Many years ago, a management consultant named Ivy Lee was called in by Charles Schwab, chairman of Bethlehem Steel Co., to give Schwab advice on how to better manage his time. After observing Schwab, Lee suggested: "Every evening, write down the six most important things that must get done the next day, and list them in order of importance. Don't begin item two until item one is complete."

Schwab asked Lee how much he wanted for this advice. Lee replied, "Use the plan for six months and send me a check for how much you think it is worth."

Schwab realized the value of this advice. How you spend your time can be as important as how you spend your money.

After six months, Lee received a check from Schwab for $25,000, which was a lot of money in the 1920s.

Time is an organization's most valuable commodity. Waste it, and you are throwing away an irreplaceable resource.

Do you complain that you never have enough time to finish projects or complete your work? The reason may be that you're wasting your time, because you haven't figured out how to use it well. Here are some ideas to get time on your side:

Begin your day with a plan. If you have no plan on how to tackle your workload, you'll end up battered by competing demands. Manage your time better by doing the right things well, not by doing the wrong things faster. At the end of your day, make a to-do list for the next day, so you can be productive immediately in the morning.

Prioritize, don't procrastinate. Many people like doing the easy things first and saving the harder things for the end. But what if those harder things never get done, or there are emergencies that come up? Your plan should be prioritized by order of importance, even if it means tackling the hard jobs first.

Take on what you can reasonably handle. Sometimes it's hard to say "no," but be careful not to let your work pile up, causing you to miss deadlines. This can lead to poor performance and unnecessary stress.

Tidy up your workspace. Studies show the average American worker is a disorganized mess. A minute here and there spent looking for stuff can add up fast. A messy desk wastes time and adds to your distractions. Organize and get rid of the clutter.

Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep increases your stress level and intensifies feelings of being out of control. You'll spend time at work wishing you weren't so tired. It will also be hard to focus on the task at hand, which leads to a major time-waster: having to redo projects.

Take a break. Get away from work. Eat lunch somewhere other than at your desk. Take a walk around the block. A brief breather recharges your batteries and keeps you more productive, as evidenced in this story:

Two men were engaged in chopping wood. One of the men worked hard all day, seldom took a break, and took only 20 minutes for lunch. The other man took several breaks a day, spent 45 minutes for lunch, and even took a 15-minute nap before going back to work.

The first man became increasingly frustrated because, no matter how hard he worked, the other man's pile of chopped wood was always much bigger than his at the end of the day.

"I don't understand how you do it," said the first man one day. "Every time I look around, you are sitting down, and yet you cut more wood than I do. Why is that?"

The second man replied, "Did you also notice that while I was sitting down, I was sharpening my ax?"

Mackay's Moral: Killing time isn't murder, it's suicide.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail