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Recovering Lost Time

15 November 2012, 12:42

Here is the thing about time; it is finite. Time is a perishable product. Once you lose a second, there is nothing you can do to recover it because then you would have to reverse it. So what do I mean by ‘recovering lost time’? I am talking strategy; big hairy and absolutely focused strategy. I won’t keep you guessing for long so let me unfold my theory.

This is one of those pieces that require you to think a little to fully grasp what we are talking about here.

You can’t recover time in the absolute sense of the word but you can definitely recover the kind of progress you could have made during that time by starting to do things right. Of course this doesn’t apply to everything. There are things, moments in time if you please, that are just lost forever once you miss the opportunity. If you miss the birth of your child, there is nothing you can do to ever get that moment back. I am talking about recovering time and progress in realistic situations.

In this article I want to focus more on career, whether it be professional or entrepreneurial because that is what I write about.

So let’s do a little bit of math.

But first things first.

Losing time is a part of life

Every one of us has lost precious time in our careers, some more than others. I have lost time. According to my calculations, I am eight years behind in my career in terms of where I should be. I further analysed to see whose fault it was and realised that partly it was circumstances outside my control like decisions by my parents, national events, global events, political decisions and so on. The largest proportion however was of my own making. I am talking about a lack of clear understanding of the value of time and therefore not planning for it in proportion to its importance. By the time I woke up to the importance of time, I had already lost those eight years I am talking about!

How long does it take to recoup lost time?

Think with me for a moment. Suppose you lose one year of your career due to retrenchment, getting fired, failure of a business, sickness, etc. What is the true cost to you of this one year? Assuming that we hold all other factors constant and just concentrate on absolute time terms, we can arrive at a value for that time lost. We are going to calculate how long it will take you to catch up if you were to resume your career exactly where you left it, doing things the same way you were doing them and accomplishing exactly what you were accomplishing before you lost your career a year earlier.

I believe you get what we are trying to do.  So how long would it take you to recover one year of your career which you lost?

For answers, let’s analyse the table below.

One year has 52 weeks and each week has 5 working days. That translates into 260 days before we factor in leave and holidays. Putting aside 45 days for both leave and public holidays, actual working days that you would have lost in that one year come to 215. Now we know that we work an average day of 8 hours between Monday and Friday. 215 days therefore translates to 1720 hours of lost productivity! That, I find to be scary.

Suppose after that one year you resume your career and decide to put an extra 2 hours from Monday to Friday without fail. Those extra 2 hours are obviously an average including what you might work during weekends and public holidays playing catch up.

 Just how long would it take you to catch up, had you not lost your career initially? According to my calculation, 860 days! That translates to about 2 years of working for 2 hours extra everyday between Monday and Friday without fail!

So let’s extrapolate. If you lose 2 years, you are looking at about 5 years. If you lose 3 years then you are looking at 8 years of hard labour my friend. What about for me who’s lost 8 years? I am looking at 22 years of hard labour!

Years Lost




Working Days/Week


Total Working Days


Less Leave Days


Less Public Holidays


Total Leave


Actual Working Days


Working hours/day


Total Working Hours


Recovering the lost time


Extra hours to be worked per day


Days to recoup




Based on these very basic calculations and assumptions, one thing becomes very clear; time is of more importance in our careers than most of us presently realise. Now that I have your attention, I will turn my focus onto practical principles of how to recover lost time and most importantly, how to utilize your time to maximum productivity going forward.

Time is of utmost importance. There is a reason why they say time is money. Even though you can never reverse time itself in the pure sense of the word, you can salvage the kind of progress you could have made during the lost period provided you apply a few principles from that point of realisation of the importance of time going forward.

And just what are those principles? How do you recover lost time? Are there any examples of people who have successfully recovered lost time and have gone on to do far above what even they expected?

Let’s answer these questions.

Retrace your footsteps to the point where you lost your time

“The first thing you need to do when you realize you are lost is to go back to the starting point.”Anon

It is important to know where and how you lost time. There are two reasons for this namely, you will be able to get a more comprehensive understanding of why you are where you are and secondly, you will be able to know exactly what you should stop doing; the same things wasting your time in the present.

Put in another way, can you imagine waking up in the middle of nowhere and not knowing how you ever got there in the first place? That has to be the most nerve wrecking experience ever. But if you know how you got there in the first place, you will have an idea of how to find you way back home.

There is also a psychological aspect to finding out this information. It is possible to blame yourself for things not of your own making and thus end up suffering from a feeling of self defeat and hopelessness due to your interpreting your current plight as being due to your own faults and inadequacies. It’s very likely that you are where you are due to choices you have made in the millions day by day but it may not be entirely your fault and it’s important to know what is and what is not your fault so that you avoid developing a self defeating attitude.

In the same vein, once you have identified where you lost your way or started to lose time, make an effort to quantify the time period. It’s very important to be specific about what you have lost so that you can understand what you are trying to recover.

Take time to analyse the situation and how the time you lost has contributed to where you are either negatively or positively but whatever you do, quantify the time you lost and get an understanding of where and why you lost the time. Where you fired from your job? If yes then why? Underperformance? Suppose it is that then how much time do you estimate you lost before you resumed a career? 1 year? If so, in time terms you have to catch up by working an extra 2 hours every week day for the next two years. Can you see the benefit of knowing exactly how much time you lost?

Stop doing the things that are costing you time!

“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.”

This is a very obvious and logical next step in recovering lost time. Because you have taken time to reflect, analyze and find out where, why and when you lost time, you will know exactly what factors contributed to that loss of time in the first place. Therefore stop doing those things immediately.

There is no need to dwell much on such a self explanatory and logical next step!

For example, if you realize that you have a tendency of doing business with partners that constantly let you down or swindle you then stop dealings with them either immediately or gradually but stop all the same. They will just cost you more time and therefore more of your life.

Start doing the right things

This too, is self explanatory and logical. Once you determine what you need to stop doing, you then need to determine what you need to start doing. Continuing from our example above, you would need to be more thorough with your due diligence regarding deals presented to you before you jump into partnerships with anyone, no matter how appealing.

Sometimes you find that you study something that you thought you loved but at some point realize that that’s not your true passion. Maybe you have invested 10 years of your life into that career but the fact that you are unhappy with where you are and feel like you have wasted 10 years of your life would mean that that was never your true passion or is no longer your true passion. In the former case you need to recover lost time and in the latter, you need to stop the process of losing time before it even starts!

Emphasize diligence, efficiency, effectiveness and impact over hard work and time related organic growth

As in normal travelling, the road does not always have to be long and winding. For example, the highways are always the most popular but sometimes they are not always the shortest points between two points because they can be congested or just winding to satisfy a wider market.

It is not necessary to work for twenty years before you can start your own business. It is also not necessary to work 30 years before you become the CEO of your company. Length of time only guarantees old age. For rapid progress in your career, you need strategies and tactics that will result in diligence, efficiency, effectiveness and high level impact in your business or career path. Those are the ones you need to choose and concentrate on.

Don’t wait to be promoted by virtue of longitude in company service but by reason of exceptional skills and attributes that stand you above the rest within the company. Seek out these high value attributes and work on them day and night and you will realize that something that you would have achieved in two decades can take you only five years.

The key word is not just hard labour but diligence. You still work very hard. Oh yes, you still put in those extra two hours but you won’t need to go for two years, and in my case, 22 years before you can recoup you lost time. This is what we call employing a tactical approach.

If it had to take me ten years to get to where I want to be in my career and I have lost eight of those, it’s not necessary for me to recoup the full eight years through the strategy discussed earlier, which would equate to 22 years. I can focus my efforts on high value targets, skills, attributes, contacts and business deals that can catapult me to my goal in just the remaining two years.

When I was fresh form university, I stumbled upon information that opened my eyes to the importance of pursuing high value projects, priorities, skills, approaches and targets. We roughly calculated that it took anything between five to fifteen years for a person to earn what a college graduate earns, without a degree. And the reason? College education is a high value target, skill and attribute.

This therefore means that whatever you do in your career must be characterised by the pursuit of high value targets, skills, attributes and endeavours. Oh yes, you will sweat. Oh yes, you will burn the mid night oil. And yes you will have to forsake social time sometimes and travel when you would rather be on holiday but in due time the results will show.

That is what makes the difference between overachievers and underachievers.

To sum it all here is a question for you? What you spend most of your effort on at work and in your business; is it a high value endeavour or just one that keeps you very busy but is sending you on a long winding road to a dream that you might never reach?

Set a clear goal within a specific time period

You need to know where you are going and by what time you will get there. Wondering in life believing that you will miraculous get wealthy or rise to the top of your career will definitely get you somewhere. It’s called nowhere!

One of the things I have learnt about accumulating wealth is that it is not as exciting as the end product. It involves planning in detail and mundane calculations that will bring tears to your eyes but for the reward at the end.

It involves doing business plans and personally I find the thought of doing business plans as repulsive as any other but I have learnt the value and so I have forced myself to master that high value skill. A business plan will set specific business and financial goals for your company and at the same time put all those in a specific time period together with what needs to be done to get there.

Plan, plan, plan. Set specific goals. Set specific times. Go through your goal so frequently that you will recite it in your dream. Believe in your dream the way you believe in the rising of the sun tomorrow. Why do you know the sun will rise tomorrow? Because you have seen it rise since the first day you came into earth. If you see your goal and obsess over it, you will start believing in its fulfillment the way you believe in the rising of the sun.

There are many other principles that can help you recover lost time but I believe the ones I have discussed so far are very crucial and will go a long way toward kick-starting your recovery of lost time.  

I can’t think of a better way to illustrate that lost time can be recovered than to give  a few examples of people who succeeded in achieving their dreams, some of them quite scary, despite having been written off as too old or past their sell-by-date.

These achievers are found in virtually every field you can think of with no exception. For one reason or the other, they lost time early in their careers but went on to achieve far greater things than most of their peers later in life. So, here goes!

Morgan Freeman

One of my favourite actors. Honestly, the earliest image of Morgan Freeman that I have in my mind is not of a young man at all! That’s because he only found his major breakthrough in showbiz late but has eclipsed virtually every actor you can think of and has become a favourite where elderly characters exuding authority and wisdom are required. Who can forget Invictus in which he plays Mandela, Shawshank Redemption, which has become a cult classic, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, the Dark Knight(which grossed over $1 billon worldwide becoming one of the best selling movies of all time), Million Dollar Baby for which he won an Oscar at 65 years of age and the list goes on. He is an American actor, film director, aviator and narrator. Morgan Freeman is 74.

According to Wikipedia, “Beginning in the mid-1980s, Freeman began playing prominent supporting roles in many feature films, earning him a reputation for depicting wise, fatherly characters.[5] As he gained fame, he went on to bigger roles in films such as the chauffeur Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy, and Sergeant Major Rawlins in Glory (both in 1989).

By the time Freeman began to test real success, he was almost fifty!

Raymond Kroc (McDonald’s)

Born in 1902, Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s outlet at the age of 53 and went on to grow the franchise into the most recognisable fast food outlet in the world. Before he moved into the hamburger business he was a milk shake mixer sales person. Wow!

According to the McDonald’s website, “In 1954 he was surprised by a huge order for 8 multi-mixers from a restaurant in San Bernardino, California. There he found a small but successful restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation. They produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items—burgers, fries and beverages—which allowed them to focus on quality at every step.

Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald’s restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955 he founded the McDonald’s Corporation, and 5 years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.”

I am sure everyone had consigned this old chap to a life of obscurity but he proved them wrong!

Strive Masiyiwa (Econet)

Strive Masiyiwa’s story is every Zimbabwean’s pride and joy. He is known as the Bill Gates of Africa due to his advances in the telecommunications sector in Africa and beyond. In 2011, Forbes estimated his net worth at $285 million (R1,74 billion).

According to, “Zimbabwe's telecom magnate Strive Masiyiwa founded mobile phone company Econet in 1993, though because of objections from the Zimbabwe government the cell phone network did not go live until 1998. It soon became the largest mobile telecom operator in the country. Today he serves as its chairman. Publicly traded Econet controls Mascom, which has 70% market share in neighboring Botswana. It also operates in Kenya and Burundi, and is the only African-based company with a telecom license in the UK (Econet Satellite Services). It has won a 3G license in New Zealand and will roll out a network there once the market is fully liberalized.”

Born in 1961, Strive was 32 when he founded Econet but by the time Econet went live, he was 37. Even though he was ready to go live in 1993, he was forced by circumstances beyond his control to delay the launching of the networking for a further 5 years but still managed to capture the largest market share within weeks of launching.

Talk about recovering lost time!

Nelson Mandela

Mandela spent 27 years in prison (he was jailed in 1963 at the age of 45) and became president of a free South Africa in 1994 at 76 years old. 27 years in jail, incapacitated by an ocean on all sides with virtually no contact with the outside world? Talk about losing time. I am sure more than anything else the one thing that must have eaten at Madiba’s heart was the loss of time. However today Mandela is celebrated as a legend and an icon of reconciliation. In fact we now have world Mandela Day each year!

I could go on and on but I believe it’s all too clear that no matter what stage of your career you are and how much time you have lost, you can still redeem time. The important thing is not too lose heart, remain focused on high value objectives and outcomes and see your vision through trials and tribulations and indeed you will achieve your goal.

Just for good measure, I site a few more examples adapted from an article by Kristen Houghton, Author of 'And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness' posted on the Huffington Post.

Clint Eastwood directed his first movie at 41.

Andrea Bocelli didn't start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some 'experts' told him it was too late to begin.

Phyliss Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was "too old" to become a success.

Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes and his partner Jack Kirby was 44 when he created The Fantastic Four.

Julia Child didn't even learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn't launch her popular show until she was 50.

Elizabeth Jolley had her first novel published at the age of 56. In one year alone she received 39 rejection letters but finally had 15 novels and four short story collections published to great success.

Mary Wesley was 71 when her first novel was published. Talk about not giving up!

Ricardo Montalban had his dream house built at the age of 68. That was when he was finally financially able to do so and he went full-speed ahead with it.

Harlan Sanders, the Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, was 66 when he began to promote his style of cooking and create an empire.

Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing as a columnist in her 40s. Contrary to a belief begun by the TV series about her family, the popular Little House books weren't written when she was a young girl at all. They were written and published when the 'girl' was in her 60's!

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