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: 

1. Stop Complaining

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.

2. Track Your Time

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.

3. Learn the Pareto Principle

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. 

4. Prioritize Your To-Do List

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

5. Do Only the 20% That Really Matters

In order to take advantage of the Pareto principle, you’d do the above tasks in the following order:

  • Task 3: Call current customer about referral (Priority 0.1)
  • Task 2: Prepare presentation for marketing (Priority 1)
  • Task 1: Write report on trip meeting (Priority 5)

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.

6. Avoid These Huge Time-Wasters

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:

  • Taking calls from people you don’t know. Unless you’re working in telesales or product support, there’s no reason you should ever take a call from somebody you don’t know. After all, when was the last time you took an unexpected call that was truly important? Days? Weeks? Months? If it’s important, they’ll get you through e‑mail.
  • Accessing voice mail. A voice mail message consumes minutes of your time (more if you have to replay) to communicate information you could absorb from an e‑mail in seconds. Explain in your outgoing message that you don’t use voice mail and provide your e‑mail address. This alone can save you several hours a month.
  • Chitchatting with coworkers. For some people a day at work means an endless coffee break. They wander the halls searching for somebody, ostensibly to discuss business but really just to chat. Don’t let these time leeches hobble your success. Just say no. If necessary, get rude if it gets them out of your office.
  • Letting “alerts” interrupt your thinking. Most of the 20% that makes a real difference involves doing something creative, talking to somebody important, or absorbing complex information. These are impossible to do well if your computer and phone are chirping and beeping for your attention. Whatever it is, it can wait.

About the Author

FGeoffrey 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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