At a recent college reunion, twenty-five years after we first entered medical school, I met many old classmates and re-learned one important lesson.
Being Time Efficient Is HIGHLY Profitable!
One theme kept popping up over and over again in our conversations.
“Our kids rarely get to see their dad, he’s so busy!”
“I go to work at 6 a.m. and get back around 7 in the evening!”
“My son WON’T be a doctor – because he sees how crazy our schedule is!”
And invariably, the next question is: “As a heart surgeon, you must be working very long hours, right?”
They were all surprised when I said my average ‘work day’ at the hospital is 2 hours – except when I’m operating, when it is 7 hours (or longer, depending upon how complex the surgery is).
How do I manage this? How do I have so much “free time” when everyone else has “No Time”? How am I juggling so many exciting projects in ADDITION to my regular work?
It’s really quite simple. Let me explain.
Too often, we struggle, rush and get stressed because we don’t know what we want.
Oh, you probably do in a very general, broad way.
“I want to be rich.”
“I want to be fit and healthy.”
“I want more family time.”
“I want to travel the world.”
“I want to help charities.”
But that won’t do. You need to first get specific. Very specific.
And then, you’ve got to identify the best way to achieve those goals.
Now, this may not be a quick fifteen minute exercise. It could take days, even weeks or months before you discover what you really want and come up with a workable plan, before you can set out to get it.
It is time well spent (or rather, invested) – because those plans and action steps will guide you towards the highest and best use of your limited time.
In essence, the powerful time management secrets boil down to four different things.
We all have a ‘to do’ list. Some of us have it written down. Others carry it in our head. But for most of us, it is pretty long. And often, we’re stressed about how we can’t get through it…before it grows even longer with new things to do.
The trouble is, we don’t accept the reality that our ‘to do’ list is never going to be ‘done’. As best-selling author Richard Carlson says in his book, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”, you’re going to die with your in-tray full. The key is to get used to that idea and decide which of the many things clamoring for your attention are going to get done!
Setting priorities can be a tough task. Without a clear idea of what you want to do, where you want to get, how quickly you want to reach your goals, and what your biggest dreams are, you will find it practically impossible to decide which tasks to work on.
But once you’ve attained clarity on your goals, it is much simpler to pick and choose the things to pay attention to. All it takes is the answer to a question: “Is this taking me closer to my goals?” Whenever the answer is ‘No’, you know it is NOT a priority.
Setting priorities is the first task. Once you know what matters most, the next critical thing is to focus on getting it done.
It is far more common to see ourselves fluttering from one crisis to another, in constant ‘fire-fighting mode’, putting out one conflagration after another – busy until we retire to bed, tired and worn out, only to awaken the next morning to a repeat of the previous day’s sequence.
Not surprisingly, whenever we review progress after an interval, we find we’re nowhere closer to our goals than a few months (or years) back!
That’s disturbing – and depressing. The solution is to remain focused on what we’re doing, ignoring other distractions and drama, pushing aside the less important jobs until the important ones are finished.
Brian Tracy’s excellent short book, “Eat That Frog”, uses a powerful analogy to showcase the benefits of turning your attention towards the single most important task on your list every morning – and not letting go until it is completed. That’s an approach I can vouch for, as I follow it myself. Very rarely do I allow something to distract me from the three important things I set out to finish every day.
The benefits that come by way of a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction of moving towards the goals you set for yourself will energize and inspire you to keep going the next day, and then the next – until, before you even realize it, you’ve made substantial progress towards hitting your targets.
3. Be Organized
Creativity thrives on chaos. At least, that’s what I tell myself whenever I glance at the cluttered mess that’s my desktop!
But while that may well be true, it is hard to argue with the benefits of being organized. Even amidst my clutter, I know exactly where every important piece of information, every tool, every file, every document, and every contact number is located – and have arranged things in a way that I can lay my hands on them with little disturbance or delay.
This means that work on a project can proceed smoothly and quickly. In the past, I would waste hours searching for my notes, or hunting for a pencil, or moving around the office to access things I needed. It did take a period of planning and thought to set things up, but at a conservative estimate it has saved me a few hours every week in wasted effort…making it well worth the time invested into the organization.
Sadly, being organized is not a one-time effort. You will find yourself needing to stay on top of things, filing and sorting stuff periodically, and steadily revising and improving and tweaking your arrangement to fit your changing needs. But once it becomes a habit, you’ll just keep doing it automatically – and enjoy the advantages of an organized work space.
4. Effectiveness Trumps Efficiency
This final point is very important. Too many guides on the subject of time management focus on being efficient. But mere efficiency will not help you get closer to your goals. It matters more that you are effective.
What’s the difference? Efficiency is getting things done in a more streamlined manner. Faster. With less effort. In a better way.
Surely that’s a good thing?
Yes, it is. But let me explain with an example. Let’s say you’re very good at climbing up a tall ladder, and can reach the top of it very quickly and with little effort. Will that skill help you – if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall?!
Even if you’re slower at climbing it, if the ladder is against the right wall, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. It is more important that you are doing the right things, than doing whatever you are doing more efficiently.
That’s where the initial exercise of knowing exactly what you want, and devising a plan to get there, becomes so crucial. Effective action will take you closer to where you want to be. Efficiency in that action will help you get there sooner, easier, and at lesser expense.
I understand that this outline seems broad and general. But the principles are powerful and you can adapt them to your own circumstances, however varied they may be. There are specific things to do at each stage and they will depend upon you, your work, your goals and several other factors.
Recently, I wrote a short 20-page report titled “No Time? Read This!” which goes a little deeper into the four steps I outlined above. The ebook sold for $27 – but if you would like a copy, you can download it for free from this link for a limited time.
If you have any favorite techniques of your own to manage time better or enhance your effectiveness, please share them in the comments below. There are bound to be some amazing ideas that crop up in discussions about this vital subject, and what you share might benefit hundreds of entrepreneurs like you who are struggling to fit everything into their over-crowded 24 hour day!