The below is excerpted from the book BUSINESS WITHOUT THE BULLSH*T by Geoffrey James. © 2014 by Geoffrey James. Reprinted by permission of Business Plus. All rights reserved.
Even though most people complain that they haven’t enough time, it’s actually easy to have enough time to get all your work done, and still have time left over for a personal life.
The secret is as follows:
You get the same amount of time every day as everyone else. You may feel you’re short on time and that you desperately need more, but when the day started, you got your fair share: twenty-four hours.
Nobody got any more than you did, so stop complaining. More important, the time you’re wasting by complaining could be spent doing something productive.
Contrary to popular belief, the most difficult part of time management isn’t changing the things you do…it’s having the courage and discipline to track what you’re actually doing. It’s a perfect case of “knowledge is power.”
Here’s the thing: once you realize where you’re spending your time, it becomes absurdly easy to determine where you’re wasting it. Simple awareness helps you decide what’s a priority and what can be eliminated or delegated to somebody else.
The Pareto principle is a mathematical law that applies in most situations. The law is as follows: 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Commit this rule to memory, because it’s the key to time management.
The most famous example of the Pareto principle is the oft-repeated fact that in sales groups, 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the team. There are dozens of other examples, ranging from wealth distribution to damage from natural disasters.
The flip side of this principle is that 80% of your actions are producing only 20% of your results. Translation: most (i.e., 80%) of what you’re actually doing is pretty much a waste of time.
The reason most time-management systems don’t work is that they tend to treat the 20% of your actions that really matter as equivalent to the 80% of your actions that aren’t actually all that important.
Instead, whenever you make a to‑do list, prioritize each item by the amount of effort required, numbering them from one to ten, with one being the least amount of effort and ten the most. Then estimate the potential positive results, again from one to ten.
Divide the effort by the potential. The result is the “priority ranking.” Now do the items with the lowestpriority number first. For example:
Task 1: Write report on trip meeting
Effort=10, Result=2, Priority=5 (that is, 10÷2)
Task 2: Prepare presentation for marketing
Effort=4, Result=4, Priority=1
Task 3: Call current customer about referral
Effort=1, Result=10, Priority=0.1
In order to take advantage of the Pareto principle, you’d do the above tasks in the following order:
Guess what? If you never get to the priority five item, it’s no big deal. It’s probably part of the 80% that doesn’t really matter.
I know this all sounds pretty simple, even simplistic. However, I can tell you from my personal experience that there has been nothing—and I mean nothing—that has added to my personal productivity more than this kind of prioritization.
Hint: Laying out your activities over the next two weeks helps you to finalize and reorganize the plan for the current week. That way you can decide what to pull into this week and what you can push out until next week, or even later.
An easy way to do only what’s important is to cut out activities that consume large amounts of time but very seldom pay off big. Here are the four most common:
Geoffrey James is an author, journalist, and freelance writer. His works have been published in Wired, The New York Times, Men's Health, Brandweek, Technology Markeing, SellingPower magazine and ComputerWorld.
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