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Time Management

Six Secrets to Making the Most of Your Time

Are you bad at time management? You can get better quickly.

UPDATE: I created a two-minute video that summarizes this and--at the risk of hubris--I think you'll find quite funny. HERE is the link.

Do you get less done than you think you should? In our harried times, many people feel that way. Perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you:

1. Realize you’ll feel better if you get more done.

Many people don’t even try to manage their time better because they think it won’t matter much. Perhaps they think their life stinks, or that they’re just bad at getting stuff done, so they check out. But while you may never be a whirling dervish of accomplishment, you will feel better and get more accomplished if you take some of those proverbial baby steps. As soon as you finish this article, ask yourself, “What should I get done?” Then break it down into one-second tasks: Open the book, turn on the computer, whatever. Then do the first one-second task, then the next, etc. You’ll start to build momentum and will instantly feel better, even if the task is as mundane as doing the dishes. If you don’t know how to break a task down into such baby steps or you hit a roadblock, ask someone for help. Don’t be embarrassed: Everyone needs help and the person will probably feel good about being able to help you.

2. Be time-conscious.

Finally come to accept that time is your most valuable possession. You’ve heard that before but most people don’t fully take it in. We have only a certain number of heartbeats. Making the most of them is central to having a life well-led. That doesn’t mean trying to have as much fun as possible. You could spend all your heartbeats on sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, and you’d have fun but your time on Earth would be less worthwhile than that of someone who was more productive and improved the lives of others.

3. Be time-effective.

You could be time-conscious and still get far less done than you want or should. The key is having a little voice on your shoulder always asking you, “What's the most time-effective way to do this?” Not the fastest way, not the best, but the most time-effective—the way that will yield the greatest benefit per moment spent.

For example, yesterday I wrote an article on why we eat too much and what to do about it. I chose the topic, in part, because it didn’t require inordinate research, and I chose not to interview people for anecdotes. I made those decisions in the name of time-effectiveness: I believed they wouldn’t enhance the article’s usefulness that much. And because I made those choices, I was then free today to write this article. In other words, I made the judgment that greater good would accrue from writing two articles time-effectively than one article more perfectly. You might have made different decisions about what was most time-effective but the point is to consciously decide whether to do the task the most time-effective way.

Those are the more "macro" strategies to managing time. They’re the most important but you may also find these tactics useful:

1. Consciously decide if you want to pursue a major time suck.

Without fully considering the opportunity costs, many people spend inordinate time watching TV, playing video games, shopping, playing sports (especially time-consuming ones like golf, skiing, or boating) and trekking across the country to their third cousin’s third wedding. Do ask yourself if a major time suck is a better use of your time than what you could otherwise do. Even such basics as eating can be a major time suck. Many people spend considerable time preparing meals when other healthy, tasty dishes could be prepared much more quickly—for example, a salad with your favorite ingredients, microwave-steamed vegetables and perhaps broiled meat or fish with your favorite spices, and fruit and/or frozen yogurt for dessert.

2. Delegate.

For tasks you dislike or are simply bad at, consider delegating or even hiring someone to do them. Even people of modest means may find that hiring an assistant at $15 an hour for five hours a week can be well worth the $75.

3. Always have a "sponge activity" at the ready.

We spend so much time commuting on buses or trains, standing in supermarket lines, or sitting in waiting rooms. Having something productive to do can help you get more done and make the waiting time go more quickly. Sponge up that time reading a book, answering email or doing internet research on your phone. I always carry a memo pad and when I have to wait, I think of a problem I need to grapple with—what to write, how to help a challenging client, even what to do this weekend, and take notes on the pad.

Many people wonder, “How did that person get so much done?” “Where did the day go?” and even “Where did my life go?” I hope that one or more of these ideas can help you feel better about your own life.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at (link sends e-mail).

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