Time Management Tips from Randy Pausch

Posted on August 28, 2010

Randy Pausch, you may recall, became infamous because of his dying “Last Lecture”. Just tonight I happened to come across a talk he did on Time Management, “because time is all we have.” As he particularly pointed out, “you may have less of it than you think.” Time management tips from a dying man, who better to speak on the subject?

Whats shocking to me is that the talk is not philosophical, rather its 1 hour 16 minutes of non-stop practical pointers, ideas and applications.

Randy Pausch Lecture: Time Management

I think my chief takeaway was that time is, and should be treated as, a precious commodity. If you are spending time, it should be on something worthy of that sacrifice. What this also implies is that if someone wants my time, I should ensure they are using my time wisely. Time is not an infinite resource.

This point is particularly key to me because I am a wanna-be perfectionist. I will drag on and on and on for days, weeks, months trying to think something through before truly devoting myself to it. For code this means that I want to be able to visualize all the logic before I start writting. Now, this is an entirely flawed concept, because any reasonably complex program is going to have more lines of code in it that you can keep in your head. Therefore, when I try to visualize everything I’m actually just moving from visualizing one small part to another, and loosing something during the mental context switch. I should instead just start writing the program and then deciding ahead of time to improve it later. This is essentially my version of “a working program today is better than a perfect program in a year”.

I’m reminded of a phrase I cooked up with Tamarah (my wife, the lovely women above) several years ago. When discussing something emotional and complex, you can spend a lot of time thinking over and re-thinking the right way in which to phrase it to provide clarity. But this is exceptionally hard to do and very time consuming. Therefore, when we see eachother in this “I’m not sure how to put it…” pause, we will say: “Badly… and work from there.” So we work in drafts, making it clear that the first draft is probably horrifically inaccurate and wrong, but we’ll work towards clarity together and in doing so get a clearer picture of the topic than we’d ever get from the perfect one line explanation.

For sysadmins I find this really hard. It seems all we sysadmins are both perfections and ADHD at the same time. I wish I were exaggerating, but most of us really actually are clinically hyperactive… its a job qualification. The problem is that while we can keep a lot of plates spinning, we’re very bad (on the whole) of providing timely delivery with high quality, unless an external force demands it. This is why sysadmins have to have managers. Geeks without overlords will do amazing things and deliver very few of them. (The description of a good overlord is an excessive left for the reader.)

I digress. I personally recommend watching this video repeatedly, say every 3 months. I re-watch David Allen’s GTD talk at Google every couple months already. I always find something new in it and it’s a great reminder to get back on the wagon. More importantly, personal management is dry and tedious, so hearing enthusiastic guys like David Allen or even Tony Robbins (say what you will, his TED talk was fantastic) can be a real pick-me-up.