Time is Never "Found" for ANYTHING
06 May 2010
I’ve been going through the feedback I’m receiving on the re-launch of the Personal MBA Business Crash Course, and there’s a recurring theme I’m hearing from quite a few people who are choosing not to enroll:
“Looks great, but I don’t have enough time…”
“I’m too busy – I’ll do it when I find the time…”
I hear the same thing about reading the books on the Personal MBA’s list of the best business books – it’s a fantastic education, if you can “find the time.”
“Finding time” is a myth. Here’s the truth: no one ever “finds” time for ANYTHING, in the sense of miraculously discovering some bank of extra time, like finding a $20 bill you accidentally left in your coat pocket. If you rely on “finding” time to do anything, it’ll simply never be done – guaranteed. If you want to “find” time, you must MAKE time.
Once I figured that out, my life became a heck of a lot easier, more productive, and more fun.
The Meritocracy of Time
Use of time is an absolute meritocracy: each of us has 24 hours (~16 assuming 8 hours of sleep), and it always fills up very quickly, whether you’re an executive, doctor, blogger, or trash collector. No one has any more time than anyone else – we all have precisely the same amount, and have the same opportunity to use it well or waste it.
Deciding how to use your time is typically referred to as “prioritization.” Most popular prioritization methods attempt to structure your time by trying to decide what’s most important, then rank-ordering your to-do list in terms of most-to-least important. (The popular ABC method popularized by Stephen Covey fits this model.) While it makes intuitive sense to rank projects in this way, you rarely gain much clarity about what to do next – after all, even “C” priorities still need to be done, right?
Everything is NOT Important
In one of my first jobs out of college, my workload consisted of 6 complex, high-profile projects – more than enough work for two people working full-time. When I asked my manager which projects were more important so I could prioritize appropriately, I received a response I’m sure you’ve heard at some point in your life as well: “everything is important – make it happen.” The only thing that could be done was to wade through the daily craziness as best as possible, since I wasn’t free to choose what NOT to do – a major contributing factor of why I left that job as soon as I could. By trying to do everything at once, I ended up getting much less done and experienced significantly more stress.
Using time well means consciously deciding what NOT to do. In my upcoming book, one of the personal productivity concepts I discuss is the “4 Methods of Completion.” There are really only four ways to “complete” a task or project: (1) you can do / act to complete it, you can (2) delegate it to someone else, you can (3) defer it to a later date, or you can (4) delete it – consciously decide NOT to do it. When it comes to prioritization, deleting is by far the most important.
In order to focus on doing what’s most important, you must consciously choose not to do things that are less important to free up time for your priorities. I’ve spent the past several months working on the book, and you’ve probably noticed that my frequency of posting on this blog went down rather dramatically. That was a conscious decision: I could either spend most of my productive writing time working on the book, or creating new posts for the blog.
The best way to “find time” to write the book turned out to be choosing NOT to do something else – write new blog posts. Instead of feeling bad I couldn’t do both, I make a conscious choice that finishing the book was most important, then consciously deleted, delegated or deferred everything in my life that interfered with that goal. That’s the essence of effective prioritization.
3 Ways to MAKE Time Immediately
The best way to “find” time for an important project is to consciously delete less important competing projects, tasks, or time-sinks that interfere with getting it done. Here are three things you can do to “find time” immediately.
1. Get Rid of Your TV. Going cold turkey and canceling your cable or satellite service is the closest thing you’ll ever find to “discovering” more time – it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re educating yourself instead of passively absorbing useless content. If you have a few shows you like to watch, get them on DVD and watch them only when you need some time to decompress. (“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell)
2. Refuse to go to unproductive meetings or obligations that have outlived their usefulness. One of my coaching clients recently landed a professorship and postdoc at a prestigious, well-known research university. Surprisingly, he found that his productivity went down significantly vs. what he was able to accomplish in his doctoral research program. The culprit was meetings: he was spending so much time going to meetings that he found it difficult to get actual work done. The solution was simple: he stopped going, and was prepared to accept the consequences. After he made this decision, he got so much useful research done that his advisor no longer expects him to waste time attending meetings that add little value. If you’re involved in groups or organizations that no longer serve you, simply stop going.
3. Cut your obligations to no more than three active projects at once. All of us must spend some time keeping ourselves healthy and maintaining relationships with family, friends, and colleagues in order to function optimally, which leaves only so much time for productive activities. In general, it’s best to limit your active projects to no more than three – any less, and you’ll decrease your impact, but any more, and you’ll spread yourself too thin. I’ve found three active projects to be the sweet spot between getting a lot accomplished while avoiding unproductive task switching and stress – you can focus your efforts on what will make the biggest difference in what you want to accomplish.
By MAKING time to achieve what’s most important in moving you toward what you want, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
What are you putting off because you “can’t find the time”? What can you choose to delete or delegate to free up time for your most important projects?
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