TIME. I find it hard to even define the word perfectly, but I certainly know that I never have enough time. I also know that it goes by extremely fast. In fact, isn’t that exactly why we hear so many people say, “Time simply flies.”
The English poet Austin Dobson came closer to the truth when he noted in 1877: “Time goes, you say? Ah no! Alas, Time stays, we go.” Since his death in 1921, Dobson has been gone for almost 80 years; time has continued.
One reference pointed out these interesting realities.
The time that the typical employee in Canada spends in work-related activities each week, based on a sample of 25,000 workers.
The time, on average, that people in the United Kingdom four years of age or older spent watching TV each day in 2011.
The time that fathers in India spend talking with their children each day. Working mothers there spend about 11 minutes talking with their children; and stay-at-home mothers, no more than 30 minutes.
This recalls some fundamental questions. What is most important to me?
Ways to Create More Time
Having identified the activities with which you want to fill your days and hours, the challenge is to move from optimistic theory to actual practice. The following suggestions may help you to do that.
1 KEEP A DAILY TO-DO LIST. Number items according to the order in which you will handle them. Indicate items that are worth spending more time on. Check off each item when it is completed. Carry over unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list.
2 SYNCHRONIZE YOUR CALENDARS. Don’t risk missing an appointment because it is only in your other calendar. If you have a calendar in your computer and another in a handheld device, see if you can synchronize the two.
3 WRITE AN “ACTION PLAN” consisting of all the steps involved in a project and put these in their proper sequence.
4 GENERALLY, SCHEDULE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS FIRST. It will be easier to find time for the less important ones.
5 SET GOALS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE A LARGE DEGREE OF CONTROL. You have more control over increasing your skill at a certain job than over becoming president of your company.
6 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE TIME FOR EVERYTHING. Favor activities that yield the most important results. What about other tasks that are urgent or that simply have to be done? If you cannot eliminate or delegate them, see if you can spend less time on them. Some unimportant tasks can wait for months if necessary, or they may not need to be done at all. Allocate as much time as possible to those activities that are related to what you feel is truly worthwhile considering your goals.
7 KEEP A TIME LOG. To find out where your time is going, keep a time log for one or two weeks. Is much time lost on unimportant activities? Do most of your interruptions come from the same one or two individuals? Are you most likely to be interrupted during a certain part of the day or week? Eliminate time-wasting activities that have crept in.
8 SCHEDULE LESS. If you plan to shop for food, fix the car, entertain friends, see a movie, and catch up on reading—all in one day—you will feel rushed and will enjoy nothing.
9 MINIMIZE INTERRUPTIONS. Block off a portion of time each day during which you are not to be interrupted unless it is necessary. If possible, turn off your phone during this time. Also, turn off electronic pop-up alerts if they tend to interrupt your work.
10 SCHEDULE THE MOST CHALLENGING WORK FOR THE TIME OF DAY WHEN YOU ARE MOST ENERGETIC AND ALERT.
11 DO THE MOST UNPLEASANT TASK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Once it is out of the way, you will feel more energized to work through the less-challenging activities.
12 ALLOW TIME FOR THE UNEXPECTED. If you feel that you can arrive at a place within about 15 minutes, promise to be there within 25. If you believe an appointment will take an hour, allow an hour and 20 minutes. Leave a portion of your day unscheduled.
13 USE TRANSITION TIME. Listen to the news or a recording while you shave. Read while waiting for a train or riding on it. Of course, you can use that time to relax. But don’t waste it and then later fret over lost time.
14 APPLY THE 80/20 RULE OF THUMB. * Are approximately 2 out of 10 items on your to-do list the most important? Might a certain job be as good as it is finished after you give attention to just the most important aspects of it?
15 WHEN YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED WITH WORK, write each task on an index card. Then divide the cards into two groups: “Action Today” and “Action Tomorrow.” When tomorrow comes, do the same.
16 PERIODICALLY, TAKE TIME OFF TO ‘RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES.’ Returning to work with a refreshed mind and body might prove more productive than hours of overtime.
17 THINKS ON PAPER. Write down a problem, describe why it is disturbing you, and list as many solutions as you can think of.
18 DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST. Know when it is time to stop and move on to the next important activity.
19 WORK LIKE A PROFESSIONAL. Don’t wait for the right mood. Just start working.
20 BE FLEXIBLE. These are suggestions, not fixed rules. Experiment, find out what works, and customize ideas to your circumstances and needs.
This idea is based on the work of the 19th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and is also known as the Pareto principle. It involves the observation that often 80 percent of the results come from about 20 percent of the effort. It has been applied to many things, but here is a simple example: When a carpet is vacuumed, about 80 percent of the dirt picked up is from 20 percent of the carpet, namely, the high-traffic areas.