We all complain about not having enough time to do what needs to be done. Yet, some people seem to “do it all.” And those people have only twenty-four hours a day, just like the rest of us. How do they do it?
The key to gaining control over your life is “working smarter rather than working harder” and managing your time.
The Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle states that “20 percent of a person's effort generates 80 percent of the results.” Although developed as an economic concept, studies prove this principle applies to everything, and it has become the Golden Rule of Time Management. To manage your time, you need to shift your focus to those activities that produce results compared to activities which do not. And you need to know what kind of results you want to produce.
This is your life
Think of your life as a circle with 360º representing 24 hours per day, 168 hours per week, 8,832 hours per year. That is your entire life – the most you get. You use those hours in various ways, but you can’t add any.
Draw a circle representing your life for, let’s say, the coming year. How would you like to use your hours? You’re going to draw segments (i.e. cut slices of the pie) based on what percentage of your life you wish (realistically) to dedicate to the various aspects of living. If you need to spent 50% of your time and effort on family, half your pie will be one segment marked Family.
You can call the segments whatever categories fit your life, but the following are basics. Delete, rename, and add others as they apply to you.
●Your Passion (whatever that is if you dedicate a good portion of your life to it)
●Love Life (time you spend with your significant other, dating, nurturing a relationship)
What percentage of your life over the next year do you choose to dedicate to the various segments? How much time (percentage of your day, week, month, year) do you intend to spent on each? Which are the most important?
This is another tool for setting priorities. Be realistic. If you sleep an average of five hours/night, you’ve already used 1,825 or 21% of your yearly hours. If it’s important to get through your last year of college and graduate, you may choose to dedicate more time to this segment of your life until you accomplish that goal.
It’s important to put this into a longer time frame, in part because of day-to-day / month-to-month variations and, in part, because you are using it to bring yourself into focus and set goals. You’re going to say to yourself, “This year I really need to focus on getting more involved in my community.” Or Education. Or whatever.
That doesn’t mean you don’t do the other things, but you can manage your life to focus on what you need to do. If you have small children, then you may choose to focus on family. If you have an elderly parent, you may have to focus on care giving (I’d put that under health or family).
Use your time effectively to produce results
● Overcome Procrastination
Procrastination is a time stealer that can be eliminated. People tend to procrastinate for two reasons.
▪ First, because the task is considered to be unpleasant. To overcome a reluctance to engage in less pleasant tasks, tackle the difficult ones first and get them over with. Otherwise, you will fret about it and not do anything and it still needs to be done.
▪ Second, because the entire task looks so overwhelming a person doesn’t know where to begin. Break the task down into smaller tasks based on sequence and priority, and tackle them one at a time.
● Learn to work Efficiently and Effectively
There is a difference between effective and efficient. We all should strive to use our time both effectively and efficiently.
▪ Effective (adj.): Adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result. Being effective is all about doing the right things (to produce the results, achieve the goals, etc.)
▪ Efficient (adj.) Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. Being efficient is all about doing things in the right/correct manner.
How do we figure out what are “the right things”? Those are the activities that produce the results we want. Tim Ferriss, in his 2007 bestseller The 4-Hour Work Week suggests we learn to focus our attention on the 20% of our activities that contribute to 80% of the results.
● Learn the difference between Urgent and Important
Having goals and setting priorities is critical, but you’ll still have to change your focus from staying busy to producing results. To do that, you must be able to distinguish between activities are Urgent and those that are Important. They’re not the same thing.
▪ Important activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals.
▪ Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are often associated with the achievement of someone else's goals. We concentrate on these because they are the "squeaky wheels that get the grease." They demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.
And we tend to set aside the important tasks until later “when I have time.”
Right. And that “time” never comes. Those back-burner items never seem to get done. Here are three examples of "The Urgent":
▪ Pressing or burning imperatives that must be completed immediately.
▪ Critical or vital tasks that someone else insists be performed without delay.
▪ Unrelenting and persistent routine demands on your time.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn't address the Urgent. But instead of dropping what you’re doing, ask yourself the following and then decide if you are going to stop working on the important activity for the urgent one.
▪ Is it a priority? Will it produce a longer time, important result?
▪ Does the task need to be done right at this moment, or is there something else on your list that should come first?
▪ Is it going to take your focus off of more important tasks with long-term results?
▪ Does the task need immediate attention, though it has only small and short-term results?
▪ If left undone, is the problem likely to grow into something important as well as urgent? What are the consequences of not doing it right now?
● Ask Yourself “What is the best use of my time right now?”
This was the most valuable technique I learned from all the courses I took in Time Management. It’s easy to waste little bits of “down time” by doing nothing and by not being prepared to use those smaller segments of time. Waiting in the Doctor’s office, waiting for a meeting to start, or watching your child’s soccer game. Always have things you can work on in small increments of time.
Back to the Pie Chart
Obviously, in real life there are mundane day-to-day activities we must do—laundry, washing dished, feeding the kids, and so on—but aren’t going to help us achieve our career goals. Those things need to be accounted for in your distribution of time (your pie chart) and done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
After figuring out how much time and effort you intend to put toward your writing career by using the pie chart exercise, the important thing is going through the same process for the Career/Profession/Writing segment of the pie.
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