Benjamin Disraeli said, “He who gains time gains everything.” Though time is precious, the average American spends 53 minutes a day on grooming, 4 hours and 26 minutes watching TV, and 30 minutes standing in line.
When USA Today asked readers to rate their past year, forty-seven percent said their lives have become busier and 41% said their lives were about the same. Only 12% of those asked said that their lives had become less busy (and my guess, more sane).
There is one common ailment facing America today: even though we are doing more, we are accomplishing less. For instance, a client recently wondered, “How do you balance the various components of your day to achieve the right allocation of time?” He mentioned that his time had “competitors”: work, family, sleep, education, exercise, recreation, meals, and a myriad of other activities.
This executive explained that most of the senior managers he knew had allocated their time each day as follows: work, 16 hours; family, 1 1/2 hours; exercise, zero; education, zero; meals, one hour; and sleep 5 1/2 hours.
The question asked is, “How does one get more done and get more results out of each day?” But there’s an even more important question, and that is why should we get more things done? There are two answers to that question.
First, we need to increase our productivity so that ultimately we can have more time to spend with the people who really matter to us. Second, the better we get at managing our time and increasing our results, the more time we have to do the things that we want to do.
our lives, but to put more life in our time.
We must learn, individually and collectively, to work smarter, to work faster, and to do it in such a way that we don’t sacrifice the quality of the results that we’re producing. Here’s a 12 question quiz that will help you to begin thinking along these lines.
Question number one: Have you committed in writing a long-range plan? In the mid-1940’s, a 15 year old boy sat down to make out a list of his life’s goals. He wrote down 127 goals. He wanted to explore the Congo, Nile, and Amazon rivers. He wanted to read the complete works of Shakespeare, Aristotle, and Socrates. He decided that he would climb Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro. He wanted to take off from and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. His final goal was to walk on the moon.
By 1986, John Goddard had accomplished 108 of those 127 goals. He knew that the key to a fulfilling and successful life was a sense of purpose and a clearly identified set of goals so that when life ended, he would have done those things that he deemed to be most important.
Research suggests that very few Americans ever take time to do what Goddard did as a 15-year-old. We don’t have a sense of what we’re trying to accomplish on a monthly or yearly basis. The first step in getting more done and producing results in our personal and professional lives is committing to a long-range plan of action that very carefully details the things that we want to accomplish.
Question number two: Do you have a weekly and daily written plan? Most people say they have a daily plan, but not a weekly plan. I call this “knee jerk time management“. Monday morning you get to the office and you have 127 things to do that week. You determine to do all 127 on Monday. By the end of the day, when the dust is settled, the list is up to 128. Not only have you not accomplished most of what you tried to do, but some things have come up during the day that you’ve had to add to your list.
Tuesday morning you start—full speed–to accomplish the list. And by noon on Tuesday you’re so frustrated at your lack of results that you wad that list up into a ball and throw the paper out the window.
Planning one week at a time gives you a greater sense of organization and focus because it lets you control your schedule rather than letting your schedule control you.
Question number three: Is every item on your daily plan prioritized? Have you noticed that at the end of a typical day you’ve accomplished everything except the most important item on the list? This is “reversed prioritization.” The easy things get done and the important things stay undone.
Having a daily list is only part of the equation. Prioritizing every item on the list so that you know what needs to be done first is the next key.
Question number four: Are you consistently utilizing a system of time management? There are numerous time management systems, some with very fine selling points. The system that you use, however, is less important than the fact that you use a single system and that you use it consistently. Determine which system you’re willing to commit to for at least the next year or longer and begin using it every day.
Question number five: Are you an architect or a fire fighter? An architect is one who designs the future. A fire fighter responds to crisis.
Many of us become victims of other people who lack a system and the skills aforementioned. As a result, these people create crises or respond to crises that impact us. You must be proactive rather than reactive if you’re going to produce results.
Question number six: Do you understand the difference between perfectionism and excellence? Many people take pride in having extremely high standards but there is a difference between having high standards and being a perfectionist.
A perfectionist is someone who has a neurotic attention to details, usually stemming from insecurity. Excellence is different. Excellence is a commitment to high standards that means additional time or energy invested in a task will be noticeably better to the end-user.
Thomas Edison once said, “I don’t want to invent anything that nobody wants to buy.” You don’t want to be guilty of spending time on a project or a product or a service if it doesn’t make that product or project or service noticeably better to the end-user. You need to involve the customer in defining quality, whether that customer is a co-worker, boss, or employee.
It’s easy to place blame for these perfectionist tendencies that you’ve developed. Many of us had parents who used to say that everything worth doing is worth doing well. Mom and Dad had good intentions but they were telling a half-truth. Some things are worth doing and getting done. Some things are worth doing well. Other things are worth doing very, very well. Perfectionism is the inability to know the difference.
Question number seven: Have you developed discipline? Discipline is doing what needs to be done rather than doing what you want to do. It is the ability to delay immediate gratification in order to obtain long-term gratification. It isn’t enough to know what needs to be done, you need the drive and the follow-through to get it done.
Question number eight: Are your people skills sufficiently developed? There are only three real resources in the world. The average American will say their scarcest resource is money but money is really a by-product of how you invest your time and energy.
The scarcest resource in our life is time. The second scarcest resource is energy. And if you invest your time and energy wisely, you can accomplish anything that you want to accomplish, including financial goals and objectives that you’ve set for yourself.
There is a third resource which is the time and energy of other people. If you’re only good at managing your own time and energy, you’re only getting two out of three. You must develop the ability to get results with people.
There tends to be an on-going debate on whether or not management is task-oriented or people-oriented. Management must be both. You must be able to balance the needs that you have in your relationships with others with the need that you have organizationally for producing results. The two cannot be separated. Your skill at getting results depends on how highly developed your people skills have become.
Question number nine: Do you suffer from the “super person syndrome”? The key is not doing it all yourself. The key is to be able to communicate and get commitment from others to live up to the same high standards that you have. Trying to do it all yourself will severely limit how much you can accomplish both personally and organizationally.
Question number ten: Do you procrastinate? Some people may answer by saying, “Well, let me think about that for a while and I’ll get back to you later with an answer.” The problem that all of us face is the tendency to postpone, the unwillingness to do what needs to be done at the moment and do something we’d rather do instead.
Question number eleven: Do you fear failure? Maybe you fear success. When Mr. Wang, who built the Wang computer company, hired his first national vice president of sales, he gave him a motivational talk. He said, “I want you to feel free to try things and make mistakes. If you make the same mistake twice, that’s fine. I’ll just figure that you came up with a different way to try it. If, however, you make the same mistake three times, I’ll fire you.”
Mr. Wang very clearly defined what was reasonable risk. He said that it’s okay to make the same mistake twice as long as you’re trying something new. However, there should be a reasonable limit. If you make the same mistake three times, you’re obviously not learning from past experience.
Psychologists say that just as crippling as a fear of failure might be, so is a fear of success. Some people fear the consequences, the increased expectations that they have to live up to when they’re successful. As a result they sometimes short-circuit themselves in their attempt to get things done. A fear of failure or a fear of success can be a very real barrier in our attempt to get things done.
Question number twelve: Have you attended a meeting this past week that was a complete waste of your time? Most of us can honestly answer yes to this question. Work at cutting down on meeting attendance that isn’t really necessary.
None of us can have more than 24 hours in each day. Practical skills can prevent you from wasting time and enable you to spend more of this precious resource on the things that are important to you. As a result, you’ll be able to put more quality into your interests and endeavors and operate at a level equal to your capability. Remember that organization and discipline, delegation, good people skills, confidence, and understanding the difference between perfectionism and excellence are the keys to productive and well-balanced lives.