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Charlottesville, Va.— Sunday, Dec. 9, 2007
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Professor with terminal cancer: There's less time than you think

By Brian McNeill  / bmcneill@dailyprogress.com | 978-7266
November 28, 2007

Randy Pausch has been thinking about time management a lot these days.

The former University of Virginia computer science professor was told in August that his pancreatic cancer had progressed and that he had only three to six months of good health left.

“Time is all we have,” said Pausch, who is now at Carnegie Mellon University and is recognized as a virtual reality technology pioneer. “You may find one day that you have less than you think.”

Pausch, who taught at UVa from 1988 to 1997, gave his final lecture at UVa on Tuesday. With little time left, he said, he wanted to pass along a few tips to UVa students and his former colleagues about how they can maximize the time they spend with loved ones.

“By being more efficient, you can leave work at 5 and go home to the people that you love,” he said, standing before an audience of 850 in Old Cabell Hall.

Pausch, a 46-year-old father of three young children, found himself in the national spotlight after he took part in a Carnegie Mellon tradition called The Last Lecture. As part of the tradition, professors are asked to think about what matters most to them and then offer a hypothetical final talk.

For Pausch, however, his lecture, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” was in actuality one of his last at Carnegie Mellon.

A video of the lecture was downloaded more than a million times in the following month. He was featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and was named Person of the Week on ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” on Sept. 21.

Pausch decided to give a lecture titled “Time Management” at UVa because he was asked by Gabriel Robins, a UVa computer science professor. During his time at UVa, Pausch was Robins’ mentor.

“Randy’s sort of a combination of Yoda, Captain Kirk and Jim Carrey,” Robins said. “I owe a lot of my success to him.”

During his speech Tuesday, Pausch gave the crowd a long list of strategies to minimize wasted time. One such tip was to create a comprehensive to-do list, ranked by priority. Break each task down into manageable steps, and always start with the job you want to do least, he said.

“If you have to eat a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it,” he said. “If you have to eat three of them, start with the largest one first.”

To reduce clutter and maximize efficiencies in a home office, Pausch said, spend time to set up an alphabetical filing system for important papers and invest in multiple computer monitors to make multi-tasking easier. Buy a speakerphone, he advised, because it allows you to work on other tasks while on hold.

“The speakerphone is probably the best material possession that you can buy to minimize stress,” he said.

Pausch talked about taking care of his phone calls during hour-long bicycle rides around his Pittsburgh neighborhood. By grouping together calls, he found that he freed up hours elsewhere.

Pausch urged the crowd to buy handheld personal digital assistants, kill their televisions and keep detailed time journals.

No one ever finds time to do things, he said, they have to make time. An easy way to do this, he said, is to rank the importance of tasks. If a task is due soon, but is unimportant, then simply do not do it.

“Pretty soon, you’ll be like one of those zen guys,” he said.

Most importantly, he said, if you do not actually want to do something, then don’t.

“If you’re not going to have fun, then why do it?” he said. “Life really is too short.”

Jim Aylor, dean of UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, said it was an honor that Pausch gave his time once more to UVa.

“I am thankful that he chose to spend this day with us,” Aylor said. “And honored that he is visiting us again on Grounds.”

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