I once bumped into my old college friend David Wolstencroft at the baggage carousel in Los Angeles airport. It turned out we had both just taken the same plane from Heathrow. While waiting for our suitcases we chatted about the flight.
Me: “Well that was fun. I had some food, drank some wine, watched a couple of films and fell asleep.”
Him: “I proofread a screenplay and wrote the first two chapters of my next book.”
David is an award‐winning screenwriter, filmmaker and novelist. He created the television show Spooks, has written several television drama series including The Escape Artist and wrote the feature film Shooting Dogs, which starred John Hurt and Hugh Dancy. He lives in a fabulous house in the Hollywood Hills.
Now I know why. It turns out that David has been using his time better for years, even while we were at university.
He says: “How do I fit everything in? I prioritize. I read this wonderful article about how Steven Spielberg wanted to make a movie in his last year of high school. So he made his movie at weekends – every weekend – because the pleasure he got from doing that was greater than the pleasure he got from being a regular kid.
“I took that to heart.”
David’s time management was learnt from a teacher at school: “I had a geography teacher who told me that 15 minutes is a really useful amount of time. That 15 minutes is not a productive piece of time when it is seen on its own, but it is a component of what you are going to be doing over the medium to long term.”
In 15 minutes, he points out, you can write a paragraph – even if it takes the first 5 minutes to get yourself in the right frame of mind.
Another person who uses this technique very effectively is Bill Muirhead.
The first time I had a meeting with Bill I assumed it would last close to an hour, as most meetings tend to. Bill is one of the founders of M&C Saatchi, the worldwide advertising group, and the Agent‐General for the Government of South Australia in Europe, and we had a lot of things to discuss. But when I arrived at his Australia House offices in The Strand, he greeted me warmly before announcing he only had ten minutes to spare before he had to be elsewhere.
There was no point trying to arrange another meeting when I was already there talking to him. So following his lead I dispensed with all the usual polite chitchat and threw myself straight into all the things I needed to discuss, speaking very concisely and noting all the points off on the fingers of my hand as I rattled through them.
Bill responded to my queries and suggestions in an equally robust quick‐fire way.
It was fast, furious and hectic, but after ten minutes we had rather amazingly got through everything we needed to discuss. Job done, and 50 precious minutes of the working day saved.
On the way out his assistant told me that Bill takes all his meetings that way. I left his office invigorated and impressed, and as I made my way across town I realised why Bill is such a successful person.
It’s because he takes a resource we all have available to us, but he squeezes ten times more out of it, which means that he gets so much more done in a day. It’s no accident that he manages to combine two demanding roles.
Here’s the thing. Pretty much every successful person is an expert in effective time management.
They get a lot more done, a lot faster – and as a result they achieve amazing things.
How many times have you heard people say, I’d love to do that – write a book, learn a language, climb a mountain, start a business, whatever – if only I had the time.
But the thing is, they do have the time; they just aren’t using the time they have got quite as well as they could be.
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