Time-Management and Productivity-Boosting Tips for Busy Professionals

The late Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Randy Pausch offered valuable lessons for managing our most precious commodity.

By James A. Martin
Thu, August 28, 2008

PC World — As a topic, time management is about as exciting as watching flies buzz around a no-pest strip. But would you be interested in learning about time management from someone with only months to live?

The time management expert in this case was Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who passed away on July 25 at age 47 from pancreatic cancer. Along with his now-famous "last lecture" about achieving your childhood dreams, Pausch also delivered a lively, inspiring speech on time management to the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science in November 2007. You can watch a video of the lecture or read the transcript.

Pausch's comments weren't revolutionary, and he admitted to adapting some of his points from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson's The One Minute Manager.

But Pausch's talk combined practicality, compassion and self-effacing humor, peppered with the wisdom and bravery of a man whose days were numbered. I highly recommend his speech to anyone who feels time-starved—and who doesn't these days?

By now you're probably wondering why I'm writing about Pausch and his speech in a column called "Mobile Computing." The reason: Efficient time management is especially challenging for mobile professionals. You spend a lot of time in airports, in the air, or driving long distances. In addition to these time constraints, you're got the constant waves of e-mail, voice mail, and other interruptions everyone else has. So it's more challenging—and therefore more important—for mobile professionals to maximize their time. If you don't, you forfeit time you could have spent with people you love, something Pausch understood all too well.

Here are some tips Pausch offered in his talk, along with a few of my own.

Use Multiple Monitors

Set up multiple computer monitors on your office desktop, Pausch recommended. He had three screens connected to his computer. One displayed his To-Do list; on the middle monitor was his e-mail program; and on the third, he displayed his calendar.

Pausch argued that you save time by not having to toggle between multiple programs all day on one screen. Having all that screen real estate is like "the difference between working on a desk...and trying to get work done on the little tray on an airplane," Pausch said.

Most laptop users can easily connect one or more external monitors to achieve this effect. Read "Step-by-Step: A Three-Screen Workstation for $230 or Less" for tips and how-to advice. Also read fellow PCW contributing editor Steve Bass's blog, "Dual Monitors—The Only Way To Go."

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