By Scott Westerman
“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” – Harvey MacKay
Do you ever notice how the most successful people always seem to be willing to share their time? But, spend some of that time with them and you’ll quickly see that they want to invest it carefully. If they sense you’re not benefiting, they will either quickly correct your behavior or disconnect and move on.
Whatever your passion, time is the one commodity that most important. How you use it will determine the amount of happiness or suffering you will encounter along the way.
Alan Lakein wrote the time management classic “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life“. He implores us to establish SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, related/relevant, and time framed) goals. And here’s the key: Prioritize them using an A to C system. “A” goals are at the top of the list, are most important and should get 80% of your time. At the other end of the spectrum are “C” goals. Unfortunately, most people spend 80% of their time, doing what Denis Waitley calls “majoring in minors”. Watching TV, video games, even things like cutting the grass and shopping can fall into this category.
Dartmouth College distributes these time management tips to new freshman, based on Lakein’s book.
1.Count all your time as time to be used and make every attempt to get satisfaction out of every moment.
2.Find something to enjoy in whatever you do.
3.Try to be an optimist and seek out the good in your life.
4.Find ways to build on your successes.
5.Stop regretting your failures and start learning from your mistakes.
6.Remind yourself, “There is always enough time for the important things.” If it is important, you should be able to make time to do it.
7.Continually look at ways of freeing up your time.
8.Examine your old habits and search for ways to change or eliminate them.
9.Try to use waiting time-review notes or do practice problems.
10.Keep paper or a calendar with you to jot down the things you have to do or notes to yourself.
11.Examine and revise your lifetime goals on a monthly basis and be sure to include progress towards those goals on a daily basis.
12.Put up reminders in your home or office about your goals.
13.Always keep those long term goals in mind.
14.Plan your day each morning or the night before and set priorities for yourself.
15.Maintain and develop a list of specific things to be done each day, set your priorities and the get the most important ones done as soon in the day as you can. Evaluate your progress at the end of the day briefly.
16.Look ahead in your month and try and anticipate what is going to happen so you can better schedule your time.
17.Try rewarding yourself when you get things done as you had planned, especially the important ones.
18.Do first things first.
19.Have confidence in yourself and in your judgement of priorities and stick to them no matter what.
20.When you catch yourself procrastinating-ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?”
21.Start with the most difficult parts of projects, then either the worst is done or you may find you don’t have to do all the other small tasks.
22.Catch yourself when you are involved in unproductive projects and stop as soon as you can.
23.Find time to concentrate on high priority items or activities.
24.Concentrate on one thing at a time.
25.Put your efforts in areas that provide long term benefits.
26.Push yourself and be persistent, especially when you know you are doing well.
27.Think on paper when possible-it makes it easier to review and revise.
28.Be sure and set deadlines for yourself whenever possible.
29.Delegate responsibilities whenever possible.
30.Ask for advice when needed.
When I was a kid, my dad and I had many conversations about “balance”. For me, balance was about cramming as much fun, and as little work into every day. Dad taught me that it was important to properly balance your time investments toward the care of your mind, body and spirit.
Some days this meant focusing much of my time on filling my brain with the knowledge that could help me make more effective decisions. During the course of the week, he modeled the behavior by investing regular time in his personal fitness plan (he still does it today, at age 85). And both of my parents taught me the value of investing time to nurture the right relationships.
It took me awhile to figure out what those “right relationships” were, but I came around to an understanding that it’s best to build friendships with people who radiate positive energy.
We all know energy suckers, those unfortunates who always talk about themselves, wear their travails like war wounds, and love to talk about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. They thrive on sucking the energy out of you and the end of each encounter leaves you emotionally exhausted.
So pick your friends like you would a growth-stock. If the fundamentals look good, take a chance and invest. But make sure you’re getting a return on the investment.
This may seem to fly in the face of my mentor, Keith Ferrazzi’s maxim that you should give without the expectation of return. But even the kindest people are smart enough to avoid throwing good time after bad.
Since our time is truly the universal coin of the realm, plan how you will spend it. Carefully and candidly assess what you have spent and re-allocate your time each day to what yields the best intellectual, spiritual and physiological benefits.
One of the most interesting people I met during the past year was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at my former employer. It’s her belief that we exist in heaven… or hell, depending on two things: our attitude toward what happens to us, and how we spend our time responding to it.
Ponder that one as you attack the opportunities that face you this week. We can’t always control what may happen to us, but we’re truly the only ones who really control how we spend time responding to it.
If you’re currently “between opportunities” (my definition of being jobless), how can you creatively and effectively invest your time to engage in the next phase of your career?
If you’re unsure of what you want to be when you grow up (I still sometimes am), what things can you spend time on to help clarify the picture and point you towards action steps to focus on a dream.
The other night, I found myself in the grocery store, buying an ice scraper. New Mexcio cars, don’t come with those as standard equipment and my return to Michigan necessitated the purchase.
In front of me at the cash register, a woman was unloading the contents of her shopping cart onto the black conveyor belt that rolled each item towards the cash register. She only had brought enough funds to buy a certain amount of items and it soon became clear that she had more on in the cart than she could afford.
When the cashier rang up the total, I saw the woman regard her cache. “Put these things back,” she said as she placed some bananas, fresh vegetables, a gallon of milk and a rack of ribs back on the counter.
I looked in her cart. I saw sugared cereal, mac and cheese, potato chips and pop. I realized that the woman was about to invest time feeding her family with less than ideal fuel.
Steve Jobs says, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
If you’re not where you want to be right now, consider honestly how you spend your time.
Modify your portfolio and you may well discover that you can generate a much more effective return on your investment.
Feedback welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org or @MSUScottW on Twitter.
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