Personal Habits for Time

What habits make your life more productive? How do you decide on the best uses of time?

By Fred Smith

Not all time losses can be blamed on other people. Some things are entirely within us.

Periodically, we have to review our personal habits—those patterns of behavior we establish to save time and then forget about. Sometimes habits deteriorate without our realizing it, until they are hurtful instead of helpful.

When I was younger, reading was a more valuable exercise than it is now. Why? Back then, I found a new idea on every page, it seemed. Now, having stored away a great deal of material, I'm lucky to get two new ideas per book. So I have to say, "Is my habit of reading as productive as it used to be?"

That doesn't mean I've quit reading. I've simply changed the kinds of things I read. At this point, I do theme reading (if I'm working on a particular project) or else what I call philosophical reading. I want to stay close to certain writers, even though I already know what they have to say. I read Oswald Chambers, for example, nearly every day. I want to maintain a personal relationship with his type of thinking, his personality.

Sometimes people read for ego reasons. They shop the best-seller list. Someone says, "Have you read so-and-so?" and they hate to admit they haven't, so they go buy the book or at least catch a review. This takes a tremendous amount of time. That is one reason the reading habit has to be reviewed every so often to be sure ifs still productive.

Another area to consider is driving time. It's gotten very popular to listen to tapes in the car. I do a lot of this myself. But I heard a bright man say he hates tapes because he can read so much faster than anyone can talk. Why take the time to listen when he can get the material in half or even one third the time in written form?

Another problem of tape listening in the car is that you can't make notes while you listen. You're really only screening to see whether anything on the tape is worth listening to.

Many times in an automobile, we ought to be quiet. Who says listening to tapes is better than being quiet? My wife and I sometimes drive a hundred miles and don't say a word. She may be reading, while I'm thinking about some subject, and both of us are making profitable use of the time.

What about the habit of the "business lunch"? In my judgment, eating together is generally only a preface to conversation. You eat for forty-five minutes before you ever get down to business. It might establish rapport, but it's hard to do serious business. I would rather have thirty minutes eyeballing somebody in an office than two hours over a dinner table.

Dallas is a breakfast town. Eating at home is almost a social faux pas. But we have to evaluate, "Am I really accomplishing anything" and not just not buying into the mover/shaker mentality. Usually, I do breakfasts before seven o'clock. I use this technique to find out who's really serious about meeting with me. I've even been known to say to someone who wanted counseling, "Fine—I'll meet you at six o'clock for breakfast." It is amazing how many back off.

But I remember one man who took me up on it and was waiting at the table armed with a big legal pad and a tape recorder. I probably helped him as much as anybody I ever

tried to help. We've maintained a relationship all through the years because he was serious.

Reviewing our personal habits is part of a healthy living audit. An element of time control is a current look at what works — and more importantly, what doesn't.