General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual

by Milton Dawes

Based on a premise that we cannot manage ‘time’ since the word is a label for the measurement of an interval, in my workshops I usually translate “Time-Management” to “Management of Self With Respect to Time”. (Obviously any management of self will take place in ‘time’. But we can also manage ‘self’ in terms of minimizing conflicts, improving relationships, etc.)

Key variables involved in managing our ‘times’ include: awareness, planning with awareness, prioritizing, time-binding, and making distinctions between efficiency and effectiveness.

Awareness involves observing what one is doing, and also how one does what one is doing. I call this conscious abstracting, or abstracting consciously. This is based on the premise that we cannot deliberately change or seek to improve what we are doing, or how we do what we are doing, if we are not aware that we are doing.

Planning results from an attempt to structure the ‘future’ through visualizing possibilities. A smart planner endeavors to leave him/herself with much “discretionary time”. “Discretionary time” is a label for the time one has to do whatever one wants to do, whenever one feels like doing. Smart planners are aware that they are not completely in charge of anything. So they make allowances for uncertainty – unforeseen possibilities are included in their plans and commitments. For example, I usually give my self extra time when going to some unfamiliar place to allow for traffic tie-ups, parking difficulties, etc. Planning takes into account number of things: the diversity of things one is committed to do; the kinds of things one does; the time one has to do these things; the resources required, such as information, training, money, location, space, tools, equipment, transportation, additional help, and so forth. We can do only so much in a certain amount of time. And, we should remember that there are some things one can do while doing other things.

Prioritizing involves listing what one has to do, and classifying ones commitments according to a scheme for action. From a time-management seminar I attended some years ago, we used this scheme:

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

In terms of the general semantics principle of non-allness, this prioritizing scheme does not exclude other possible schemes. In terms of the evaluations “important, urgent“, etc., it is up to the individual to determine what he or she considers as important, urgent, etc. I might not for instance, evaluate as important or urgent, what another thinks I ought to recognize as such.

Time-binding in terms of ‘time-management’ involves being aware of how one uses one’s time and learning from experience to better manage one’s self in terms of time.

Efficiency and effectiveness address a general principle of “least action,” or ergonomic practice. This principle applies in learning how to better manage one’s times – from observation and experience – to discover a way of doing things that requires the least amount of energy output in a certain time. Two analogies I remembered from the seminar are, “Running fast, to get there quicker, is not very useful if you are running in the wrong direction,” and “No good putting up a ladder in record time if you are putting it up against the wrong house.”

In Time-management-Self-Management, a good habit to develop is asking oneself from time to time, “How am I spending my time?” This does not mean that doing nothing is necessarily wasting time. As John Milton wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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