How many times has this happened to you? A deadline, like a hungry cat, is staring you down when, out from a dark corner, Life jumps out, wiggles her fingers, and hollers “Nanny-nanny-noo-noo!”? Pesky phone calls, troublesome mail,  malfunctioning equipment…you name it. All are the stuff of Life. And all can steal your time when you have none to spare.

Phone calls, especially SOS flares sent up to your Internet provider, are often the first of the worst.  You can expect them to cost you at least thirty minutes of your time, not counting the minutes they put you on hold. And the advice you get depends on who answers the phone. At this point, three things can happen. Your call gets dropped. When you call them back, you repeat your tale of woe to  another rep.  If you’re really lucky, you get a trainee reading from a script.

Troublesome mail, another time-thief, is snail-mail that arrives late Friday afternoon and can’t be resolved until Monday morning. You know you’ve received one of these gems when it starts with “Thank you for considering us for your insurance needs. Unfortunately…” or “Greetings…you are hereby summoned….

The chiefest offender is equipment malfunction, particularly computers and printers.  I am a teacher and a writer. So, my laptop is  a part of my anatomy.  My printer always goes on strike during the first or last weeks of the semester or at a crucial time in a writing project. Case in point, one afternoon, during high-volume usage, I heard it moan, “Ho-ly cow! Ho-ly cow! Ho-ly cow!” as it coughed out pages like a cat hacking up a hairball.

Our time is not only gold — it’s money. So how do we recognize and apprehend these notorious time-robbers?

I’d like to share some valuable tips from a book I used in Composition I: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by International leadership authority, Stephen R. Covey.

One chapter,  “Putting First Things First”  about prioritizing included a Time Management Matrix with activities listed in four quadrants, or sections, rating the importance or urgency of certain activities. Let’s save the best — the most important– for last.

Quadrant 4, Not Important and Not Urgent, is tops on the “Most Wanted” list. It is the catch-all for most trivial matters that suck us all into a vortex when we are most vulnerable. Some mail, some phone calls, and  time-wasters are among the chiefest of sinners. If you have spent even five minutes on a social-networking site, you know what I’m talking about:  answering questions about another member and games galore. In their place, they’re fun and are a good way to blow off steam. Encompassed by Quadrant 3,Urgent but Not Important, are interruptions,some mail, and some phone calls. We all succumb to these. Quadrant 2, Important but Not Urgent activities are prevention, relationship-building and creation of new opportunities.

The activities in Quadrants 3 and 4 happen to everyone. They’re like our pets and other people’s kids, okay, as long as they are kept in check.

Now for Quadrant 1, the Important and the Urgent. Crises, pressing problems, and deadline-driven projects fall into this category. (151)

A crashed computer or a printer-gone-wild would certainly qualify as a crisis.

As for the mail — that’s Quadrants 2 through 4 waiting to happen.




  1. I spent many years in the office equipment business, so I always have a soft spot for the poor overworked printers. Don’t choose a printer designed to handle your total printing needs. Choose one designed to handle your peak periods (i.e. buy the equipment that would handle your volume if everyday you printed as much as you do on your highest volume day.) Your actual printing activity may fit neatly into the lowest of usage levels, but if most of that printing occurs during one or two high peak periods, then you will always run into problems during the peak periods. The low volume printer is not designed to handle the higher running volume. This was the biggest procurement mistake I saw consumers make, whether they were buying printers, copiers or faxes. So many times I’ve heard customers say, “It’s like the printer KNOWS when I’m in a crunch time.” In a way, the printer does, because that’s when you’re pushing it past its limits.

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