The Tribune - Spectrum

, September 8, 2002

Learning to manage oneself with respect to time
Review by D.S. Cheema
Cool Time and the Two Pound Bucket by Steve Prentice. Macmillan India Ltd. Pages 298. Rs 220.

"WE the physicists work with time every day", said late Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, "but don’t ask me what it is. It is just too difficult to think about." Some define time as "Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once." For centuries our calendars and clocks have tried and failed to tame the greatest mystery of the universe, time.

Of all the resources, time appears to be the least understood and most mismanaged. This unique resource is unforgiving and unconquerable. It cannot be turned on or turned off like a machine, or replaced like a man, it is irretrievable and once time is lost it is lost for ever. Chaplin Tyler said, "Time is the most inexorable and inelastic element in our existence". Peter Drucker says, "Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed". However, we seem to leave the ultimate disposal of this priceless commodity unplanned and uncontrolled, subject to vagaries of chance. One reason for this oversight may be our failure to recognise that time management is actually a misnomer. In the strict sense, we don’t manage time as the minute hand is beyond our control and it moves on relentlessly. It is a question not of managing the clock but of managing ourselves with respect to the clock.


Cool time and the Two-pound Bucket
is one among the many books on the subject. As the modern society feels the increased intensity of having ‘no-time’, more and more literature related to time management gets churned out. The age-old time-tested principles of managing ourselves have been explained in a fresh and more detailed manner. One interesting and useful chapter titled ‘Tools of Trade’ will be specially useful for the reader, though many ‘tools’ are not in common use in our country. The strategy to win back control over every minute, indeed, seems to be oversimplified by the author who feels everyone can guide his destiny by adopting a very personal system of controlling himself. While it is, indeed, true that if one can resist the temptation to not do what one ought to be doing, the entire world would be at one’s feet, yet this is also true that very few can resist that temptation. Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist anything but temptation". Self discipline is probably the most difficult step in time management and probably the most important one, too.

The book has certain special features. One, it lays special emphasis on total time management i.e. it focuses on the 24-hour person and not just the 9-5 person. Two, the author sees time management as charged behaviour and suggests ways and means to accept change and stick to the modified behaviour pattern. Three, the book recognises that since no one operates in vacuum, there is a need to focus on the ‘time-manager’ as a team member who has to communicate his time-management intentions very clearly to his boss, superiors, colleagues and clients. Four, he has created a "yes, but —," icon to address a particular objection the reader may have to his argument. Five, the author has provided the reader with the Cool Time website at where the reader can learn more about the book. The reader can also reach him directly at

The book has used the two-pound bucket to represent a fixed amount of time. It represents 24 hours which all of us have and can use. Since the bucket is fixed in size and volume, the trick to time management is in learning how to fill the bucket in best possible manner rather than waiting to find a bigger bucket. The author suggests the concept of the Keystone Period of focus and productivity. It, in essence, is the chunk of 'unfractured' time which everyone needs to be able to do any useful activity. This ‘quiet time’ which should be in the morning hours, when one is at his best biologically, could stretch from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on one’s specific needs. Telephone calls, meetings and visitors are considered the most common interruptions due to which time is fragmented and working time is broken up into periods so small that it is virtually impossible to handle any serious task. One should create a ‘quiet hour’ when no one disturbs and allot more time to subordinates in fewer meetings rather than few minutes in many meetings.

The chapter, ‘The Galactic Rubber Floor Mat’ is an invitation to the reader to change the status quo is his professional and personal life. Details of how to manage routine activities in professional life have been provided — managing one’s mail and e-mail, telephone calls, meetings and personal habits. Procrastination through indecision is one of the biggest reasons why time is wasted as the same aspect is studied over and over again and still not disposed of. That doesn’t mean taking snap decisions which have to be revised again and again. Loyalty to one’s own decision, once taken deliberately, can save a lot of time.

Planning and structure, named ‘The I-Beam Review’, basically looks at the importance of planning in success. The author uses traditional project management techniques to assist in managing time. A priority chart illustrates how to assess and process conflict tasks. It is suggested that every task should fall into one of the four quadrants i.e. urgent and priority, urgent but not priority, priority but not urgent, not urgent and not priority. Pareto’s 80:20 principle also helps in understanding the ratio of work to achievement. SMARTS (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-oriented, Signed off) formula which owes its birth to project management, can help assess the validity and priority of a task.

Chapter on ‘The Birds-Eye View: Perspective and Awareness’ relates to a high-level perspective of one’s entire situation related to managing time. The author discusses the work pattern of an average human being. Most people work at about one third of their total effectiveness and they work in phases. The body and mind ride a roller coaster of peaks and valleys, highs and lows every 90 minutes. Mornings are the periods of highest energy and alertness. One must prepare a project plan of things that are professionally and personally important using one’s bird’s eye view.

The chapter, ‘Work Life Balance’ stresses the need to give due importance to work, sleep and non-work as these divide our 24 hours in three reasonably equal-sized pieces. The old concept of managing time was to fill in every minute in a manner that maximum gets done in that slot of time. The new approach speaks about the breathers of ‘white space’, as they are called, which are needed to rejuvenate the doer so that he can realise his full potential and thus benefit both himself as well as his organisation. More and more people are realising that it is important to schedule ‘doing nothing’ to be able to do something worthwhile.

‘Cool time’ gives the concept of perfection through precision. It refers to the art and science of never breaking into a sweat, either mentally or physically. The author provides many useful tips to organise the workplace, taking stock of all the files, preparing checklists for various activities, using word associations to remember names, using follow-up reminders etc.

In the chapter "Emotional Bedrock: Acceptance and Implementation" the author accepts that the principles and techniques of effective time management are neither difficult nor revolutionary. They are straight forward, based on an inner conviction that what one is doing is right.

The author should have allotted more time to the most basic principle of time management, developing the right attitude towards time. Perhaps, this is of utmost importance to Indians. Certain people are born with the right time-management attitude, certain others are quick to learn these. Temperament and other unique traits of individuals have a direct impact on developing the right attitude. Individuals must know that time is important for them to realise their full potential. Unless and until a person understands the importance of time in his efforts to become a champion, he cannot hope to become one.