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Time Management: Are you a tortoise or a hare?

Do you remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? If you shook your head with a firm ‘no’ don’t feel as though you have missed out on anything, the famous tale is about to be retold. This version, however, is slightly different from the original.

Here you will be introduced to two characters that pit their wits against each other, not in a race, or in a combat setting but in an office. Watch them battle it out for promotion, both team players fighting for a job which comes with all the bells and whistles …this version of the famous story is associated with good time management skills. Who do you think will win?

Now, I’m not sure how popular Aesop’s Fables are these days, but I do remember being excited as a child to borrow such books from the library and always feeling as though I had been taught an important lesson at the end. Take for example the story of the Crow and the Pitcher; I was absolutely mesmerised by the way that the parched crow used his problem solving skills. Being unable to dip his beak into the shallow water at the bottom of the pitcher, the crow cleverly dropped stones into the container. This enabled the water to rise to a level where he was able to take a drink.

We know very little about the ancient Greek fable writer who blessed the world with his stories back in the 6th century BC but he was highly creative and thanks to him, many quotes have travelled through time and still remain a part of our everyday speech. Take for example the term “quality, not quantity”, this saying came from the fable ‘The Lioness and the Vixen’. In this story a fox boasted to a lion that she had given birth to many cubs whereas the lioness had produced only one. The proud feline replied by saying “I may only have had one cub but that cub was a lion…”

How many times have we heard the term “look before you leap?” This was taken from the book ‘The Fox and the Goat’. A sly old fox found himself alone, trapped at the bottom of a well. Cunningly he encouraged a goat to leap into the watery abyss next to him.  When the goat was by his side he quickly climbed onto his back and clambered to safety. The poor old goat was left to drown.

I should point out that these fables were not compiled from scratch; they were collected over time and re-created into stories. Now… getting back to the tale of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. This was one of Aesop’s greater creations; here we can learn a lot about time management. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the tale, allow me to summarise… this is a story of a hare and a tortoise who decide to challenge each other in a running race. Both strive to reach the finishing line as quickly as possible. The tortoise, who is by no means an Olympic runner, takes his time. The hare, who is always on the go, moves like a roadrunner. Ironically, the tortoise ends up reaching the finishing line before the hare. The moral of this story is that speed is not always an impressive trait.

In my version of the story, the same principle is applied but in a work environment. It goes without saying that daily tasks could pile up to such an extent that it is necessary to compromise on quality. Haring through them in a bid to address each and every one could result in repeated attempts to correct silly mistakes…this is when the phrase “more haste, less speed” starts to make sense.

Okay ladies, settle down… the story is about to begin. Miss Busy and Miss Slack are both in line for an upcoming promotion. The one factor which will determine who will reap the reward of that coveted director’s chair is productivity… who will come out on top?

“There is no competition” scoffs Miss Busy,” I am such a fast typist I can easily reply to ten emails whilst Miss Slack is still on her tea break” and with that, Miss Busy begins tapping away at the keyboard.

However, Miss Slack took the slow but steady approach. She compiled a ‘to do’ list which ensured that all her tasks ran in order with high priority ones at the top. She also monitored her team and noticed that she gained better results from them during the early morning. This was the time when they were fresh, focussed and raring to go. The most challenging tasks were delegated during these hours and the less important ones were saved until the latter part of the day.

In contrast, Miss Busy was frantically rushing from one task to another, often doing more than her fair share of the work, failing to delegate and multi-tasking as though she were an octopus. She was so fixated on being busy that she actually lost the plot and was taking longer to do things. Whilst she was losing ten to fifteen minutes talking to a client on the phone, Miss Slack had set up an automated answer phone message informing clients that calls had been received and would be answered within the hour. She remained unflustered and relied solely upon her ‘to do’ list as her guide. She made sure that each task was completed before moving on to the next and was never tempted to work on one task whilst half-way through another.

When Miss Busy had stopped talking on the phone, she realised that she had neglected many of her other duties and started to wonder where all the time had gone. She looked over at Miss Slack who  still appeared as slack as ever. When the day was drawing to an end, Miss Busy still had a lot of loose ends to tie up as many projects still remained partially completed.  When the boss reviewed both ladies work, Miss Slack still had a good 45 minutes to spare which meant that she could put her feet up and do absolutely nothing whilst Miss Busy was desperate for another 45 minutes to finish dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Miss Slack won the promotion and showed no significant signs of being stressed in any shape or form. Miss Busy ended up with a nervous breakdown and had to recuperate for a week in hospital.

Okay, this is a slightly different take on the classic Aesop’s Fable but the morale of this story is that planning and organisation is more productive than creating an image of a busy fool. Therefore, time management is an important skill which should be mastered and utilised. With the right system in place, even the most challenging of projects can be worked through easily and effortlessly.


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