Randy Pausch: The Expert in Time

The expert in time
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Thirteen years ago, a young assistant professor at the University of Virginia shared his time management techniques with graduate teaching assistants and fellow faculty members. They all wanted to get ahead — get tenure — and still have time for their friends and family.


Peppered with aphorisms, the talk would have made Ben Franklin proud. It wasn’t the work of an expert — just someone who wanted to make the most of the time he had. As Fate would have it, however, that young professor, Randy Pausch, would become an authority on time management. Now a 47-​year-​old Carnegie Mellon professor, he faces imminent death from recurrent tumors from his pancreatic cancer.

Even truncated, he’s had a very successful career, co-​founding the nationally renowned Entertainment Technology Center and other initiatives. But in the past few months, he’s become a phenomenon — in the newspapers, on the Internet and on Oprah. And that’s because of the funny, poignant and inspirational final lecture that he gave in Sep​tem​ber​.In that lecture before a packed house on the Oakland campus, Pausch was the picture of physical and spiritual health, even as a man with months to live. He clapped between push ups. And he kept his focus even though, as the father of three young children, he might have plenty of reason to lose it.

Pausch is a humble man who’s said he doesn’t deserve the attention. He’s getting it, though, because of his poise and the value of his words. And now, as he spends time with his family and prepares for their future without him, here are some thoughts he leaves as a guide for his children:

A 6– to 9-​minute interruption involves a 4– to 5-​minute recovery — five interruptions shoots an hour. Reduce the frequency and length of interruptions. Learn to cut things short — “I’m in the middle of something now.” Start with: “I only have five minutes” — you can always extend it.

Keep a time journal. Monitor yourself in 15-​minute increments for three days to two weeks. Update the journal every half hour, not at the end of the day. Look at the journal and ask what you’re doing that really doesn’t need to be done. What could be done by someone else? What could be done more efficiently? What are you doing that wastes others’ time?

Doing things at the last minute is much more expensive than just before the last minute.

People rise to the challenge. Delegate “until they complain.”

On life — Kill your television. Eat, sleep and exercise — above all else.

If you haven’t got time to do it right, you don’t have time to do it wrong. When you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.

Never give up. Anyone can get chewed out. It’s the rare person who says “Oh my God. You were right.” Show gratitude. Be good at something— it makes you valuable. Work hard. Don’t complain. Just work harder. Find the best in everybody. Everybody has a good side — just keep waiting, it will come out.

Be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity. We cannot change the cards we’re dealt, only how we play the hand.

Have fun. “I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day of my life because there’s no other way to play it. You’ve got to decide pretty early in life whether you’re going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore. What I found is if you’re an upbeat person, people will flock to help you, and suddenly everything gets easier.”


PQ Staff

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