The Time Trap
The Classic Book on Time Management
Authors: Alec Mackenzie, Pat Nickerson
Pub Date: June 2009
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814413388
Page Count: 320
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Fourth Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814413395
Buy the book:
PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION
ACKNOWLEDGING ALEC MACKENZIE
When AMACOM Senior Editor Jacquie Flynn invited me to write this
new edition of The Time Trap, I felt honored to help keep Alec Mackenzie’s
groundbreaking ideas current. A longtime hero to me, Alec was instrumental
in the early success of EBI, Inc., our family-held training company—
though he didn’t know it until years later.
Why The Time Trap Inspired Us
In our first decade in business, based in London, our company came up
against stiff competition from the hundreds of organizations flooding the
hungry training market there. Our edge? We were marketing the best of
American engineering know-how at a time when the British government
had mandated training for engineers.
But very soon, political upheaval in Britain caused wildcat strikes that
shut down electric power for weeks on end. The next year, the gas industry
went out—then the railways. Finally, the Post Office shut down for more
than three months, cutting off both direct mail and telephone service—
isolating every business in those days before smartphones and laptops.
These catastrophes shook everyone . . . our customers, our competitors,
Working like demons whenever we could get power for lights and office
machinery, we used newspaper ads instead of direct mail advertising.
Like every business, we labored to stay afloat. In our own case, forced by
circumstance, we opened EBI partnerships in other European countries—
not part of our original plan at all. Those excellent partners taught us that
a crisis can sometimes hide a blessing.
During those challenging times, we read Alec Mackenzie’s first edition
of The Time Trap. It gave us new energy, new ideas, new tools and, above all,
encouragement to persevere. Recovery took us five years; success took eight.
Thanking Alec Mackenzie “Live”
Well into recovery, with our business going steady at last, my husband and
I traveled to Schenectady, New York, to attend a Mackenzie seminar on
Team Time Management. Walking across the campus with Alec that day,
we thanked him warmly for the helpful influence he had long been in our
lives. He was modest and unassuming in accepting our thanks. In person, as
in his books and seminars, he stayed totally focused on helping all of us escape
from our time traps. To influence so many, so well, he drew on his deep
ethical sense for answers that were as pertinent then as they will always be.
In this edition, when you read suggestions from “us,” or when “we” tell
war stories and offer solutions, the messages will be coming from both
Alec Mackenzie and me. For this new edition, you’ll also glean ideas
from dozens of managers and specialists from every walk of business who
have escaped their time traps. Of course, you are invited to interact, too,
by sending questions and your own ideas for future editions to us at
HOW TO USE THIS EDITION
This is a not a book of light reading hints. Many people tell us they have
tried for years to apply “helpful hints” gathered from here and there, only to
find themselves ensnared again—out of time, out of resources, drowning in
a flood of demands. With that in mind, the opening chapters help you focus
first on those human habits that sabotage everyone’s best efforts. If you can
examine your day-to-day work habits with some humor and compassion,
you’ll construct a more dependable escape from whatever practices are keeping
Why We Stay Trapped
In Part I we unravel the tangled pressures that drive us—the many demands
imposed by our culture, our workplace, and ourselves. If you read
these five chapters thoughtfully, you’ll derive a uniquely personal view and
build a more reliable exit strategy.
1. Why Time Still Baffles the Best of Us
2. Time Traps We’ve Been Taught
3. How to Connect Goals, Objectives, Priorities
4. How to Set Priorities and Hold Them
5. How to Tame the Time Log
You’ll glean from these chapters a serious probe of root causes, with options
for permanently avoiding some of your time traps.
The Time Trap Lists: Old and New Traps:
In Part II of the previous edition, Alec Mackenzie reported on twenty time
traps that blocked business people and technologists from achieving their
goals. Because so many readers could relate, the book became a best-seller.
Here’s the list:
The Original Twenty
1. Management by Crisis 11. Meetings
2. Telephone interruptions 12. Paperwork
3. Inadequate planning 13. Leaving tasks unfinished
4. Attempting too much 14. Inadequate staff
5. Drop-in visitors 15. Socializing
6. Ineffective delegation 16. Confused responsibility and authority
7. Personal disorganization 17. Poor communication
8. Lack of self-discipline 18. Inadequate controls and progress reports
9. Inability to say no 19. Incomplete information
10. Procrastination 20. Travel
For our current edition, we took a new survey, sending out the same
list, in its original order, knowing that the order would have changed, but
wanting respondents to show us precisely how. Respondents soon erased all
A Glaring Gap Surveys came back, citing omissions that did not surprise
us. The Internet, e-mail (including instant-messaging), and cell
phone use/abuse needed to appear on the new list, everyone agreed. But,
while respondents spoke of these tools as “all one phenomenon,” we
needed three separate chapters just to scratch the surface of what’s so timesaving,
yet time-wasting about our new “virtual” lifestyle.
Reordering the Traps In twenty years of writing and presenting seminars
on time and priority management (first for Dun & Bradstreet and
later for American Management Association), I’ve worked with more than
180,000 time-hungry managers. Their issues and solutions appeared in my
earlier AMACOM book Managing Multiple Bosses.
In Alec’s earlier editions, he repeated his conviction that time traps
were enmeshed with one another. We warmed to his conviction that eliminating
one trap might cure several at a stroke. So, with Edition Four, the
time has come. The new list seeks to untangle and reconnect related traps,
offering escape plans for a multiple gain in a single leap. Still, we followed
the order proposed by our respondents.
Today’s Top Five Traps as Respondents See Them
Trap 1: Management by Crisis—still ranks Number One!
Trap 2: Inadequate Planning—formerly in third place, it now includes
the former Trap 8: Lack of Self-Discipline as part of this mix.
Trap 3: Inability to Say No—this has risen from ninth.
Trap 4: Poor Communication—shows a dramatic rise from former
Trap 5: Poorly Run Meetings—formerly twelfth, it now joins the
These top five traps reflect the pressures brought by the rapid, worldwide
change that roils every corporation and every government entity. In
follow-up discussions, we learned that respondents defined all five traps as
corporate or systemic traps, not simply personal issues that people could
correct by solo effort.
Communication Took the Steepest Climb As you see, this trap now
enters the top five list, moving from its old rank, seventeenth out of
twenty. Many respondents explained its new prominence in their view:
• “We’ve got great tools: e-mail, voice-mail, IM, etc. But so does
everyone else. So we can never get away from the fray. Worse,
e-mail style produces message fragments—everything sent in
haste, with little forethought.”
• “Even small businesses have gone global, so we lack the multicultural
awareness and long-distance negotiating skills to connect
with people, on the first try. With our partners continents away,
we make mistakes, without realizing that we’ve damaged trust.”
• “We isolate ourselves in front of one screen or another for hours
per day. Why do we put everything in writing, even to people in
the next office?”
• “We’re losing our face-to-face skills. We see a lot less patience,
tact, insight, compassion. People don’t know how to coexist in
a room anymore.”
It’s small wonder that “Poorly Run Meetings” followed “Poor Communications”
on the list. If you agree, you’ll be interested in the tools we’ve
embedded throughout the book—including many visual tools—to help
you get your points across to coworkers, bosses, and customers, with economy
and humanity, no matter which medium you use.
Second-Tier Traps: 6–9 Electronics and information issues led off the
next group of traps. Though respondents replied from scattered companies
and locations and at different times, with no group contact, their rankings
produced a consensus.
Interviewees clarified that all felt drowned by information. At whatever
level of management—experienced or new to business—everyone
now gets easy access to data that would have been out of their reach in the
rigid business settings of a decade ago. But this “infoglut” has stretched our
critical thinking skills to the max. Which data matters? Which data is correct?
How and why should it be used? So the second-tier traps were seen as
Trap 6: The World Gone Virtual (new)
Trap 7: E-Mail Mania (new)
Trap 8: The Untamed Telephone (new)
Trap 9: Incomplete Information and the Paper Chase (formerly
Traps 13 and 19)
The irony of Trap 9’s position blew us away! With all our newfound
electronic data gathering, how can we lack complete information? Easy:
Traps 6, 7, and 8 represent the deluge. Trap 9 represents our failed strug-
gle to wade through it all. More ironically we are still encumbered by paperwork
and surrounded by filing cabinets, long after the pundits promised
we’d be paperless! Using solo solutions, we can barely dent Traps
6 through 9, so we’re going to need an “all-hands” effort, and a systems
Still Buffaloed by Succession Issues The next two traps were an obvious
pair, at least to our survey respondents:
Trap 10: Confused Responsibility or Authority (formerly in
Trap 11: Poor Delegation and Training (descending from its former
Respondents saw a close cause/effect linkage between these two. They
intertwine horribly, but our insightful respondents insisted that we must
settle Trap 10 before we can do a decent job with Trap 11. In both cases,
much of the fault lies with corporate policies that often confuse and confound
the best managers’ attempts to develop and promote people fairly.
The Final Tier:The Challenges Get Personal At last, we come to traps
we can escape through our own efforts. The final three combine several
from the original list, to offer some “winner-take-all” solutions.
Trap 12: Procrastination and Leaving Things Unfinished. Blending
former Traps 10 and 11 made sense to all of us.
Trap 13: Socializing and Dealing with Drop-Ins. Combining former
Traps 5 and 15, respondents noted that the loss of face-time has
dragged socializing to a low spot on the list, making us less adept at
handling it when we actually need it.
Trap 14: Attempting Too Much (formerly Trap 4). That this final
trap has fallen so low, was a frightening sign. Formerly Trap 4, the
habit of “attempting too much” may escape our notice because
expectations have grown so unreasonable. Workers productivity is
high, but so is unemployment. In America today, earned vacation
time piles up until it expires. We now surpass the fabled Japanese in
time spent on the job. With massive off-shoring of both manufacturing
and service jobs, our audience members tell us: “Unless we stay
and do the work—they’ll find someone else who will. Warranted or
not, that’s our fear.” Read this chapter carefully, if you feel on the
brink of burnout. Regaining your balance is an inside job.
Two Issues No Longer in Play Garnering so few votes that they
dropped off the lists were these two traps:
1. Inadequate Controls and Reports (former Trap 18). Thanks to new
electronic tools, respondents cited automation as the new source
of controls and routine reports, even in small companies. Today,
data on a single event, recorded when it occurs, can be “sliced
and diced” according to preference; then, transferred to a variety
of subsidiary reports, and recalculated, automatically.
2. Travel (former Trap 20). Today’s “road warriors” seem hardened
to security hassles and chaotic flight delays. Fully equipped with
our electronic gear, we stay amazingly productive on the road.
No matter what the delay, we connect with our companies and
our customers more effectively than Alec had dreamed possible
when he wrote earlier editions. Still, you’ll find some practical
comments on controls and travel, dispersed throughout the text
wherever they can be helpful.
Part III: Parting Advice consists of two chapters, the first—Life Lessons in
Time Management—offering inspiring personal histories from people who
are making more time for their lives as managers, technologists, parents,
family members, hobbyists, and community activists. They share the secrets
they’ve learned that continue to inspire them. Perhaps you, too, will recall
those people in your own life who’ve helped you move toward time mastery.
The second chapter—Where Do We Go from Here?—provides a brief
roadmap of some concrete steps you might take in your struggle to escape
the traps you are enmeshed in.
Tools to Fight Hidden Resistance
In Part IV, you’ll find a set of Quick Solutions Summaries to help you persevere
should your old time habits sneak up on you again. Drawn from our
many conversations with intelligent and witty people, these Summary
Charts reveal the ten most common excuses that people use to avoid
changing their well-worn habits. We hope you’ll smile—and benefit.
Expressed with openness and humor, these “confessions” fill one column
per page, while the “recovery tools” fill the opposing side. If you feel a strong
tug of resistance when you try a new time practice—turn to these pages for
support, before you backslide. They will refresh your resolve to recover.
NEW FEATURES IN THE FOURTH EDITION
Throughout the book, you’ll enjoy two new features designed for practicality
• Human Comedy: Ironic confessions from time-taxed people just
like us who tried oddball fixes that failed. We hope you’ll laugh
along with them.
• Real Voices: Testimonies and tools from ordinary (and extraordinary)
managers who are building new time practices that you
might want to borrow. Adopt or adapt the ideas you like, with
Previous editions drew comments and scenarios from manufacturing,
education, government, and small-to mid-sized businesses. Currently, we
meet bigger populations of managers from finance and investment, biotech
and health care, energy, aerospace, and information technology.
You’ll read their cases and scenarios in every chapter, gaining new solutions
from their ideas and insights. Of course, we still work with government
and military populations, with public servants, and with small-business owners,
so you’ll enjoy a wide range of views.
ULTIMATELY, CAN WE ESCAPE OUR TIME TRAPS?
Today, as a manager or technologist, you may boast an excellent education
and strong motivation—but you also face unprecedented demands from
yourself, your company, your customers, and your community. If the obligations
of your work and life are keeping you awake at night—take heart!
Enjoy this book, write in it thoughtfully, try some of the tools, and return
to it in thirty days for a self-check. Construct a set of simple time
strategies that make sense to you. From the wide array here, you’ll be able
to select tools you can easily fit into your work and life.
All of us who worked on this book—Alec Mackenzie, my survey respondents,
my many mentors and teachers—we all wish you a rewarding
return on your investment.
More power to you!
San Diego, 2009
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