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What Dying Can Teach You About Time Management

Randy smiling his life away

Randy Pausch is the man that delivered the famed Last Lecture when he got cancer. He knew a thing or two about the importance of time. Lucky for him it didn’t take the cancer to show him how precious every moment of life really is. Below is a talk he gave on time management and my notes from it.
My four big takeaways:
1. Do the ‘ugliest’ thing on your to do list first. You might lose gumption later in the day. Randy uses the example of eating frogs: if you had to eat three, you shouldn’t start with the smallest.
2. Do things that are important and not due soon before you do things that are not important but due soon. If you focus on the important you’ll have much more time on your hands.
3. Find the time you work best and take it for yourself. Protect your most productive periods and protect them with your life. It’s so easy to bow to the demands of email, phone calls, or Facebook. Focus and create when you can!
4. When you delegate, do it all the way. Give people respect with responsibility. Once a person has demonstrated they can do the job then let them do the job!




“*” means Randy said it’s the most important thing in the world.

-You cost your company 2X what they pay you

  • Most of the talk is from:
  • Time Management For Teachers
  • Career Track Seminar: Taking control of your work day
  • “The Time Famine”

-Bad time management immediately becomes stress

-Managing time well makes you successful – not the other way around!


For every item you need to do:
-ask ‘why?’ you’re doing it
-why are you going to succeed?
-what if i don’t do it?

– Doing the right things adequately is much more effective than doing the wrong things great.

– 80/20 rule – a very small amount of things contributes the biggest impact. The Pareto Principle is hugely important for anybody serious about taking control of their life.

-have the balls not to do things that don’t make impact

“If you can dream it you can do it” – Walt Disney (The original Disney Land was built in 366 days.)

Planning should be done at multiple levels
-each morning, day, week, semester(quarter)

-Do the ‘ugliest’ thing on your To Do list first

The first thing you should do are things that are “important” and “due soon”. The second thing you should do is “important” and “not due soon”. This means before “not important” and “due soon”. Don’t be a slave to the urgency of unnecessary things!

*Keep desk clear
*Touch each piece of paper ONCE

  • file things- have one place you put all paper
  • email is NOT to-do list

-Use multiple monitors.

*Randy Pausch was in LOVE with his speakerphone.

-Stand during calls to keep short
-Start with goals for call
-Have something in front of you that you want to get to
-Group calls 11:30 am or 4:30 pm (lunch/dinner, they want to leave)

*Physical “Thank You” notes are very important
-Leave them somewhere accessible

in the office
-don’t have comfortable chairs

-Make time for important things (don’t try to ‘find’ it)
-think opportunity cost
-so ‘no’ by default
-“if nobody else does it, i will”

Find your creative/thinking time and spend it alone.
Find your dead time and do mundane shit

*Interruptions take 6-9 minutes then 4-5 minutes recovery

(usually a lot worse)
-batch emails, don’t check constantly

Cut things short
-“Im in the middle of something”
-“I only have 5 min” (can always spend more)
-Walk to door, compliment, thanks, shake hands

Time Journals
-or Randy’s time journal
-monitor what you do every 15 min

*Identify gaps in calendar and force yourself to go to certain place during that time

Time Journal Data
-What can I delegate?
-What can I do more efficiently?
-Not to get all the work in the world done.

To get on to what you want to do.
-How am I wasting others’ times?
-What am I doing that doesn’t need to be done?

Effectiveness beats efficiency

-some rationalize ‘If I wait, then maybe I won’t have to do it.”
-Work expands to fill time available, but waiting to

Last minute causes a lot more stress.
-establish your own deadlines

“All you have to do is ask”

-Give responsibility with work
-give them budget to get project done
-Always do the ugliest job yourself (he vaccums before lab)
-this shows you’re willing to do dirty work
-Be specific
-specific task
-specific time
-specific reward/penalty
-Delegate until they complain
-Give objectives, not procedures
-Tell people relative importance of each task (prioritize for them)
-Beware of upward delegation- don’t accept a project back after assigning it
-reinforce good behavior
-you don’t need to know how to do what you delegate (this eliminates upward delegation)

Meetings should never last more than an hour.
-there should always be an agenda
-make sure everyone is fully there
*close with recap of decisions
-who does what when?

-use tech to make things faster/better … not just to use it

-Save it all
-To get something done, send it to the person that needs to do it.
-if no response after 48 hours, send another email

On Vacation
-When someone calls- direct calls to someone else or tell to call back

*Kill the TV
-Average person watches 28 hours of TV per week (how?)
*Turn money into time
-Hire people to do chores you don’t want to do
*Always get sleep
*Ask for slack
*Most things are pass/fail – good enough is good enough

“time is all we have”


TIME IS ALL WE HAVE!  What are you doing in yours? What 20% of activities of time spent gives you 80% of pleasure in life? What three ways can you use your time better now?

Do you have any ways you’ve discovered to help you use the time you have on this beautiful planet of ours better?

Leave a comment and let us know!!

We read and reply to every one!
  • Paul Russell

    Great List! I will be revisiting it frequently. I would add a couple of my favorites…
    1) Showing up is half of the battle.
    2) if you are at a critical juncuture of a project, you have to be there (physically).
    #1 has been a key motivator for me, and #2 has been learned through the school of hard knocks.

    • Glad to hear it brought you some value Paul. Good additions

    • Kyle Eschenroeder

      beautiful 1-2 punch Paul! thanks so much! i’d love to hear your ideas on some of the other posts as well – see you around!!

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