There are 1,440 minutes in a day. That’s all you’re going to have. Nobody gets more than that; time isn’t a renewable resource. So you need to find ways to make the most of what you have. What you do—and don’t do—determines your level of success.
When I was young, I thought I could do everything; but as I get up in years, I am more protective of my time than ever. As Chinese author and philosopher Lin Yutang said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.”
Your ability to think strategically about your day will make an enormous difference in your productivity and profitability. Highly successful people are experts at managing their time and priorities.
The good news is you don’t need to go to school or read 50 books to become a time management expert. You just have to master five practices:
1. Plan each day before it starts. “Never begin the day until it is finished on paper,” Jim Rohn said. “Either you run the day or the day runs you.”
Every minute you spend in planning saves you as many as 10 minutes in execution. It only takes a few moments to diligently plan your day, but this small investment will save you hours in wasted time and effort.
One of the things I do when planning is to ask myself what is the main event of the day? I want to know what one thing I must do well in order for the day to be a success. With that answer in mind, I can approach the day with focus and purpose.
2. Schedule your top priorities first. All items on your to-do list do not hold equal weight in value or importance. Most people schedule their days with a mix of high- and low-value activities. Don’t let the low-value ones hijack time and mental energy.
Identify your top priorities. Then put them in your calendar before anything else. My productivity went up tremendously the day I started prioritizing. It also helped to preserve my values. For example, I schedule family time before anything business-related.
3. Just say no. Everything you do is something you have chosen to do, whether you are conscious of it or not. Some people have a difficult time accepting this truth, but your life is what you are making of it.
If you are frustrated, exhausted or overwhelmed, there is a good chance that you have not said no often enough. It may feel uncomfortable to say it, but every time you do, you make room for a yes that really matters.
4. Expect the unexpected. Even when you have a plan, schedule your top priorities first and say no regularly, your time-management efforts can still get derailed. Do you receive phone calls that divide your focus? Has anyone ever stopped by to say a “quick hello” that lasted forever? Has a crisis caused you to drop everything? I’m sure you’ve answered yes, yes, yes. Even with the best intentions, you can find yourself subject to someone else’s agenda.
Don’t let the unexpected get you off track. When possible, carve out blocks of time when you can’t be interrupted. Work to create margins in your life so that when the unexpected happens, you are able to deal with it.
5. Apply the 80/20 rule to everything. One of the most helpful concepts for managing a schedule is the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule. Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the axiom says that 20 percent of your activities will give you 80 percent of your results. This means 20 percent of your customers will account for 80 percent of your sales, 20 percent of your products will account for 80 percent of your profits, and 20 percent of your team members will account for 80 percent of the group’s success.
In turn, you should spend 80 percent of your time on the vital 20 percent of everything you do. If you have a 10-item to-do list, tackle the top two with the majority of your might. If you have 20 staff members, spend 80 percent of your time with the top four. If you have 10 clients… well, you see where I’m going. Do these things, and your productivity will improve dramatically.
If you’re not sure whether these new habits are paying off, then spend a few minutes each evening reflecting on the day. Consider what you learned, how you used your 1,440 minutes, and what you could have done differently. By analyzing what went well and what did not, you can identify productive and unproductive patterns in your behavior.
In the end, it isn’t what you think about, talk about or intend to do that shapes the life you lead. It is what you actually do each day that determines your future. And how you spend your time is how you use your life. As psychotherapist Charles Spezzano wrote in What to Do Between Birth and Death, “You don’t really pay for things with [dollars and cents]. You pay for them with time.”
Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.