What would you do if someone gave you a million dollars?

Most of us would protect it in some way like our other possessions, yet we let one of our most valuable assets slip away with little thought.

We don't realize that time is our most valuable possession. We are all given the same amount of time each day — 1,440 minutes.

We have a bit more than a million waking minutes over the space of three years. A million minutes — more valuable than a million dollars, in my opinion.

You can only do so many things with a million dollars. But with time, you can do so very much.

We save it. We shave it. But we can't store it, speed it up or slow it down. Every minute is precious. So cherish it. Invest it. Use it to do more, grow more, give more and be more.

It so happens that February is National Time Management Month.

I learned time management skills at a young age by following my dad around. He was an Associated Press correspondent and later the St. Paul bureau chief. He lived by deadlines and by aphorisms such as: "Miss a deadline, miss a headline."

People who make the worst use of their time are the same ones who complain that there is never enough time.

When we make ourselves so busy that we are always rushing around trying to get this or that done or over with, we kill something vital in ourselves. Don't mistake being busy with using your time well.

Organizing your time is important, but you can't do that until you understand what your priorities are and what goals you are working toward. So first, you must devote some time thinking about how you want to spend your time to achieve the results you want.

It's fine to want to have everything, but that's probably not going to happen. Instead, you can decide you can have anything, not everything, but you must choose how to use your time to achieve that. It will mean you might have to give up a dream in favor of another alternative you consider more worthy of your time.

Executing that plan takes discipline. That's where most people fail.

So where to start?

My plan starts with my top priority: family. Always. Next comes health, our company, speaking/writing commitments, friends and maintaining my network and volunteer activities. Then I allot time for things that don't happen every day, like vacations and special projects.

Clearly, you can't work all the time. Time away from the workplace is sometimes as important to your career as time spent at work.

Time management isn't really complicated. It begins with a commitment to use your time like a precious gift. Wake up grateful to be alive and remind yourself that you have an unmatched opportunity to use your minutes and hours to get closer to the goals and plans you have made. Then vow to make every second count.

As the old saying has it: "If we take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves."

Time is free, but it's priceless. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back. So take care of those minutes!

Mackay's Moral: Time is not your enemy — it's your secret weapon.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or email harvey@mackay.com.