Time is of the essence. It is the one resource that we're offered free of charge. It is also our scarcest resource — the one that we value most. How we use time determines everything. So how can you manage time wisely? How can you make time, find time, and take time to do the things that matter to you most? Above all, how can you make a friend of time and use it to your advantage? To find answers to those questions, we talked to 17 people who make it their business to know about time. Their observations, which are as varied as their industries and personalities, offer new insight into what it means to have time on your side.
Cofounder, CEO, and chairman of the board
The Swatch Group
Time is both wonderful and horrible. it is wonderful because it holds so much fantastic possibility. It is my work and my life. I create beautiful objects that measure time. If time didn't exist, then my profession wouldn't exist. I wouldn't have 42 watch plants. I wouldn't have built a company with $3 billion in sales. I wouldn't be a billionaire. And I wouldn't have given pleasure to the many people who have bought my watches.
Yet I hate time. Why? Because you cannot keep it. You cannot catch it. You cannot stop it. You cannot possess it. It's always present, but if you try to hold it, it disappears.
We all feel so very important. I certainly do. I walk around the streets of Switzerland, and people recognize me and whisper to their friends that I am the chief executive of one of the biggest companies in the world. I saved the Swiss-watch industry. I partner with giant corporations. I'm doing important things. What does time do? It turns me to dust. I am a tiny particle on a tiny planet in a vast universe. In the end, I am even less than that.
So never try to manage time. It will beat you at every turn. Never try to plan your days and nights minute by minute. Do schedule your time, but never schedule 100% of it. You'll kill your creative impulse if you do. Never try to organize every minute of your time weeks in advance, or you'll be bored to death. Instead, let time renew itself around you. Let it divert you. Let it do something unexpected, something new. Let it bring nice things, and let it bring bad things over which you have no control. And don't try to use personal tricks to fool time. It will always catch up with you.
Nicolas G. Hayek, a celebrity in Switzerland, turned the insolvent Swiss-watch industry into a multibillion-dollar empire. The Swatch Group includes such brands as Omega, Rado, Tissot, and Swatch.
COO and CFO
Digital Domain Inc.
Time management is not a practice but an attitude. I've made a decision not to stress out about time management, so I'm fairly relaxed most of the time. I don't carry a cell-phone, I don't have a pager, and I don't give out my home number. And my company hasn't lost any business as a result.
I liberated myself from my pager two years ago, after someone beeped me late at night about a purchase order that I hadn't signed. Supposedly, the vendor's offer was good only until midnight. The person who paged me was proposing that I return to the office and sign the thing. I couldn't imagine that the sellers of this equipment wouldn't wait until the following morning to get my signature. As it turned out, they were perfectly delighted to receive the form the next day. I figured that if this was the direst emergency that my staff could come up with, then it was time to get rid of the pager.
I do make sure that I'm accessible when I'm at work. I leave my door open, I answer my own phone most of the time, and I never schedule back-to-back meetings. You can always choose whether or not to twist yourself into a pretzel over work — and I always choose not to.
Steve Fredericks (Sjf@d2.com) joined Digital Domain Inc. in 1995, after a long career at IBM. Digital Domain was founded by Scott Ross, former head of Industrial Light & Magic; director James Cameron; and animatronix specialist Stan Winston. Digital Domain has won three Academy Awards, including one for "Titanic" (1997) and another for "What Dreams May Come" (1998).
New York, New York
When it comes to time management, I have one piece of advice: Push yourself as hard as you can. Always push yourself, even when it hurts — because every second counts.
I can't emphasize enough what a difference timing makes in our business. When you're on an IPO road show, selling your company to institutional investors, missing your next flight can mean losing out on millions of dollars. The timing of our IPO was of monumental importance. We decided to postpone the IPO because the market was weak. About a week before our sec papers were to expire, the market revived slightly. At that point, we had to decide whether or not to go ahead with our IPO. Goldman Sachs had pulled theirs; roughly 175 other companies had either canceled or postponed theirs. People were saying that we were heading toward a full-blown recession.
At the last minute, we opted to go ahead with our IPO, and the impact of that decision has been tremendous. It meant that we had more money sooner. It meant that we had more credibility and that we could easily rent more space. It meant that we could get deals done faster. Above all, it meant that we had a very high ramp rate. In the second quarter of last year, we had $800,000 in revenue. In the third quarter, we had $1.5 million in revenue. And in the fourth quarter, we had $2.6 million in revenue. We never would have achieved that rate if we hadn't gone public when we did. As it turned out, we were one of only two Internet companies that went public that week — which put us even further ahead in the game.
Todd Krizelman cofounded theglobe.com with Stephan Paternot in their Cornell University dorm room in 1994. They started the business with an initial capital investment of $15,000, which they borrowed from friends and family members. Other investors include former Alamo Rent A Car owner Michael Egan, MTV Networks founder David Horowitz, PeopleSoft CEO David Duffield, and former Raychem president Bob Halperin. This month, theglobe.com is celebrating the first anniversary of its IPO.
Founder and managing director
Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Redwood City, California
People waste a lot of time by not letting themselves fail. It's hard to let yourself fail — to cut your losses and move on. But sometimes, that's the most expedient thing to do. I learned that lesson three years after starting out in the venture-capital business. One of the companies in my portfolio was going down the tubes. I spent a year and a half not only trying to raise funds but also helping to manage the internal workings of the company. It was a very emotional experience. Meanwhile, while I was spending 95% of my time on this failing company, six other companies in my portfolio were going public. When I finally came up for air, I realized that I'd wasted a year and a half trying to bail out a sinking ship.
On the other hand, you never know when a venture that looks like a total disaster is going to turn into a tremendous success. FedEx, for example, was started by a guy who would not let his business die. And one of our companies took 15 years and five rounds of financing to go public. Now it's worth a lot of money. So I would never tell entrepreneurs to cut their losses when the going gets tough. But I would say this: Pursue the business until you know deep down that it's not going to be successful. Then stop, and do something more productive.
Timothy C. Draper, a third-generation venture capitalist, specializes in early-stage investing. His firm has provided seed money for high-tech, high-profile companies such as Hotmail, Cybermedia, eFax.com, Four11, and DigiDesign.
O. Wayne Isom
Chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery
New York Presbyterian Hospital,
Cornell University Medical Center
New York, New York
The key to time management in the operating room is knowing that the enemy of "good" is "perfect." When time is critical, you have to make intelligent compromises. Of course, the bottom line is that you work as fast as you can. The most critical stage is when you clamp the aorta, which is a vessel about the size of a garden hose. By doing that, you cut off the blood supply to the heart. That's the only way to get inside; otherwise, the heart would be full of blood, and you wouldn't be able to see anything. The longer the aorta is clamped, the greater the chance that the patient will die. And the less healthy the heart, the less time you have. So you try to repair the heart perfectly, but your most important goals are to keep the patient alive and to improve the heart's condition.
Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to operate on a patient who has a number of things wrong with her. She's on dialysis; she has had a stroke; and her lungs and her pancreas aren't working very well. She needs four bypasses, and she needs to have a valve replaced. Now, suppose that two of the four bypasses require a lot of time-consuming technical work. If that's the case, then I'll probably end up repairing one or two of the most critical vessels, replacing the valve, and then closing the patient up.
I'd much rather have someone who's up and functioning with a less-than-perfect heart than someone who has had four successful bypasses — but who is paralyzed on one side and can't talk. Have you ever heard the saying "The operation was a success, but the patient died"? Ultimately, that's what surgeons try to avoid.
O. Wayne Isom (firstname.lastname@example.org) has probed the hearts of talk-show host Larry King, former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Simon, and former U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, among others. "They all look the same on the inside," Isom says.
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
I've made good use of my time by remaining optimistic and energetic about the future, and by choosing not to agonize over things that I can't change. There's no better way to waste time in life than to dwell on the past. You should learn from the past with as much objectivity as possible, so that you can modify your future actions — and then move on.
I wanted to be an astronaut at a time when there weren't any women astronauts. When I was growing up, women couldn't do what I wanted to do. Yet I clung to my goal. So I looked toward the future. I knew that someday women would become astronauts, and when they did, I wanted to be as qualified for the job as possible. I loved aviation when I was a teenager, so I thought that I'd become an astronaut by starting out as a military test pilot. But back then, women weren't admitted into air-force or navy programs. I applied later, when they started admitting women — but officials told me that I was too old. So I had to take a different route. I studied engineering and eventually became a mission specialist. I still get to fly, and I have a rewarding and productive job, overseeing scientific experiments and other operations that take place in space.
I've always believed that if you remain optimistic, and if you prepare yourself for opportunities, then those opportunities will find you. I tell young women not to let themselves feel discouraged just because there's a fence on this side of the pasture: The gate may be open on the other side.
Bonnie Dunbar (email@example.com) has exited earth's atmosphere five times — most recently in 1998, when she served as payload commander of the space shuttle Endeavour. During that mission, she was in charge of 23 science and technology experiments, as well as 9,000 pounds of scientific equipment, logistical hardware, and water (for delivery to the Russian space station Mir). Dunbar has spent more than 50 days in space and has orbited the earth 796 times. From 1995 to 1996, she was assistant director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
Director of MIS
We're a high-speed delivery service, so our revenue is based on our ability to manage time. We ship freight — quickly and on time. And we're proud of our record: We complete 96% of our jobs within 15 minutes of our estimated time of arrival. We do so by gearing every element of our business toward time.
We've set up our salary structure to match our speed objectives, because we believe that people will accomplish tasks rapidly when they're given the incentive to do so. For example, up to 60% of my salary is pegged to how quickly Windows pops up on our computers. We also keep track of each customer-assistance team's on-time record for pickup and delivery. The people on a customer-assistance team can make up to 16% of their salary in bonuses — depending on how prompt the team's deliveries have been.
Perhaps the most important principle that we've learned is that you should never sacrifice humanity for speed. We track how long employees are on the phone and award bonus points if they take calls speedily. That gives them an incentive to handle customer calls quickly. But we found that, as a result of this policy, employees were giving short shrift to our truck drivers, who also call in for help. So we've hired a person whose sole mission is to talk to truck drivers about problems that they encounter on the road.
Joe Greulich (firstname.lastname@example.org) is in charge of Roberts Express's information systems — both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. The company monitors its 2,000 trucks using a satellite tracking system that automatically alerts a call center whenever a shipment is going to be late. The system also enables customers to get real-time status reports on their shipments via the Internet. Roberts Express is a division of FDX.
Founder and vice chairman
San Francisco, California
People don't have much time when they're shopping. So, if you're in the business of selling things, simple is better. I designed the first Williams-Sonoma store with that principle in mind, and today the shelving units and the atmosphere of the store remain practically unchanged from when I created them 40 years ago. At that time, merchandise in cooking stores was usually all jumbled up. But in my store, everything had a home, because I understood the beauty of what I was offering. I appreciate the curve of a knife blade, the shape of a soufflé dish. Such items should be displayed in their entirety, so that you can see the whole side of a saucepan, rather than just the handle. The simplicity principle proved equally valid when we decided to enlarge the stores. Instead of adding merchandise, we spread our existing inventory over a larger area. And our sales increased exponentially.
As for myself, I've never thought much about time management. If you're passionate about what you do, you never worry about how you're managing your time. I believe that passion is central to success. For the first 20 years of its existence, my store was a 24-hour-a-day occupation for me. I did my own buying. And I swept the sidewalk every day.
On the whole, I'd rather do things myself. If you hand a job to someone else, you end up spending your time managing that person, and you neglect your own responsibilities. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for delegating. I delegate management duties so that I can spend my time more usefully — by helping other people.
Chuck Williams (email@example.com) founded Williams-Sonoma in the California wine-country town of Sonoma in 1956. It started as a small hardware shop that also sold specialty cookware imported from France. Williams sold the business to Howard Lester in 1978, and together they created Williams-Sonoma Inc., which now owns such companies as Pottery Barn and Hold Everything, as well as Williams-Sonoma. The company went public in 1983.
Cirque du Soleil
The most valuable time-management technique that I've learned is patience. Patience is a muscle that I strengthen every day. As an artistic coordinator, I spend most of my work time coaching performers. Cirque du Soleil performers are very vulnerable because they put their whole selves into their work. You have to be as much a friend to them as you are a director. And you have to deal with problems right away, so that they don't ferment. For instance, one of our performers is from the Ivory Coast. She doesn't speak English, and she doesn't know much about our culture. As a result, she's very insecure, and she gets frustrated a lot. So we have to be very patient with her, and we have to show her how to do everything twice. I frequently have to help her calm down.
You can't hurry a learning curve either. You have to repeat and repeat and repeat a movement until it sinks into both your mind and your body. That's how dancers and acrobats learn. As a director, I know that the best way to create solid relationships with performers is by exercising patience.
Alison Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the artistic coordinator of "Dralion," Cirque du Soleil's North American show. She is in charge of the entire production, including lighting, costumes, and performances.
Executive vice president and COO
Have you heard of the "nine pregnant women" rule? It takes nine months to have a baby — but you can't get the job done in one month with nine pregnant women. That rule applies to any project: As you think about managing the time that you have available to complete a project, it's critical that you identify which steps you must complete sequentially.
In planning bet.com, I've lived by that rule. But I learned it the hard way in my former role as the overseer of bet's restaurants, urban-apparel lines, book-publishing operation, and new ventures. Last year, we ran into some serious problems during one of our first construction projects: the bet Soundstage Club at Disney World. We didn't have enough experience to know that by making small changes in one part of the process, we would greatly delay the entire project. As it turned out, we had to hustle the construction workers out of the building before we could let the crowds in. It was a nightmare.
That's not an experience that I was eager to repeat with bet.com. The Web site involved a whole new technology for our company. So before we started it, we had our designers give us a time line that included a thorough explanation of its components. Really, none of the development could start before we answered some fundamental questions about what African-Americans want in a Web site. So we started our consumer research early. The moral of the story is this: Before you do anything else, find out which elements — no matter how small — have the potential to tie up the entire operation.
Scott Mills (Scott.Mills@BET.com) is in charge of developing and finding strategic partners for BET Holdings Inc.'s Web site (www.BET.com). The site features news, entertainment, and financial information, along with messaging and chat services. It will soon launch an online shopping mall that will offer African-American art, jewelry, books, and apparel.
University of Tennessee
Time is different in basketball than it is in many other sports. The clock runs down; you're literally racing against time. I think that's true not only on the court but also in life. So, to manage time effectively, you have to start with the big picture.
Time management is one of the first skills that we teach our players, because it helps them to know their priorities and to clarify what they stand for. At the beginning of the year, we give them a calendar on which they keep track of their school vacations, assignments, and exam dates, along with our game and practice schedules. Unless there's an unforeseen emergency, players aren't allowed to miss a single class throughout the school year, and in class they must sit in one of the first three rows. The same principle applies to practice sessions. We call this the "no-miss, up-front rule." It teaches them about responsibility — both on the court and off.
When it comes to dealing with time in a game, you always start with a plan. But games never go the way that you envision that they will. So you have to learn quickly from your mistakes and to change your approach accordingly. Basketball is very much about momentum, and if things are going badly, you need to change that momentum with a time-out. I've learned that to communicate well during a 90-second time-out, I have to focus not on myself or on what I'm feeling, but on what my team is feeling. So, as a coach, I try to empty myself of my own emotions, and I try to convey — through words, tone, and body language — whatever message my players need to hear.
Pat Summitt has been head coach of the Lady Volunteers for 25 years. During that time, she has won six national championships — twice as many as any other NCAA women's-basketball coach. Within the NCAA, her record is surpassed only by former UClA men's coach John Wooden, who won 10 national titles.
Robert A.M. Stern
Founder and senior partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Dean, Yale School of Architecture
New York, New York and New Haven, Connecticut
If you're an architect, and you can't manage your time, then why should anyone believe that you can manage a budget? I practice two main principles of time management — both in architecture and in academia. The first is to be prepared. I have students who come to my office and ask for 10 minutes of my time. Then they stand there — shuffling, mumbling, and beating around the bush because they are unprepared — while I stare at the ceiling in embarrassment, wishing that they'd hurry up. Even though I enjoy face-to-face discussions, I find that people are more direct when communicating by email or fax.
Which leads me to my second principle: Get to the point. I've been to presentations at which architects start off by telling jokes, or by alluding to a golf game or a cocktail party that they've recently attended. I want to say, "Get on with it, and while you're at it, get a life."
I keep my own presentations simple. I show my design, and then I take the client through the process by which I arrived at it. And I organize my thoughts beforehand, so that if someone interrupts me with a question, my answer is succinct and meaningful, and I can quickly get back on track.
Robert A.M. Stern is an architect, a teacher, and a writer. Best known for his residential design, Stern has also designed such projects as Walt Disney's feature animation building in Burbank, California and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He is coauthor of a series of books on the history of architecture and urbanism in New York City, including "New York 1880" (Monacelli Press, 1999).
Producer and director Los Angeles, California
Time is money in any business — and that is particularly true in the film industry. A movie's production budget is based on time — on how much time you're going to need the services of set dressers, makeup artists, gaffers, and everyone else on the crew. I've never been over budget on a film that I directed — for three reasons. One, I plan thoroughly. Two, I'm realistic and honest about what will be required. And three, I plan for unforeseen events. In the film industry (as in other industries), we call such events "contingencies," and I plan for them by padding the budget.
You hear horror stories about films going millions of dollars over budget. That happens because directors frequently underestimate the resources that they'll need, or because they don't plan carefully. Martin Scorsese is wonderfully organized. He puts together a storyboard that outlines everything that he wants to do. That's why all of the intricate camera moves that you see in his films look so smooth — and why they're accomplished without going over budget.
Irwin Winkler once mortgaged his home to finance a film. That film, "Rocky" (produced with then-partner Robert Chartoff), won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976. Combined grosses of the "Rocky" series amount to more than $1 billion. Winkler started his career in the mail room of the William Morris Agency. Since then, he has produced more than 40 films, including Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990), "Raging Bull" (1980), and "New York, New York" (1977). He made his directorial debut in 1989 with "Guilty by Suspicion." Most recently, he directed "At First Sight" (1999), starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. He has received 12 Academy Awards.
New York, New York
I specialize in organizing. homes, Offices, filing systems, closets, schedules, estate sales: You name it, and I organize it. I've found that time management isn't just about getting organized; it's also about finding balance. When you're inundated with work and you feel completely overwhelmed, the best way to gain time is to add balance.
Four years after I started my business, I felt completely overwhelmed by work. I'm a single mom, and I started this business from scratch. It seemed like everything happened at once: The business grew almost too quickly. I had no hobbies, and I never had a good answer for the question "What do you do for fun?" I thought that for practical purposes, I should take up a hobby, so that I could speak intelligently about something other than organizing other people's lives. I chose dance, simply because it required a shorter learning curve than any other hobby that I could think of. (I used to be a dancer.)
Once a week, I would dutifully go to a swing-dance class. Suddenly, I had more time on my hands. I was more energized during the week. I moved through my tasks at lightning speed. When your life is unbalanced, as mine was, you feel like you don't have room to breathe. But when you take time to rebalance your life, everything gets easier.
Julie Morgenstern is the author of "Organizing from the Inside Out" (Henry Holt, 1998) and the founder and owner of Task Masters, a consulting firm. She and her staff have organized cluttered homes, offices, and schedules for such clients as American Express, Reuben H. Donnelley, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan Bank, and Prudential Securities.
Internal Revenue Service
People seem to think that they're being most productive when they're accomplishing a bunch of tasks. But I've found that the best use of my time at the IRS is to listen.
The IRS is a gargantuan organization that needs to undergo a lot of change. The only way that I can provide leadership in that process is by understanding how the organization operates and why it operates that way. There are 100,000 people who work for the IRS. Two years ago, when I walked through the door for the first time, I didn't know a soul. Before I was confirmed as commissioner, I spent six months traveling to all 43 regional-service centers — just so that I could listen to people. So, when I finally did speak, I was able to do so authoritatively: I had a reservoir of knowledge to draw on. I had also taken the first step toward building the trust and respect that I'll need down the road, as we begin to reorganize.
Too often, people who enter the top echelons of organizations think that they're supposed to know everything. They think that they've been hired to provide an answer to every question. In fact, people sometimes just want you to listen.
Charles Rossotti is the first IRS commissioner to have experience both in management and in information technology — and no experience as a tax professional. Today, his mission is to modernize the management of the IRS, which every year collects more than $1.7 trillion in revenue and which still operates on a computer system that was built mainly in the 1960s. Previously, Rossotti served as chairman of American Management Systems, a computer-consulting firm.
Founder and director
Day Runner Inc.
Time, as we now understand it, was created in the Industrial Age. Time is mechanical to us. It goes hand in hand with standardization, and we think that it helps us measure how efficient we are at work. Other cultures view time differently. I just returned from Bali, where time is viewed as circular: Life and death are seen as being closely related. The grandest day of your life is the day you die, and your passing is cause for a celebration.
Before there were clocks, we regulated ourselves by the seasons, by the sun, by the stars, and by our menstrual cycles. Now we've lost touch with the natural rhythms of life. We look at time the wrong way. In fact, time is the medium by which we live our lives. It is space; it is change. Success in business is determined not by how fast you work but by whether you focus your attention correctly. Whether you're swinging a racket or making a business deal, telling a joke or playing the violin, timing is everything.
To use time wisely, be as close to the moment as possible; use all of your senses; make decisions with your heart, your mind, and your soul. When you're at the right place at the right time, everything seems to fall into place. You attract what you need, and everything falls into place. And time stands still.
Felice Willat (Felice.Willat@dayrunner.com) cofounded Day Runner in 1990 with her then-husband. They started the company in their Pacific Palisades home, but it soon expanded into the garage — and then into the driveway and the backyard. Day Runner went public in 1992. Willat's new business, Tools with Heart, publishes a line of women's journals.
Los Angeles, California
Generally speaking, I have learned to be a deadline worker — whether I have a deadline or not. There's this illusion in the creative world that if you had all of the time in the world, then something absolutely brilliant would happen. But if I am given all of the time in the world, then I start daydreaming. There comes a moment when I have to say to myself, "I really have to do this. Now." That's how I trigger my creative process.
Most of the time, I have a very real deadline, because when you're writing music for film, you have a set schedule. But recently, I've been writing a concerto for guitar and orchestra on my own time. After spending three months rubbing my chin and procrastinating, I finally had to say to myself, "I'm going into my studio, and something is going to happen. Now."
That reminds me of a story about Tchaikovsky. A lady asked him where he got his inspiration. And he supposedly said, "Madam, when I walk into my studio every morning at 8 am, the muses had better be on time."
On the other hand, when I'm writing a film score, time stares me in the face. The real challenge is to keep taking new risks. When you're working on deadline, time tends to push you into old routines. You have to push back.
Elmer Bernstein is one of the most prominent composers in Hollywood. He wrote the score for Martin Scorsese's new film, "Bringing Out the Dead," and for Al Pacino's forthcoming film, "Chinese Coffee." His other film scores include "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Ten Commandments," "The Age of Innocence," "My Left Foot," "Devil in a Blue Dress," The Rainmaker," "Ghostbusters," "The Grifters," and "Wild, Wild West."
A version of this article appeared in the November 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.