“The whole world is trying to get time from you… but every time you give it to the world, you give less to what you’re doing.” Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO, Chobani
When our energy levels are depleted, we don’t get much done, and we experience high levels of stress, frustration and general malaise. Few of us have mastered the art and practice of managing our time, despite the plethora of material available on the subject (best-selling author Tim Ferris wrote a 600- plus door stop about time management). We still take on more than we can handle and spend much of our lives in a panicked state. Yet others get much more done and come across as enviably unfrantic, cool cucumbers. They don’t have magic powers. They aren’t Jedi masters performing Jedi time tricks. But they do have personal rules they follow: Tim Ferris, for example, only answers emails twice a day.
Not surprisingly, those who are extremely successful are also extremely good at managing their time. Thanks to the numerous interviews, articles and bios written about them, we can glean some of their time-management secrets. Think ruthless. Think self-discipline. Think optimisation and efficiency.
You can do this. You can become a time management master. Here’s how.
1. Adopt a Default Position of ‘No’
You might have noticed that saying yes to everyone all the time has resulted in high levels of stress and poor productivity. But saying ‘no’ more often is what’s required if we are to maximise our energy levels and protect our time. It’s what the very successful do - as a matter of necessity. If you find this difficult, consider using phrases such as the following to help you avoid taking on more than you can realistically manage:
“I’d love to help, but I can’t give it the time it deserves right now”
“That sounds like an exciting opportunity but I have to pass on it this time - my schedule is ridiculously full.”
“I’m not taking on any more work at the moment, but I appreciate your contacting me.”
“I’ve been asked to concentrate on the XYZ project by Joe Bloggs – he needs a few things from me urgently. I could help you next week, if that works.”
It’s vital to say ‘no’ to yourself, too. So kill all notifications on your social media accounts. Unplug the TV. Use effective time management tools such as Rescue Time to help you maintain focus.
2. Make Sure Any ‘Yeses’ to Requests Are ‘Half-Yeses’
Rather than agreeing whole-heartedly to a request, you might want to half-agree, for example consider giving a ‘mini yes’ to a co-worker who wants to meet with you to discuss a project. In order to do this effectively and politely, you could for example ask the co-worker to email a few questions as a first step. A second step (assuming one is needed) could be a brief phone call, not a face-to-face meeting. This way, you avoid running around from meeting to meeting like a headless chicken. I wouldn’t suggest you use this strategy with someone who holds the key to your career plans. If the CEO asks to meet you, meet him. And by all means to do not suggest he emails you three questions! Well, unless you are suicidal that is.
3. Identify a Set Number of Vital Tasks to Accomplish Each Day
Some highly successful people advocate working from the 80/20 rule (otherwise known as the Pareto Principle). This means that if you have ten items on your to-do list, two of those items will be more important than the others. The key is to identify the most important tasks that ought to be done each day. If you find this difficult, imagine you have to leave town for a few weeks. Which tasks would you choose to accomplish before you leave? By prioritising tasks, you’re more likely to get them done. It doesn’t stop there, though. Make sure you schedule time slots during the day to work on each identified task. If you find that your day already looks full, reschedule other tasks/ eliminate the unimportant in order to accomplish your set priorities.
4. Only Touch a Task Once
Only deal with a task when you are ready to work on that task, whether it’s an email, a letter or a phone call. Ask any successful person and they’ll tell you that they don’t waste precious time on tasks they know they won’t be able to deal with appropriately. This ‘single handling’ is in contrast with ‘multi-tasking’ which has been shown in several studies to be detrimental to productivity.
5. Tackle your Most Important Task First
Take another page from the page of the successful and realize it’s important to get your most important task out of the way first. The highly successful focus on their most important task first and maintain this focus until completion of the said task. Projects with multiple parts are organized by sequence, scheduled and worked on until the entire project is finished.
6. Put your Entire Life on Schedule
The higher up you climb in your company, the more important it will become to ‘schedule your life’. Make sure that you schedule in time for activities that are meaningful or that add value to your life: a date with a friend or partner, time with your children, exercise, prayer or even just time to pause for reflection. (The current president of the United States still manages to play basketball a number of times a week.)
You’re a thinking, feeling, human being and not a robot, so it’s vital to put your whole self first. Reserving time for activities that enable you to ‘recharge your batteries’ and disconnect from work will keep you grounded, motivated and, according to psychologists, it will make you more creative.
7. Depend on Other People More
It’s tempting for us to horde work, particularly during times when we want to prove our worth. But the higher up you climb in an organisation, the more strategic your role becomes (usually,) and you will then find it impossible to do everything. The very successful have a trusted team of people in place to whom they can delegate specific responsibilities. Tim Ferris, for example, has an army of virtual assistant he relies on for various tasks. This frees him up to concentrate on more strategic matters. Don’t limit delegation to work affairs: the very successful employ help for tasks outside of work - cleaners, childminders and chefs for example.
8. Have an Overall Purpose to Your Life
According to author Tom Cunningham, if you have a clearly defined and definite purpose to your life, you have the “best time management tool”. You will adopt habits, routines and structures to ensure that your time is spent in service of your goal. Time flies, but you’re the pilot, so make sure you steer your life in the right direction of travel. This is what the highly successful do, and they rarely deviate from their path.
See Also: Time Management Mistakes to Avoid
Highly successful people don’t spend time, they use it, in the most productive way. For them the question is not only how best to use their time, but it’s also how else they could be using their time (opportunity cost). They focus on their core competencies and eliminate or delegate whatever falls outside of their core competencies. They single-task, delegate, prioritise and ensure they are in full control of the driving seat of their life choices. Everything they do serves an overall purpose. The guide above simply contains some of the approaches that help them, and will help you, to conquer the demands of work and life whilst having a life.