Media Magazine

40 Years/40 Lessons (16) Time.

By Themarioblog @garciainteract

TAKEAWAY: This is part 16 of my occasional series 40 Years/40 Lessons, which I call a “sort of career memoir” capturing highlights and reminiscing about what has been a spectacular journey for me, doing what I love most.  Today’s segment: all about time management and the need to unplug!

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Illustration by Ana Lense Larrauri/The Miami Herald

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Here are some of those unplug time pleasures

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And 11 grandkids—-3 girls and 8 boys—-provide the best of unplug time for Abo


It happened this weekend again.  I had just landed in Hong Kong from Sydney, Australia, and posted a Facebook comment to the effect that, as my flight had arrived 40 minutes earlier, and the sun was still shining in a very warm Hong Kong, I would put on my running shoes and go for a jog to cut the jet lag and revive me for the evening.

A Facebook friend commented: “Sir, just inspired by your regular evening jogs..Moreover inspired by your immaculate time management.“

Indeed, this is something that I get more times that I can remember: Mario, how do you manage to do so many things?

Believe me, there is no magic to time management, and, probably more of a sense of discipline. In addition, I am a firm believer that time management is among the most individual of traits, and NOT one that arrives with us at birth (the scientists out there may differ).  I believe that we develop time management skills early in our lives, and, again, it has little to do with an agitated mother nagging us, and all to do with how we face the inevitability of the clock in front of us.

When I was a child we did not use the terms time management and, even less, the so popular and cool phrase of today: multitasking (not my favorite, I confess).

But I do remember that , as an only child, I constantly watched two parents who managed time exceptionally well,  so perhaps some of that rubbed off on me.  But it might also be the fact that at the age of 8 I would get up to face a day of regular school, then music lessons each afternoon (piano, accordion and violin are the three instruments that I was exposed to, with piano my favorite and the only one that I continue to practice and to enjoy to this day, when TIME allows!).  By the time I was 10, I had entered the world of acting. Yes, sir, then I had school, music lessons, and lines to remember, rehearsals to attend and shows to do.

Is that enough to make you learn time management instantly?  And, of course, multi tasking circa 1959, was in full bloom.  My mom managed a lot of what happened, but I had to be up at the right time, in school and studying at a specific moment, then finish all that and juggle the acting, the music, the performances.  Sleeping was always a priority, and continues to be.

By the time I arrived as a refugee in the United States, there was no change of time zones between Havana and Miami, but it did not matter, as the change of culture, language and lifestyle happened so fast that it was as if Big Ben , that great bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, had been put on steroids, its hands flying around at 400 miles a minute.  Oh, yes, that was some big dizzying ride in the sky of my head.

A different routine: gone were the glamorous acting days, the rehearsals, the theater performances and the TV studios.  In was an American junior high school, with classes changing on the hour every hour, then rush back home, do some homework, and head out to a job as a bus boy at a restaurant, till 10 pm, at which time I would finish up my homework before going to sleep.  All of this at 14 and with no parental supervision to guide me through the rigors of time’s demands.  It was “you set your alarm clock, you get to the bus stop and get on the 6:35 bus #14, be in class ready for Mrs. Sipes homeroom at 7:15,“ and so on.

As you can see, I have no recollection of a time in my life when I did not have to manage my time and do so with skill and responsibility.

During my college years, I always had to have a job to pay for my education, although, luckily, I was able to get “work grants” by working on the college newspaper, which meant that, in addition to my studies, I had to work four to six hours a day to fulfill the grant’s requirements.

Graduate school was a more demanding situation in terms of time: it was full time work (teaching), part time studying (evenings), with an additional part time teaching job two times a week on the nights when I did not classes of my own. 

Through the years, and as Maria and I raised four children, time management was important to get through each day, but by then my time management hierarchy was well established. Any parent reading this, especially moms, know that multitasking comes with the job. 

Time and time zones

Today, travelling one million plus miles a year, changing time zones like other people change socks (in the past three weeks, four time zone changes), and managing a variety of projects across three offices globally, all of those early time management skills come in handy.  What I learned as an 8 year old is reinforced daily. 

My formula is simple and not all that extraordinary.

Start your day by prioritizing what is likely to come up that day (this, of course, does not allow for that which may pop up——and you all know it will happen—-that cannot be anticipated). In my mind, I see a kitchen stove, with about four burners (make that six some days).  Pretend you are the chef of your own meal for the day—-sometimes a 7-course dinner!  One of the many items on your agenda must be in the front burner, set on high (no other item has the same priority); then go around the stove assigning levels of heat from medium to low to the tasks of the day.

This may not work for all, but it works for me.  Do I sometimes have two burners on HIGH? You bet, but that does not work well, and I try to avoid it. Life is about priorities.  Life is about choices.  Time management is about choices, too.  Making choices is not easy, but one must assign priorities before we can allocate time to tasks.

And sometimes time is the biggest excuse we have NOT to do something, or not to do it right.

In my days as a university professor, when a student did a presentation to the class and began by saying something like “ I wish I had had more time to complete this assignment”,  I always stopped him/her right there and said: Wish granted. Go ahead and complete it as you wish.

Normally what I got was a stunned face. This student usually did not want any more time. 

Time is that teddy bear with the funny face and two forever moving hands that is hugged, thrown around and blamed for many of our own miscalculations, lack of discipline and human frailties. We all have been quoted saying: Oh, how I wish I had had more time.

This is truest when it comes to saving time for fitness and exercise.  Time is the culprit, the bad guy, the super fat teddy bear that keeps us from fulfilling our most serious fitness intentions.

Time is delicious to steal.

Some of the best things in life happen when you steal the time to do it.  I guess I don’t have to go into details about all the pleasures we derive from stolen time.  Call it planned serendipity.

In terms of running time, I am a bigger thief than Prometheus, Robin Hood and even Jesse James.  I will steal 30 minutes from anywhere in my day for this, and sometimes it does not come easy. And when 30 minutes is just NOT possible, I go for the 20 minute run. How does one become a time thief?  Here you have to be calculating and move fast, like thieves do: if I am not able to run in the morning, I look for a window of possibility during the lunch hour (and if it appears, I jump on it); if lunch is booked, then I look for the early evening run (preferably outside, enjoying nature, but maybe the gym is the only way to do it).  And then you go for it: last week in Australia my “window” of opportunity was timed to the second.  Finish a workshop at 4:30 pm, get to the hotel (10 minute drive), change and run in the gym, shower and reappear for a 6 pm gala dinner. Presto. Done.

Start looking at time blocks as what they are: 30 minutes is a mini eternity within a 24 hour day, so can be 5 minutes to cleanse your mind after a meeting that has not gone so well.  Time as medicine.

And do I fall off the time wagon sometimes?

Of course, many times. Also, there are lazy days (as must be).  There are lazy hours (part of the recipe for survival).  There are lazy five minute breaks (highly recommended).

And time is so absolutely democratic: the same 24 hours for everyone.  It is what you do with them that counts.

It is a shame that so little formal training exists for time management, starting in primary school.  It is what makes or breaks so many careers, relationships, businesses.

Time to do nothing

Finally, good use of time is about the contrast of two modes: doing and not doing.

I believe in plugging myself in with the same passion that I unplug myself.  It is marvelous to be plugged and going at it; it is important and pleasurable to unplug and do your non work related thing.

Think of a long run. Think of a glass of Veuve Clicquot. Think looking at the sea without a thought in your mind.  Think looking at the clouds that never cease to mesmerize, outside your aircraft window.

Think playing trains with my grandson Frankie, or seeing the world thru the eyes of any of my other grandkids. Think of seeing my favorite Broadway star, Sutton Foster, do her 8 minute tap dance number in Anything Goes.  Think of reading the new Mario Vargas Llosa.

Unplugging time is always part of my day.  It is mine and only mine. I customize it to suit my needs and moods.  I look forward to unplug time everyday.

Then, alas, the energies are restored and when it is plug in time again, I always do it with gusto.

Time is my teddy bear too, but I hug it more than I throw it around.

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It’s Hong Kong this week

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I visit my friends at the South China Morning Post this week for a first follow up visit since the redesign, conducting critiques and meetings with editors of the various platforms.  Promise you updates here.

Previous blog posts about the South China Morning Post:

South China Morning Post: new beginnings in a new Hong Kong, new China

On the fourth day: South China Morning Post design evolves

The marketing of the South China Morning Post relaunch


TheMarioBlog post #837

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