Decades ago, I had a brief interest in chess. I played around with a board and I read through books of the greatest matches. I decided I didn’t really like the game enough to pursue it, but I always loved the concept of what master chess players do. They look at the way things are, and then think three, or even more, moves ahead. What happens if this happens? How can I make a move to neutralize this problem which could arise if these two things happen in sequence?
It strikes me that time management — done right — is a similar game. In basic ways, it’s more like Tetris: how can I fit this activity, which takes X amount of time, into the 168 hours I have, given the shape of these other commitments? But in many other ways, it involves strategy. You know you have a meeting at 2 p.m. and a call at 1:30 p.m., which will likely take half an hour. However, you know that the person you’re talking with at 1:30 has a tendency to start phone calls late, so in scheduling the call, you take responsibility for dialing, so the call has a better chance of starting on time. You know that traffic is worse in the rain, so if the forecast calls for rain, you budget more time for travel, thus scheduling an activity that can be shortened with little consequence for the time before departure. You suggest times for calls or meetings that correspond relatively neatly with times that trains and planes arrive. And, of course, childcare logistics are a strategy game in their own right. What is your back-up plan? What if the daycare closes early for inclement weather on a day one parent is out of town and the other is scheduled to give a speech?
You obviously don’t have to think three moves ahead about everything, but if the stakes are high, it’s good to be in the habit. Things come up, of course, but I always go back to the Donald Rumsfeld taxonomy: many time issues fall into the category of known unknowns. A good chess master anticipates these known unknowns and optimizes outcomes based on the likely scenarios.
What’s the most stunning time management feat you’ve ever pulled off?
In other news: I’m pondering new book ideas. What do you think I should write about?
Photo courtesy flickr user Dan Zen