Time management – tongue firmly in cheek

January 18, 2009


Some time back, my colleagues and I were away for a few days on what is popularly referred to as an “off site”. The programme was scheduled over three days and the last sesion on the last day was on “Time Management” conducted by an external trainer. Ironically, the session started late and the programme coordinator realised pretty much soon that we needed to rush through the session for people to be able to catch their flight, bus, train or whatever other means of transporatation that would take them back to the safe confines of their homes.

Thankfully for all of us, the session went off quickly enough and most of us couldn’t but admire the clarity of thought exhibited by the trainer. By the end of it, a few of us were regretting the sheer quantum of time that we had wasted over the years through sheer lack of “planning”. So much so, that a few of us were, going forward, determined to make “time planning”, “activity prioritising”, and “task scheduling” an integral part of our lives. Since we were already past the scheduled departure time from the venue, the farewells and good byes were cut short and people who were scheduled to take flights to reach their destinations were bundled off into a Qualis. I was one of those and as luck would have it I, along with a couple of other colleagues, found myself in the same vehicle as the trainer. My colleagues were fairly excited by the prospect of spending the time reaching the airport discussing additional nuances of time management from the trainer and further bringing order into their chaotic lives. In their opinion, by doing this, they were demonstrating irrefutable proof of the fact that thay had benefited immensely from his insights, as one of his mantras for effective time management was to “optimise” the time that we “waste” waiting, be it for people to turn up for meetings, at the airport, etc. In fact, he had gone to the extent of mentioning that we should be looking at effective usage of the time that is “wasted” when, on the phone, we wait for people to come on the line.

The offsite venue was about a 3.5 hours drive from the airport and right from the beginning, the driver was fairly sceptical about being able to reach the airport on time. The trainer, who did not understand the vernacular in which the dialogue was being carried on with the driver, was a little surprised to be told this plus more importantly the fact that we were operating in the “Very Urgent and Very Important” quadrant of the Time Management chart (for the blissfully uninitiated, one of the basic principles of Time Management, the quadrant that is referred to as the “Stress Quadrant” and the one which we are “trained” to avoid through painstaking planning, scheduling, prioritising, communicating and the works). Strict instructions were given to the driver to get on with it and ensure that all of us made the airport on time. To give credit where it is due, the driver took this instruction very seriously (a little too seriously at times) and started careening down towards the plains. He also kept reassuring us that traffic being on our side, we had a reasonable chance of making it on time. To the dismay of my colleagues, post this revelation of a very strong possibility that he may end up having to miss his flight, the trainer refused to share any more pearls of wisdom that would help them manage their time on this planet better. Under the circumstances, I guess he could hardly have been blamed for his reticence.

By this time, all of us were feverishly looking at our respective tickets and depending on the airline that each one of us had been booked into, there were animated discussions on the “on time” record of these airlines. Around that time, our organisation had, like most other companies, whole-heartedly embraced the concept of cost cutting (come to think of it, I cannot remember a time when we were not engaging in this bear hug) and therefore had booked the cheapest available tickets. This gave us a lot of hope as the so called low cost carriers had an enviable record in terms of delayed and cancelled flights and we (my colleagues and I) settled down to enjoy the taxi ride. But the reverie was shattered on account of the following confessions by the “Time Management” trainer:

1. He did not have the physical ticket with him. This meant that we had to make a detour to collect it which meant an additional 15 – 20 minutes of travel time. Being told of this, the taxi driver was unequivocal in his opinion that this would throw our ability to report on time in jeopardy, as this entailed navigating very traffic intensive parts of the city which we could otherwise have avoided.

2. My bright eyed and eager to impress colleagues reassured the trainer that since the PNR would have been communicated to him by the event coordinator, this was a non issue and he could get the ticket printed at the airline counter at the airport. But to their dismay, they were informed by the trainer that the PNR was not available with him. I could sense that my friends were soon losing their respect for the gentleman and I could hear muted discussions on whether he (the trainer) was in dire need for a training session on “Handling Air Travel”.

3. The eternal optimists that they were, my colleagues volunteered to call up the airport and check on the status of the flight by speaking to the representative of the airline. By this time I was quite enjoying the parody that was being played out and smirked that most of the low cost carriers, which considered having enough number of pilots an expendable luxury, did not waste money having their representative on the ground. The humor was completely lost on them when they heard the trainer confessing that he did not even know the airline that he had been booked into. He tried salvaging some pride by informing us that his entire travel arrangements were handled by our organisation and it was not his fault that we found ourselves in this farcical situation.

To sum it all up, we found ourselves in the company of a gentleman, who about 2 hours back was holding fort on the importance of planning (particularly the irreplaceable resource called “Time”) in being able to achieve personal and professional goals, but who in a real life situation finds himself on the way to the airport:

1. Without having the physical ticket;
2. Without having the information that will allow him to obtain the ticket from the airline counter at the airport;
3. Had no idea as to how long it would take to reach the airport;
4. Had no idea of the flight’s departure time; and most ridiculously, at least to me, although there was no unanimity amongst the four of us on which of the above was the most ridiculous
5. Had no idea of the airline that he had been booked into

To cut a long story short, after a lot of frenetic and frantic telephone calls to our office we managed to get the basic level information and thanks in no small measure to the dare devilry of our taxi driver, we managed to reach the airport just on time. This happened a long time back and if memory serves me right, we made it with about 25 minutes to spare. My colleagues and I were bound for a different destination and we bid farewell to the trainer and thanked him for his company (honestly, the journey back to the airport would have been a drag otherwise) and more importantly for his insights into managing time effectively and efficiently.

On the flight back, the four of us had a hearty laugh and at the same time all of us wondered and spoke about the chasm that exists between theory and reality, especially when it comes to non exact “sciences” like management. By the time we landed, we had more or less decided on the following:

1. “A lot of things would not get done but for the LAST minute” – as always Mr. Murphy is right.
2. To hell with planning, execution is the key.
3. There are theorists and then there are the “doers”.
4. The position of our ears on either side of the head is one of the best examples of evolution. It helps us in taking in what we hear from one ear and then push out the garbage that we decide not to hold in our head.

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4 Responses to “Time management – tongue firmly in cheek”

  1. mala Says:

    ganesh…youve hit the nail on the head….how many times, have we ( seniors?) in organisations held forth about better time management to wide eyed juniors and blah blah- on with impressive charts and examples, only to be caught out miserably on the back foot, fighting against time, sitrring up chaos all around us, just to deliver,( phew! )finally on time…i think the principle of JIT management is the best one to follow…and to hell with all the rest…..for this is one way with which the heart pumps faster and the adrenaline flows freely, ensuring that with the delivery, comes the high! ( im sure with all the theory of planning, planning and planning, it would be too placid a ride and you guys wouldnt have had anything to laugh about on your way back either!)
    ( ps i logged on to complete a ppt and got waylaid …a prime example!..sorry your ppt is delayed but it will be done!)

  2. Gani Says:

    Thanks Mala for your comments. Willy nilly, we end up adopting JIT and as long as it works, why complain. I am ignoring the delay in the PPT bit of the comment !!

  3. Harish Says:

    Awesome…! Good sense of humor as well. Keep it going Gani.

    Highlights realities of life very well…!

  4. Sanjeev Says:

    I agree with you that there is a lot of gap between theory and reality. But the question is not whether the trainer can convert theory to reality … but whether you can.


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