“Do you really need to write about how to manage your time, Lloyd?”
Yes, yes I do. There will never not be a need for the things I’m going to share below. And why is that?
Because “I just don’t have enough time” will always be the most common excuse people use. Make no mistake, it absolutely IS an excuse. It is an excuse to not try. And it gets worse.
Not only is “I just don’t have enough time” an excuse (meaning the one saying it is lazy), it’s an outright lie.
That’s right. When someone says they don’t have enough time, they’re lying.
You might be wondering why I say it’s a lie. You might have even recently said “I just don’t have enough time” yourself, or haven’t said it but can hypothesize an exception, and are preparing your response for the comments section. Before you do that, just hear me out.
If you’ve said this before (I know I sure have, many many times) you might not even realize you’re lying. You might be inadvertently lying to yourself (I know I sure have, many many times) and this will hurt your productivity. It effectively cripples your time management skills. There is good news, though.
Running some numbers and using two simple concepts is all it will take to change how you think about and manage your time.
The math is very, very basic. You’ll realize that the issue is not one of TIME, but of PRIORITY. I can promise you that if you follow these concepts (and your numbers are right) you will never “not have enough time” for anything ever again…unless it isn’t a priority.
Time and Priority
Before I tell you how to use these two simple concepts to manage your time more effectively, I need to explain Time and Priority. You might be thinking there’s nothing to Time and Priority you don’t already know – You’re an adult and you know these words. It isn’t so much that you don’t know what Time and Priority are or what they mean, and more that you likely don’t think about them in the proper way.
People love shades of grey, but things are very often black or white. Yes or No. A clear cut definition of a thing removes all ambiguity. We aren’t defining the individual words, though. We are defining their use in the context of managing your time. The difference is very important.
This is a clear definition of lacking Time.
“I don’t have time for/to _____.” – There is not enough time in the day/week remaining for _____.
Now for Priority.
“_____ is not a priority for me.” – I have other things to do with my time that are more important to me than _____.
Hopefully you can determine the difference in these two definitions. One is an honest to goodness dearth of TIME. The other is a non-apologetic admission that the subject of discussion just doesn’t matter to you. The implications could not be more different.
The first, obvious way a person is telling a lie and making excuses by saying they don’t have time for something comes from this difference.
They really mean to say they don’t care about whatever it is they’re making excuses over. Maybe they have good intentions in beating around the bush, maybe they don’t. But if they didn’t care about being nice, they would just admit they don’t care enough about whatever they’re discussing.
There is another, less obvious reason they’re telling a lie. They might not even realize they’re telling a lie, and an obvious lie at that. If they haven’t run the numbers like we are going to do below, they may not realize it. Hell, they might even be lying to themselves. I know, I’ve done it many times.
Here’s the first concept I used to put a stop to it.
#1 – View Time Top-Down
Some people are detail people. Some people aren’t.
Both types of people typically view their time (and by extension, their schedule or to-do list) as a numbered list. The numbers are the hours and time of day. They typically organize their day in this manner – a certain activity will fall at a certain time of day whether or not there are any real time constraints on it. This works for very detail oriented people, but not anyone else.
Because it does not take into account the urgency or importance of anything by itself. Detail oriented people will have a better handle on these things because they are less likely to be surprised by unexpected eventualities. Even if something does come up, they’ve collected their data and will form contingencies either ahead of time or on the fly.
Guess what? I’m not a detail person. If you’re not a detail person either, then you know exactly what I mean when I talk about these surprising unexpected eventualities. You get sucked into one problem you didn’t foresee while Mr. Strategist is whizzing through his day unhindered. The best way I’ve found to bridge the gap in performance is to use a model that functions with you, the way the strategist’s model works for him.
You do this by viewing time from the top-down to manage your time.
Don’t start with times of the day. Hell, don’t start with an individual day. Start with the entire week, and I don’t mean like a calendar. This might sound crazy, I know, but you’re going to completely divorce your thinking from the clock and calendar for now. We’re looking at a week, from the top-down, on an hourly basis.
There are 24 hours in every day, and 7 days in every week. That means that there are 168 hours in every week.
You’re going to spend a chunk of that sleeping. Let’s assume you follow conventional advice and shoot for 8 hours of sleep. You’re not sleeping that entire 8 hours, but you’re dedicating that amount of time to it. On your week, that is going to cost you 56 hours. That leaves you a balance of 112 hours.
If you’re like most folks and spend 40 hours a week working (for yourself or someone else) then what percentage of your 112 hours is that? If you said 35%, you’re right. That means that, even after deducting sleeping hours and working hours, you still have 65% of your waking hours remaining.
Even if you work 20 hours of overtime (for yourself or someone else), you still have 53% of your waking hours remaining. That’s over half of your time, free to do whatever you fill it with. 60 hours is my recommendation for this reason – it’s the sweet spot.
You can work 70 hours per week, but that’s 62% of your waking hours every week. 80 hours is 71%, and 90 hours is a full 80% of your waking hours. All of these only make sense if you’re really, truly hustling.
You probably don’t work a true 70-90 hours of nose to the grindstone work, though. Not very many people do, unless they absolutely need to.
From here, you can fill your remaining time with a to-do list that you will make weekly, and add to it as necessary. No time constraints. Instead, you’re going to list your tasks by order of priority.
How To Determine Priority
Feel free to disagree, but for me to call something a priority, it must do one or more of the following things.
Make Me Money
Spend Time with Loved Ones
Extend My Lifespan
Enrich My Legacy
If an activity does not accomplish at least one of these things, it isn’t a priority at all. I either will not do it at all, or I will do it only if I have time remaining with nothing of higher priority to do in it.
Depending on how flexible you are in your logic, if you’re like me, a lot of your weekly activities do one or more of these things. All of those activities are priorities. How do you then determine which ones are of higher priority?
Urgency (how little time is left to complete an activity) and Importance (how critical is it that this activity be completed) will be your guide. Here is the order in which they are prioritized.
Activities that are both Urgent and Important
Urgent activities that are not as Important, but are “missable”
Important activities that don’t have time constraints
Usually you will not have more than a few urgent AND important activities on any given week. I like to space mine out over the week, unless their urgency is so high that I can’t. These are usually your highest priority activities as well, and fill several of the 4 requirements above. Knock em out first.
Urgent activities that aren’t that important are still urgent (you can miss them) and should come next. Examples of this are your regular banking and mailing, which are only open certain days and certain hours, but are a regular part of doing business. Saying they’re not important may seem like a matter of semantics, but every day activities are not exceptional enough to be considered particularly important.
Important activities that don’t have time constraints seems fairly straight forward. To continue with the banking example (and put the Urgent not Important from before into context) let’s say you own 2 businesses and one wrote the other a check. You wrote yourself a check. You know it won’t bounce, since it’s your company and you know your financials, so there’s no rush to deposit it. Yet it’s still important that you do deposit it eventually.
What happens when life does what it does and shuffles your priorities?
As an example of how things can change unexpectedly, as they often do, let’s say that a banking error causes a faulty double draft of a check. It isn’t your fault. But it doesn’t change the fact that any check that clears in between the error and its solution is going to bounce.
(I know, I know, there are systemic solutions to this issue. Just humor me here.)
Now, in the example above, you’ve written yourself a check from one of your businesses to the other. You’re holding this check, because you’re a busy guy, and you have it near the bottom of your to-do list. You had previously determined it had lower priority, important but not urgent, and then life happened.
Life just put depositing that check to the top of your To-Do list. It is now both Urgent and Important, and you’re going to make that deposit the first thing you do. Since you view your time in a third person, top-down manner, it doesn’t matter what time it is as long as the bank is open.
You aren’t missing anything on your schedule by going to the bank. You’re not going to have to pencil something in at a later time slot because it’s 11:45 am and you were supposed to do something else at 12:00 today. No, you’re not missing a thing, even though you had to change your plans.
Everything else on your to-do list is either of lower urgency or lower importance or both. In viewing your time top-down, building your to-do list around what you have to do in that time frame, and ranking these activities by priority, you are always doing the most productive thing you could be doing.
In always doing the most productive thing you could be doing, you will find a sense of peace. Anxiety, or annoyance if you’re not the average low testosterone male, ceases to exist for you. You might even find a newfound confidence thanks to your ability to manage your time.
I’ll be sharing the second concept, one that plays off of this one, in the next post in this series. Until then…