Over the past 20 years, I’ve immersed myself in the concept of maximizing my time to accomplish my goals. What I discovered early on is that you must respect the nature of time. High achievers universally embrace this as a foundation of their success, including me.
As much as any other variable, your relationship to time can profoundly affect how far you go in life. I’ve tried all sorts of time management strategies. I’ve added and subtracted parts of various philosophies that make sense to me. And, eventually, I developed my own system that I refer to as the Five Principles of Time Management. If you can adapt and master these principles in your own life, you’ll enjoy more success, make more money, be more productive, add layers of bliss and build the life you were meant to enjoy.
Let’s take a look at those five principles.
We can now send an email anywhere in the world in an instant. We can hold a teleconference with dozens or hundreds of people 24/7. Instead of going to the library or digging through an encyclopedia, we can Google anything and get answers in a matter of seconds.
The ability to accomplish tasks has multiplied exponentially. Accessing information, people and locations takes place with lightning-speed immediacy. That’s why, if you want to be a high achiever, the 24-hour day is an antiquated concept. In my world, it no longer applies.
We’re now able to accomplish more in five minutes, one hour or one day than we could in an entire week or month 100 years ago. Our ability to compress time allows us to bend and manipulate time for our best purposes. Guess what that does for your goals? It puts them in your face like never before. And when you’re closer to a goal, you naturally approach it with greater urgency.
Here’s a mindset you can put into practice today. It’s effective. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years now, so I know it works.
From time to time, you’ll have one of those days where everything is falling in line. You’re able to knock out a ton of stuff and be more productive in four or five hours than you are in one of your normal full days. Or maybe you’ve had a day where you knock out more than you have in an entire month. What if you could replicate that rush every day?
Instead of approaching your day as a single block of time, divide your waking hours into three equal parts, or mini-days. For me, that means my “first day” runs from 6 a.m. to noon. My “second day” is from noon to 6 p.m. And my “third day” is from 6 p.m. until midnight. While you’re living seven days in one week, I’m living 21 days in one week.
To turbocharge how I spend my time, this is how I do it. By creating shorter days, my mind believes that each minute becomes more valuable. I don’t waste time because my sense of urgency is operating at a higher level. Instead, I’m focused even more on what I need to accomplish “today.” I compress work, relationships, productivity, fitness and fun into shorter and more intense pieces of time with this strategy. I shrink the finish line so that more of what I do becomes a sprint.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that your life is still in balance.
You still make time for all parts of your life. All that you’re doing is squeezing useless air out of the wasted parts of your day. At first, you may be intimidated by attempting to do this. But as you give it a try, you’ll replace old bad habits with effective new ones. You’ll move faster and have greater control of your time.
Here’s the cool part if you implement this mindset. Imagine the compounding effect of working 21 days a week for a month, a year or a decade. Or for the rest of your life. Now compare that to people you compete against who look at their days as a single 24-hour block of time. In my mind, I’m living more than 1,000 days in the same timeframe as others who think of themselves as living in a 365-day year.
Who has the advantage? You already know the answer. I am a living example of what this strategy can do for you, and my results have been pretty good so far.
If you watch distance runners in a race, why does the last lap or leg of the race invariably produce some of the race’s fastest times? In a 26-mile marathon, you keep a steady pace. As you get closer to the finish line, your adrenaline kicks in, and you find another gear. You push yourself because you’re closer to completing your task and crossing that finish line. That produces a release of endorphins, and you feel that warm and positive rush.
Now think about running a 100-meter race. It’s a flat-out sprint from start to finish. You approach the race with maximum urgency. A different mindset is required to do your best. Your body and your brain respond to a different set of stimuli.
It’s not that people approach life with a lack of vision that causes them to fail. It’s the type of vision they call on to get them across the finish line. Your depth perception affects your ability to summon that sense of urgency required to perform better. When the goal is further away, you jog toward that goal. When it’s right in front of you, it’s a sprint.
Here’s another example. You’re a student who is assigned a major project at the beginning of the semester with a deadline toward the end of the semester. Do you jump on that project immediately? Most put that project on cruise control. They quietly slip it onto the top shelf of their life, knowing that they’ll deal with it later. That is until the deadline starts to creep up.
At some point, panic, fear, dread, thoughts of “I hate college” and “I think I’ll just become a bartender” kick in. But if you had attacked that project with a sense of urgency as soon as possible, the looming shadow, the boogieman, the beast you’re facing, would be reduced to almost nothing.
If you apply this thinking to everything you do throughout the day, week or year, you’ll get more done and enjoy a sense of accomplishment that others only dream about.
Controlling your time is a mindset that should turn on as soon as your brain wakes up in the morning. If your mind is in the right place, controlling your time will start even before your feet hit the floor in the morning. As you’re waking up, your brain is already planning your day. Do you pay attention to what those first thoughts of the day are? The first 30 minutes of your day are critical.
Think about the “timely” words of British statesman Lord Chesterfield: “Take care of the minutes, and the hours will take care of themselves.’’
How you approach the first 30 minutes of your day will set the tone for the balance of the hours to follow. That means staying away from your phone, computer, television or any other forms of input that can distract you from what’s important in your life. Instead, use that 30 minutes to plan out your day; review your meetings, phone calls and projects; create priorities, meditate, pray, stretch, practice equanimity, reaffirm your standards and update yourself on your goals.
Before your brain becomes cluttered with people, events, and information of the day, it has a chance to focus. Your brain receives the message that you’re in control instead of the world controlling you. You’re better able to start the day filled with confidence and the purposes that you choose.
Of course, surprises, changes and redirection will spring up throughout the day. You react accordingly. But when you’re not dealing with the unexpected, you’re in greater control and working toward your life goals instead of reacting to everyone else.
In other words, dictate the terms of your day, or your day will dictate those terms for you.
Measuring performance works. As you shrink your timeframes and increase your urgency, you also need to shrink the intervals of how often you measure your performance. If you don’t take time to measure, you’ll have a more difficult time course-correcting. That leads to inefficiency and wasted time.
Just make sure you’re measuring the right things. Be clear on your goals, priorities and standards. Understand how they work in concert with each other. Learn to identify not only weaknesses but the potential sources of those weaknesses.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden put it into perspective, saying, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it again?” Wooden was a stickler for doing things the right way, right down to how his players tied their shoes. He fine-tuned every technique and process on his teams for years, accepting only one standard and measuring the interim steps almost daily.
If your goal is to run a five-minute mile or to bump up your sales by 50 percent or your income by $50,000, how will you know if you’re reaching these goals unless you look at the numbers? Anything less, and you’re just throwing darts and hoping you’ll hit your targets.
Average people assess themselves once or twice a year. But top performers measure themselves monthly or weekly.
Do you take stock of your week’s accomplishments on a Friday evening? Do you take stock and set your plans for the coming week on a Sunday evening? The top performers go through this process daily.
There’s even one more level beyond daily measurements. Some people measure themselves hourly. The most elite have an internal mechanism that is triggered with urgency. I have trained myself to do this, and I’m not lying when I tell you, as hard as it sounds, this discipline has served me well.
Think for a moment. Who’s going to do better? The person who shrinks their measurement interval or the person who rarely measures where they’re at? You already know this answer, too.
The past is gone forever, but until you let go of it, the past is a thief and steals your ability to dream and imagine. You need to spend time thinking about your future because that’s where you’re heading. You must also stay connected to the present because that’s how you build a better future.
It drives me nuts when I see so many people stuck in a loop of how their lives would be different today, “if only” that one big thing had been different. People getting out of bad relationships or trying to distance themselves from poor family dynamics are particularly vulnerable to past thinking.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t address the trauma of your past. You must find a way to process it and move forward. If you can’t, the only person you’re hurting is you and the people you care about right now.
Conversely, don’t fall into the trap of falling in love with your past if you’ve had great things happen, whether you earned an advanced college degree, got a big job promotion, got married and so on. Those things are nice, but if you rest on those laurels too much, you’re still not living in the present and building a better future. As Coco Chanel once said, “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”
Spend time dreaming and imagining about their future while taking decisive actions in the present to shape what lies ahead.
When you incorporate the Five Principles of Time Management into your life, how others see you is going to change, too. When people see you’re no longer wasting time, they begin to not waste your time. They see you’re also no longer spending too much time taking care of other people’s priorities because you’re too focused on taking care of your own.
At work, you need to be reasonable about this. Find a way to make your employer’s goals your goals and blend the two to create harmony. Your friends, family and co-workers will understand that you’re in an attack mode in your life instead of a react mode. They will respect you, and your relationships with them will be redefined.
It’s an added benefit that alters your life because your newfound time management is actually newfound life management. Also, as you change your approach to time, you’ll be open to meeting new likeminded people and embark on new projects and adventures you may have thought were just a pipe dream.
Stop wasting time, and start bending time to your advantage to get on with the important things in your life.
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