Effective time management is apparently elusive. Witness the massive industry dedicated to helping us navigate the clock more successfully. We have software programs, day planners, apps, calendars, training programs – you name it.
I find that most of these resources are only modestly useful. My theory is that the thinkers behind these products have over-thought the problem. They have made their solutions overly complex. If a given time management system takes hours to learn is it really saving you time?
I’d like to offer you something far more focused, simple, and intuitive. Did I mention it is free? You’re welcome.
I will offer you three simple rules that will immediately make obsolete the entire time management industry. Follow these three rules and you will significantly increase your daily productivity. A day planner and your computer calendar might help, but not if you don’t understand these three rules.
Related Article: 3 Easy Steps to Manage Time Effectively
Three Steps to Effective Time Management
Rule 1: Apply the 80/20 test
Versions of this rule have been applied in many decision contexts. At its core, it is simply a reminder that some things are more important than others. Specifically, the “20” are the tasks, projects, and relationships that are of the highest value. Tending to these issues effectively will significantly advance you, your team, and your organization. They are of the highest strategic importance and are your top priority.
The other tasks, projects, and relationships (the “80”) are not unimportant, but they are less important. People spend far too much time everyday on the “80” instead of the “20”. The items in the “80” category are great targets for delegating, automating, or outsourcing. Your goal is to never spend more than 50% of your time on the “80” items.
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Rule 2: Identify your Einstein Window
While your IQ is fixed, your problem-solving ability is not. Problem solving is often a function of preparedness. One key aspect of preparedness is knowing when to work on what. Many times people will use “80” items as a means of procrastination instead of working on the more challenging “20” items.
You are smarter than that. Think about the time of day when your mental ability peaks. I call it the Einstein Window. For most people it is a two to four hour window each day where problems feel like fun challenges.
What should you work on during your Einstein Window? You guessed it – a big chunk of your “20” items. In short, you will train yourself to work on the most important items when your brain is experiencing its peak window. During this time, vigorously resist working on any “80” items!
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Rule 3: Protect your Einstein Window!
Not everyone appreciates the importance of your Einstein window as much as you do. Make them. Here is the first thing to remember: “No” is not a dirty word. Learn to use the word “no” effectively so you will not allow an excessive number of interruptions. If someone needs help and it is not an emergency, see him or her later – but not now.
Here are several additional ideas vital to protecting your Einstein time: shut the office door, take the phone off the hook, turn off the smartphone, and shut down the email program. Stop allowing anything that beeps or chirps to distract you!
Even if you’re only brave enough to attempt these approaches for 30 minutes, give it a try. When you stop multitasking so much and subjecting yourself to an avalanche of voluntary interruptions you might be surprised how much you actually feel like Einstein.
Really want to take a risk? Grab some very important work and your laptop and leave the office! Don’t ask permission. Just go. Find a park or an empty church – some place quiet (unlike the office). Your peak mental time is precious so you must learn to protect it.
Related Article: “No” Is Not a Dirty Word
Okay, maybe we can’t all be as smart as Einstein. We can, however, be the best version of ourselves possible. Start with the three rules above and you will be on your way to a serious productivity boost.
Dr. Dewett is an author, speaker, coach, management professor, radio host, consultant, caffeine addict, and Harley Davidson nut. He is the author of The Little Black Book of Leadership and the creator of the video coaching site Fuel4Leaders.com. His unique brand of energetic leadership knowledge has resulted in quotes in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes, CNN, Investors Business Daily, MSNBC, and hundreds of other outlets.
Featured photo by RLHyde
Originally published 10/30/12 and updated 8/27/13.