Time of your life
Former University professor Randy Pausch, who suffers from terminal cancer, shares his advice on time management to a University audience
Steve Austin, Cavalier Daily Associate Editor
By Steve Austin Cavalier Daily Associate Editor As exams approach, students collectively wonder where the semester has gone. As they look to make every minute count before finals, others have an even greater reason to manage their time efficiently. Randy Pausch, a former University and Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, has been dealing with that very concern as his pancreatic cancer diagnosis gave him three to six months to live -- more than three months ago.
After his September "Last Public Lecture" to family, friends and coworkers at Carnegie Mellon was viewed "over a million times" online, according to Pausch, he appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," was named "Person of the Week" on ABC World News and received $6.7 million for the rights to publish a book co-authored by himself titled "The Last Lecture." He brought a revised "Time Management" talk to Grounds yesterday to an Old Cabell Hall filled to capacity.
When he appeared on Oprah's show in October, Oprah praised Pausch's optimistic candor, saying the point of death was for people to value life. Keeping true to this idea, Pausch's talk only briefly mentioned his medical condition and focused on life -- not death.
"The lecture on 'Oprah' was good advice but more general," Pausch said following his presentation at the University. But "both lectures were meant to help people enjoy their lives more."
Pausch opened his University lecture with a short explanation of his condition, noting he was told Aug. 15 he had three to six months to live. When he spoke last night, he was at three months and 12 days.
"At this point, I'm an authority on what to do with limited time," Pausch said.
Pausch never dwelled on his illness, instead using jokes throughout his speech.
"I continue to be in relatively good health," Pausch said. "Chemotherapy -- I highly recommend it."
Pausch called his lecture a "pragmatic" means to managing one's time through everyday changes. With his speech peppered with "Saturday Night Live" references, inside jokes to his family in the audience and several Disney World mentions (Pausch was at one point a Disney Imagineer), Pausch kept the mood light.
Throughout the talk, he stressed the value of time. As he said, it is "the only commodity that matters."
Pausch said few people have ever said time and money were equivalent, though he noted time is even more important, as "you can't ever get it back." He then asked audience members if any of them felt they have enough time. No hands went up.
"We just have too many things to do and not enough time to do them," Pausch said.
With too little time already, the universal problem for everyone is wasting even more time, Pausch said. Because lost time is such a large problem, managing one's priorities has a number of benefits.
"Being successful doesn't make you manage your time well," Pausch said. "Managing your time well makes you successful."
Pausch asked members of the audience how many of them had to-do lists with them at the lecture. The majority raised their hands, yet Pausch said there is more to to-do lists than simply listing tasks. People need to break them into smaller, manageable parts, a point he illustrated by discussing how he convinced his children to clean their rooms by isolating messy areas one by one.
Borrowing from Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," he also stressed that lists should be ordered first by importance, then by when they are due.
With so many things to do in life, Pausch said one must avoid time-hogging distractions at all costs.
"How do you keep these unimportant things from sucking away your life?" Pausch asked. "You learn to say 'no.'"
He covered e-mail inboxes, office space, telephone usage and interactions with others as he offered ways to avoid distractions in everyday activities. His tips ranged from the subtle -- calling people right before lunch or the end of the workday to make sure they want to keep the conversation short -- to overt action, such as walking out of the room when someone doesn't get the hint they are no longer welcome.
"You don't find time for important things, you make it," Pausch said.
Pausch also said procrastination is another way to waste time because "we're all essentially deadline-driven." Pausch said procrastination usually occurs because of a fear of embarrassment, fear of failure or a simple fear of asking.
He explained that ultimately, maximizing time is just the means to an end.
"The end is maximizing fun," he said.
Computer Science Prof. Gabriel Robins, once mentored by Pausch at the University, was instrumental in arranging the opportunity for University students to hear Pausch's advice.
Afterward, Robins called it one of the greatest lectures he had ever heard -- "a lecture that keeps on giving."
Word spread in advance about the lecture so that 30 minutes before its start, the line was out the door.
Robins explained that despite significant interest in the lecture -- evidenced by people traveling from other states to hear the speech -- the task of "getting Randy away from his family" to give the presentation was daunting.
Pausch was not entirely without his family though. His nephew, a William & Mary sophomore, and niece, fourth-year Education student Laura Woolley, were in attendance.
Woolley said life with a time-managing guru in the family is unique.
"I definitely feel pressure to follow all the instructions," she said, adding jokingly, "there's always the possibility he might check in."
But Pausch does not spend all his time lecturing about time management.
"He's spending time where he needs to spend time ... with his family," Woolley said, mentioning their recent Thanksgiving together.
Pausch listed his current priorities as his family, medical treatment and planning for his family's future without him.
"Time is all we have," Pausch said. "And you may find one day you have less than you thought."