The Best Use of Your Time

In the 1960s a Senate committee predicted that by 2000 we would have a 14-hour workweek. Some people were concerned that people would become bored with all the leisure time they would have due to the various labor saving devices being developed. I don’t know about any of my readers, but even in ‘retirement’ I haven’t experienced a 14-hour workweek yet. In fact, it seems that the more technology I get that is supposed to save on my labor the busier I get.

One challenge almost everyone has is trying to determine the best ways to use their time. It seems there is never enough time to get everything done that is expected of us. About the only time I ever feel like I’m about to catch up is when I haven’t looked at my in-box lately. One glance over there and I realize I’m still behind.

Is there a way to better manage our time? The good news is that there is, but it takes a lot of work and discipline on our parts. Like most things we try to improve about our lives managing out time begins with some simple planning. What is it exactly that you want to accomplish? What will it take to accomplish that one thing? When you can answer those two questions you are on your way to using your time in the best way possible.

These questions are nothing more than goal-setting questions. Since I’ve covered goal setting in previous posts I won’t spend much time with it here. I will say this: Until you have precise goals that identify exactly what you want to accomplish it is unlikely you will improve the way you use your time.

After clarifying what you want to accomplish you have to identify the specific things you need to do to make that happen. Here is where the 80-20 rule comes into play. Eighty percent of our time should be focused on the most important things we need to accomplish while the remaining twenty percent should be given to the tasks we have to do. Those twenty percent tasks are what I often call “pay the rent” tasks. They are not the best use of your time, but you have to see they are done. The more of these tasks you can delegate to others the better off you will be.

The third thing is to schedule your work. Some suggest the last thing to do before going to bed is to make your to-do list for the next day. Others recommend doing it the first thing in the morning. I don’t think it matters when you do it. Just do it. Identify the tasks you need to accomplish before the day ends. List them starting with the most important to the least important. Complete the most important one first and then work your way down.

The fourth thing I recommend is to own your calendar. You have to control who and what goes on your calendar, and it’s important to fiercely guard it. You may have noticed that people who have nothing to do often want to do it with you. You have to keep them off your calendar. Speaking of your calendar, don’t be afraid to include your personal time on it. For instance, my wife and I used to schedule a date night each Friday evening. I had it on my calendar. If someone asked me to do something on a Friday evening I would just tell them I had an appointment for that evening. No one ever asked what that appointment was and no one ever complained.

When you are working on your important tasks avoid distractions. Emails, social media, even phone calls can be major distractions. One university study found that the typical office worker gets distracted every 11 minutes, and it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task. That is a lot of time lost from important tasks! Schedule times to check emails and social media. Turn off the sounds that alert you to incoming messages. Unless I’m expecting an important call I sometimes won’t even answer the phone when I’m working. (As I typed this my phone rang. As usual, it was a telemarketer. That distraction was only about 10 seconds!)

I’ve just scratched the surface, but it’s obvious there are many things we can do to become more productive and make better use of our time. It just requires discipline and effort on our part. It also takes being willing to be misunderstood by some people. But, by following these simple steps you can end each day feeling like you’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

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