Don't waste time on machines

18th November 2005 at 00:00
In the Sundance-Award-winning film Primer, two engineers build a time machine, which they house in one of those self-storage units. The moment you realise you're going to have difficulty following the story is when they arrive on the car park outside the units just in time to see themselves coming out earlier. (Or are they going in later? Please don't write and tell me.) From then on, the complexities escalate to a level which is keeping nerdy individuals across the world happily preoccupied on the internet. Just type "Primer Film Plot" into Google to see what I mean.

The more I watched this deeply annoying (but mercifully short) movie, the more I became convinced that it ought to be used as a training video for heads and deputies about how to be in two places at once without meeting yourself coming back.

It certainly wouldn't be any less useful than some of the time management advice you come across. The bucket of rocks theory (sometimes disguised as the pickle jar theory) is a popular one. The idea is you put big rocks in a bucket (they're your important principles) then you fill up first with pebbles, then with sand, then with water - these are smaller, increasingly unimportant tasks. The idea is that if you put the pebbles or sand or water in first, there's no room for the rocks. Anyway, it means you should give priority to what matters most. I think.

That said, the best advice about time management I've seen comes from consultant Harold Taylor. I like his realistic approach and the way he cuts through the myths. Here are just three of his many tips, paraphrased by me.

Don't write lists of things to do because they just tell you that you haven't done them yet. Instead, write actual slots in your diary to do them.

And one that will resonate with heads and school administrators alike.

Don't complain that interruptions - visitors, phone calls, meetings - are a waste of your time. They're part of your job. The real time-wasters are self inflicted - procrastination, searching for lost stuff, spending time on trivialities.

Finally, something I've always believed.

Don't try to change your ways with a paper or electronic personal organiser. People who use them well are organised already. If you can get yourself sorted, a cheap notebook or diary's good enough.

See what I mean? This is someone who understands real people.

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