People are frequently amazed at the amount of work I do. "Dave," they say, "here you are, cranking out in a single week the number of columns that many other columnists take a full day to write, and yet you still find the time to drink beer! What is your secret?"

The answer is: Time Management. If you expect to succeed in any field of endeavor, you must understand that time is a very precious commodity, like the barbecue sauce they give you at McDonald's when you purchase Chicken McNuggets: It is not something available in plentiful supply in plastic squirt bottles, but rather something doled out sparingly in tiny, hard-to-open containers. How tiny? So tiny that since 1983, McDonald's has sold 23.6 million McNuggets, but handed out only five total ounces of barbecue sauce, three ounces of which has wound up as indelible stains on my son's shorts. You need to apply these same principles in your daily life.

Do not overlook any opportunity to save time, no matter how trivial. For example, some years ago my wife and I realized we were wasting as many as five valuable minutes every two weeks waiting for the supermarket checkout person to total our purchases, so we switched to a system of making 50 to 75 fast, efficient trips per week to convenient "convenience" stores with names like the Kwik 'n' Krappy Food Mart, featuring a wide selection of bologna sandwiches created during the Big Bang.

Personally, my biggest time-management discovery -- aside from the realization that I could throw away, unopened, all mail that did not have my mother's handwriting on it -- involved my automatic home telephone-answering machine. For several years I wasted precious time every day trying to think up new outgoing announcements that would showcase my unique and subtle brand of wit, such as the announcement that consisted entirely of the noise you get when you squeeze air through your hand by forming a sort of bellows with your armpit. (TIP FROM A PRO: Get your armpit wet in the shower first.)

Then one day I had a major insight: I DIDN'T HAVE TO CHANGE THE ANNOUNCEMENT EVERY DAY. This was followed by an even MORE major insight: I DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO PLUG IN MY ANSWERING MACHINE.

It was a historic breakthrough, comparable to the time, millions of years ago, before the invention of tools, when some hungry primitive man was staring up at a clump of fruit just out of his reach and noticed a stick on the ground and, struck by a blinding flash of inspiration, picked up the stick and whacked another primitive man over the head and took HIS fruit. Because if your answering machine is unplugged, YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY BE EXPECTED TO CALL PEOPLE BACK. You have Plausible Deniability, the very same miracle substance that cleared Ronald Reagan in the Iran-contra affair when his aides revealed that they had deliberately refrained from telling him he was the president.

Of course my system is not perfect. For while an unplugged telephone-answering machine, thanks to modern solid-state electronics, can be relied upon to be 100 percent effective in failing to answer the telephone, the same cannot be said for the Human Element, by which I mean Doris. Doris runs the office where I work, and while I love her dearly and would willingly entrust her with my child, especially on weekends, she has this one bad habit of answering the telephone and filling out those hateful little "While You Were Out" message slips, which I bet are manufactured by the same corporation that makes the barbecue-sauce containers for McDonald's.

The key to returning phone messages in a time-efficient manner is to bear in mind that your objective is to return the phone message, NOT to actually talk to the person who called you. "Here, take your damned message back," is the concept you are trying to convey. This is why it's very important, from a timesaving point of view, to call people back ONLY WHEN YOU'RE FAIRLY SURE THEY WON'T BE THERE, such as lunchtime, or Easter. Even then, you have to be alert:

YOU: Hello, I'm returning Mr. Leonard Prongmaker's call.

PERSON ON THE OTHER END: This is Leonard Prongmaker.

YOU: Okay, then, I'll try again another time. (Hang up briskly.)

GOT A TIMESAVING TIP YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? We don't want to hear about it