Time as a resource

Time and tide wait for none. This old adage prompted the celebrated English essayist, Charles Lamb, to remark, “Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think about them.”  Towards his ripe old age and while writing The Last Essays of Elia, he remarked thus: “I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods, like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away “like a weaver’s shuttle.”

Everything requires time. It is the only truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. It is a unique resource. One cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain more time. The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. What is worse is that time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore always in exceedingly short supply.

Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for time.

While we all know that time is precious, yet most of us waste it the most. While getting old most people reflect and realize how better their life could have been if only they had used the time available with them productively. Evidently, to get all there is out of living, we must employ our time wisely. Unfortunately, “Man is ill-equipped to manage his time”, as remarked by Peter Drucker, the celebrated American management guru and author of the famous MBO doctrine, short form of Management by Objectives.                           

I, however, don’t want to get too dark or depressing, but, yes, I have been thinking a lot about this recently. All the same, it is important to realize that our life is short and that our time on this earth is limited and only getting more so with every passing minute. For those who have come to regard time as a resource that is “a source or supply from which benefit is produced” and that  it’s just one that one cannot change in quantity, although one can change how it is allocated and that one can also change how it is used, one can be assured that, “Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.” (apologies Leonardo Da Vinci).

Civil Services aspirants, in particular, and more so during the preparatory stages can ill afford to take this unique irreplaceable and necessary resource for granted. Even in management, nothing else, perhaps distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time. They only need to keep in mind the advice of John F. Kennedy in his oft-quoted witticisms like, “We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.” and, “Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.

Between the two God-given gifts – intelligence and flair for hardwork – I would prefer the latter for the simple reason that a host of us have simply wasted intelligence by sitting over this precious virtue and doing nothing. On the other hand, persons given to working hard at least achieve something even with lesser intelligence. Even if one may have thought up of a great idea but didn’t do anything about it, it is as good or as bad as nothing. Procrastination or dilly-dallying or sitting over time is a bane that one should avoid at all costs. It’s not the things we do all through the day that create the time crunch but the way we handle them. Our behaviour patterns and attitudes towards certain tasks developed over time cause the backlog! Taking a look at all the things we need in our life as well as all the things that need to get done, makes doing things and life easier. Remarked Eva Young, “To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.’     

It would be worthwhile to identify the basic causes that contribute to procrastination. If left  unchecked, these leas to a project (like the CIVIL Services Preparations) that we have dreamed of, not be completed. These are tentatively given below with a probable solution as well:

* We don’t know where to start. ~ Making sure the preparations get priority at the beginning helps with planning as well as ensures its viability!

* We don’t know where we are going. ~ Getting expert advice reduces anxiety and time!

* We may feel overwhelmed. ~ Planning out the projects and time-line will ensure balance!

* We may strive for perfection. Perfection is selfish. We should strive for excellence because we are faced with a tough task like the most competitive examination in the world! 

Keeping things simple is the *key* to good time management. We first need to identify trouble spots, then implement time saving techniques we know we shall stick to. Shaving minutes off daily tasks could mean hours by the end of the week and it is time we can use on preparing more rigorously. Needless to say that .prioritizing what needs to be done is the first step to getting organized and making sure you’ll be there on time with the right stuff So, choose the time now to save time and follow Confucius advice,  “Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous”   

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.