Pay-off: shake things up, and take better control of your time to save hours, days, even weeks
Investment: 5 minutes
I’ve written this to help anyone who feels that they’re not making the best use of their time. They’re either time short, stressed, or frustrated as time just seems to go faster and faster.
These three ideas are practical, useful, and you can do something about them immediately. I’ve tried to come up with three ideas that I don’t think are often explored but are essential, I think, to coping and thriving in the world today.
At the end I’ll also share a bit about a new project I’m working on to help anyone who is interested in quitting their job and setting themselves up as an independent or freelance consultant. If that’s you, you might like to get in touch as we’re building an e-course to help. And those who get in first get extra help 😉
1. Get the next 2 years right first – and start now!
Your time is running out. (I like to start the year on a cheery one.) You have less time ahead of you than you’ve ever had before. Sorry! I know you already think that life’s short. But, the rest of yours is even shorter than it was. Crikey, we’d better take charge of this then and do the right thing!
Now’s probably the time to ensure you’re in the right line of work, working on the right projects, with the right people at least for the next 2-3 years.
Why 2-3 years? Because they’re real. They’re in front of your face. They’re easier to work with and frankly, why make a longer-term career plan only to find that you have to go through hell getting there? Why not just shortcut yourself to a more immediate position in which you can both give and get all you can out of the next 2 years?
Doing that takes you to a better viewpoint, and it’s more fun. It earns you the privilege of being able to see opportunities that you otherwise would have been unable to see. That’s a pretty good reason, isn’t it?
So, let’s have it out, what position should you be in to maximise your value to your chosen market in order to maximise your rewards from doing so? (Don’t answer too quick – I know you’re in a rush but it’s a good use of your time to chew this over.)
When you reposition yourself to tackle the right work (or projects) your value and rewards can increase quickly. It’s a fast way to accelerate your growth, and a useful way to make new connections and find new opportunities. Sometimes it takes people two or three hops or sidesteps through a bit of chaos to land in the right place. But they don’t get it right and earn these benefits if they don’t make that first hop.
So my advice for you to start this new year off is to shake things up. At least somehow! At least something! Consider how to shift slightly or reposition yourself completely to work with better people in better places doing better things with better results. It’s up to you to ensure you’re doing the right things in your work that keep you energised, happy, valuable and growing, and it’s up to you to become good at doing them. No one else will take care of that for you.
There’s little point in doing the wrong sort of work efficiently. So start with that. That’s a good use of your time I’d say.
2. Understand time better
This tip is about using your time available intelligently. I just said your time’s running out and that you have less time ahead of you than ever before. But also (strap yourself in because this might feel bumpy) you have more time ahead of you right now than you’ll ever have again. “Ah, good”, you say. “Relatively then, I’ve got plenty!” Yes, you’re currently at ‘max time available’. And you can use that to your advantage.
It helps to understand Bill Gates when he said…
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates
And it helps to understand compound interest and the similarity with compound effort. It takes time to build. Most people don’t easily get rich in one year. But by committing to putting one foot in front of the other – by being consistent step by step and drip by drip you’ll surprise yourself. Results become exponential. Keep up the pace, but relax into the power of compound effort too, knowing that time (+ consistency) will take care of the result. You have plenty of time ahead to take advantage of that. Get in line (at the back), then stay in line (until you’re at the front). Simples.
I think many people just don’t get this. They say ‘no’ to rewarding things that they could do if only they committed to taking one step a day. Or they fail to take their daily steps and save them all up for the night before a deadline and expect a quality result (see point 3 below). Or they go hard at the start, then run out of steam. Yes, I know, proper grown-ups even make these mistakes! They must have missed the story of the hare and the tortoise.
This concept is useful for just about anything. It certainly helps me achieve a lot more than I might otherwise expect if I weren’t to know that compound effort and time are on my side. This has me saying ‘yes’ to trying new things that other people may instinctively feel are out of their reach. You plant the seed, and you water it, daily. And, hey, yes, it works for sales, marketing, making friends, learning and creating things too. This really isn’t difficult once you know the recipe. And now you do.
3. Know the right time to do things (and stop procrastination)
This tip should help you reduce stress around your commitments whilst also improving the quality of your results, providing you do it properly. Let’s start simply by acknowledging that some things absolutely must (or really should) get done. And some things do not need to be done at all. Most people’s ‘to-do’ lists have a whole lot of questionable things on them.
Your first decision on any action must be, “does this really need to be done – am I really going to get this done and will I create and schedule the time to do so?” You need to confirm and commit that you’re definitely going to put attention to it to see it through to a certain standard – or you’re not. It’s your choice. And your responsibility to make that choice. Decide up front, rather than finding out the costly way later (especially when other people are impacted, as the true cost of that may be higher than you realise – especially because outcomes like this also compound over time).
And if you’re not committed to getting something done to a specified level, then get it off your list completely. Because it’s not ready for your list of commitments. It’s not right for you right now. Or it’s ill-defined and so your approach towards it will feel painful and it’ll slip. The rule is, if it’s on your list, then you’re committed, and you’ll do what it takes to do it to the level you committed to. Most people make a right mess of this which leads to frustration, procrastination and eventually a feeling of poor self-control.
OK, assuming you have a list of things you’re mindfully committed to getting done…
Let’s acknowledge now that there’s a very best time to get any particular thing done. (The future you would know in hindsight when that was. Since they either enjoyed any resulting rewards or suffered the associated consequences of what you actually did.)
Now, let’s acknowledge that this means that there’s a very best time to complete things by, and also, therefore, a very best time to start on them. (I realise this may sound basic, but stick with me). And it follows then that there’s a series of ‘very best times’ to tackle each step of the task in between. So, there are ideal start and finish times, and ideal times to attend to it in between.
It’s very common for people not to consider the above. They just make loose promises and then charge into the chaos ahead.
It seems many people just have a ‘to-do’ on their list, and the common approach is to:
1) procrastinate on it until enough pain sets in to crack on with it
2) tackle it reactively under pressure
3) live with the often inferior quality of result (alongside the accumulative stress) and explain it away to themselves with some well-crafted excuses (that they’ve probably developed over the years into handy ‘go to’ excuses, like, “I didn’t really have time” when at the start you confirmed that you did have time.)
It’s an old idea, but still not common-enough knowledge that it’s useful to work on the ‘important’ when it’s ‘not urgent’. Otherwise, as time passes, everything gravitates to the ‘urgent’ and you’re forever working reactively under pressure.
So how about switching the 3 step approach above for this one below?
Again, this is for those tasks or projects that you’ve mindfully committed to doing to a required standard:
1) get some space to think quietly, and confirm the end result or deliverable and when it must be completed by (choose a time before the stress zone starts). Wow, you’ve just taken a step to eliminate stress.
2) decide then when it must be started, again giving yourself enough time to reap the benefits of time and compound effort, and also enough time to reduce stress (see point 2 above on understanding time better).
3) slice it up into clearly defined bite-sized steps and divide them up between your available days on your timeline.
Then you just have to keep your promise to yourself and do what you said you’d do.
Be realistic. Little and often is great for some tasks. Especially when you’re likely to procrastinate. But if you get into the zone whilst working on small tasks, keep going! Use your momentum. Or ‘deep work‘ is also great, especially if you’re doing something creative or cognitively demanding.
When you slice it up first, it helps you plan and manage yourself and you can always put those slices back together again. It’s much harder to stare at an overwhelming task and get started.
Finally, make the very first step so small that it’s near impossible to say ‘no’ to. That should get you started on your start date. And by easily completing it, you reinforce your sense of control – you become the sort of person who can knock things over! – which serves you well for the next step. And so on.
Why not use the above in 2019 to get on the right track?
Had enough working for someone else? Feeling stuck? I’m currently working on a few e-courses which might help. Two of which I’m partnering on. One of them is designed to help anyone to quit their job and set themselves up as an independent consultant or freelancer.
We also plan to run a workshop on this in London in a few months. If you’re interested in the e-course, we’re looking for some people to give it a test drive. Please get in touch if you’re interested in this or in the full workshop. Both will help you think this big decision through, reduce your risk, increase your confidence and your chances, and leave you with a plan of attack that you believe in to make this big leap in your career. Get in touch with me here if you’re interested.
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Also published on Medium.