Only You Can Prevent Lost Time
60 minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day. Seven days in a week. Where does time go? Good news… you’re not the first person to struggle with this question!
A long, LONG time ago, Marcus Aurelius wrote,
“Stop jumping off the track. You don’t have time to reread your diaries, or the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or the passages from their writings that you’ve collected for our old age. If you care about yourself at all, come to your own aid while there’s still time.”
- What does that quote mean to you?
- What does it mean to you… TODAY?
Does it remind you (like it does me) that you’ve got too much to do, too much you hold yourself accountable to… and that – unfortunately – there just isn’t enough of YOU to go ‘round.
In our frenetically busy lives, we all face the same obstacle: not enough time. The 24-hour clock is a brutal and unforgiving foe. Your to-do list grows while your energy wanes. Too often, you get things done for everyone else only to look back at the end of the day with one of two options:
- Sleep less, get it all done.
- Get rest, don’t get it all done.
It’s easy to fill the hours of your day, feeling busy and anxious no matter if it’s a work day, a weekend day, or for some of you reading this, a vacation day! What is one to do? How do you begin to take (back) control of your time?
With unlimited access to information and constant interruptions that force you to direct your focus on providing service to your clients, managing staffing and talent issues, and developing new business opportunities, you need to make each minute count so that you remain competitive.
Sound easier said than done?
Let’s explore a simple, yet effective, approach to making the most of the clock. Though much of what happens during the day is out of your control (stopped traffic due to an accident, someone at work not showing up because they are home sick, a boss or client who just had HER boss or client change priorities, etc.), you’ve got to “control the controllable.” How? Start by making three lists. Open your notebook and on the top of the next three pages, write these words (one on each page):
More. Less. Stop.
On this page, identify a minimum of 30 things that you want more of…both at work and in life. Often, people ask me, “Why 30?” The answer is simple, once you get that list to more than about seven you’ll leave the “physical” and start tapping into the mental, emotional, relational and even spiritual levels.
You’ll see in your handwriting what’s important to you; also, you’ll create the “cognitive dissonance” – seeing exactly what is on your mind that is inconsistent with what you want to be experiencing – that is necessary to make the required changes you know it’s time to make.
What do you need more of in your life? Where are your efforts spent that deliver the highest value? More time in strategy meetings? Crafting your personal brand? Coaching a colleague who needs your help? Reading to your kids before they go to bed at night? These are the areas that will lead to your biggest goals, drive the most progress, and contribute at your highest capacity.
Make a list of 30 or more things that you want to prioritize and do more.
Here, you’ll want to identify a minimum of 20 things that have your attention that you can spend less time on every day. Include it all, both at work and at home. The goal here is to objectify what – exactly – is getting in your way of being as productive and efficient as you’d like to be.
And, for a moment consider: Productivity need not be JUST about making sure you get things done all day long; some people define “productive” as the ability to leave work at work, and fully focus on the family at home. Others define “productive” as being able to pause and plan; what we call the “30/30 Rule” in our book Get Momentum: How to Start When You’re Stuck.
The “30/30 Rule” tells you to spend 30 minutes today thinking about, focusing on, discussing and planning a project that’s not due for 30 (or more) days from now.
What do you need less of? What do you need to do less? Perhaps you can spend a little less time updating your social media status, gossiping at the water cooler, or watching reality shows. Maybe you can consolidate all your interruptions at work, or you can go to a conference room for 30 or 60 minutes a day to work with fewer distractions all around. You may feel busy by triple-checking a report or holding yet another mind-numbing meeting, but these low-return time investments can rob you of the ability to focus on what matters most.
What are 20 items that should be reduced to make room for higher value activities?
Your job – today! – is to identify at least 10 things you can STOP thinking about doing this week. Notice what shows up on that list. Notice what you write down that makes you think, “Well, I’ll ignore it this week, but…” I’ve been keeping my STOP DOING list fresh since I learned this technique in 1997. Since then I’ve stopped doing – either by outsourcing, delegating or flat-out eliminating – hundreds of tasks that I used to think I was the only one who could get done.
We all have to-do lists, but have you made a stop-doing list yet? This list should include the most notorious and unproductive activities that should be eliminated altogether. Each of us knows what to add to our own lists. For some, it may be junk food. Some may need to cut out negative self-talk. For others, they need to stop impulsively checking email while driving.
These habits are tempting to be sure, but they deplete value and lure you away from your calling.
Make sure to identify at least 10 things you need to guard against, and then exterminate them as if they were fire ants.
Try this list-making (and list-reviewing) technique for the month – that’s all! Keep those three lists in front of you and focus on what you can make more of, do less and stop doing. While the first week may be a bit rough as you break old patterns, you’ll be delighted with the results by the end of week two. More time. Higher impact. Focused and more creative. Deeper connections to those you work and live with.
Since 1944, Smokey the Bear has told us, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” For those looking to reach their full potential, I’d add that only YOU can take control of your most precious and non-replenishing asset: time.
Your three lists will help you get there before your hopes and dreams go up in smoke.
Authored by: Jason Womack
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA is an executive coach and author of two best-selling books. He works with successful business owners and managers at mid-career to improve their mindset, skill set, and toolkit to be more productive, collaborate effectively and achieve their goals at work and in life. Follow him on Twitter @JasonWomack