There are no rollover minutes in life.


Last week I wrote about the need to treat your time as a limited resource, like your salary. As with your income, you have to spend it wisely -- you don't want to squander your time playing Howard Carter on an archaeological dig for the latest version of a budget when you could be doing something important, like actually solving a customer's problem.

You can take the metaphor (about money and time, not the one about Howard Carter) one step further: just as you have to save money for unanticipated emergencies -- a root canal, a new transmission, hospitalization for your dog -- so too do you have to save time for the unanticipated crises at work. Perhaps the CEO needs a new headcount reduction plan, or the dye in your new product is bleeding, or someone finds PCB's in the caulk surrounding the windows in the public schools -- you may not know what the precise emergency is, but you can be pretty sure that you're going to lose 30-40% of each day to putting out these fires.

Of course, you can't really save time. Life is not like Cingular Wireless, with rollover minutes each month. But you can -- and must -- leave ample free time in your day to deal with whatever problems arise.

That's the balance you have to strike as you allocate time to your various commitments and responsibilities: you need to commit to spending time on the truly important tasks for the day, while leaving plenty of flexibility to put out the inevitable fires.

Spend a week tracking how much time goes into handling the unexpected. You'll probably find that the daily burden is pretty consistent, and that will enable you to adjust your schedule -- and your expectations -- accordingly.

The alternative is to find yourself constantly scrambling to catch up and fulfill your scheduled commitments, which means more nights and weekends at the office. And in a world of limited time, eventually that's a check your body can't cash.

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