made excuses. They would say the train got late or the bus met with an accident. Bosses know well that such excuses are blatant lies. If you are keen on reaching your office on time, start early avoiding traffic congestions. When you start late, you naturally become a late-comer.

This is the Age of Technology. You have to use computers and mobile phones for the sake of time-management. If you have a mobile phone, it is like a microwave oven. Streamline everything you do and eliminate hassle. I agree with Benjamin Franklin who said, “Do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

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