No one ever writes on a resume that he excels at checking email, yet this is one activity that many people spend most of their time doing. In fact, the activities that are most important for people’s success and development are often the ones that spend the least amount of time doing. The reason for this is that the most important activities for our development are also the ones that typically require the most amount of mental energy.
One of my favourite quotes is: “The noise of the urgent creates the illusion of importance” (Stephen Covey).
Highly successful people never get everything done in a day, but they always get the most important things done in a day. Anything that is not on the list of the most important things to get done in a day would be considered a time-waster. People tend to get the lesser important things done first because these are typically easier and require less stress or brainpower, but this makes it less and less likely that they will get to the truly important things that require more energy.
People should identify the three most important items to get done in a day and commit to completing those first, if at all possible.
The first and most important thing to remember for anyone, especially someone who is easily distracted, is channel capacity. Channel capacity refers to the mental bandwidth of the mind. The mind has the capacity to focus on up to three things at a time. Think of it like juggling. Most can juggle three balls. However, if a fourth ball is thrown in the mix, the tendency is to drop most of the balls. This is an example of overloading channel capacity.
One of the most common phrases from new clients is: “There’s just too much to do, and it’s impossible for me to get everything done.” This is exactly right. Prioritizing is one of the most influential determinants of success. People are really good at making mile-long to-do lists that are impossible to complete in a day. These unending lists increase stress and anxiety and leave people with no sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. This makes it incredibly easy to spend way too much time on unimportant tasks.
Time management refers to working with the time you have, and time maximization actually allows you to create more time throughout your day. People are often surprised to discover how many hidden time blocks there are throughout their day that they could be utilizing. For example, a client is running five minutes late, or a meeting finishes 10 minutes early. Having a plan for the types of things you can get done in those short, discovered blocks of time allows you to get significantly more done each day, leaving room for more time spent on the most important aspects of your work.
Decide on a unit of time that, if it appears in your day, you will commit to getting at least one thing productive completed. Clients who make more than a million dollars per year typically will not let a five-minute or longer period of time go unused in their day. Whether it is five minutes or a longer unit of time you commit to using, place a sticky note reminder somewhere in your office with the words: ‘Time Maximization’, and then your unit of time in minutes that you will commit to maximizing. When that time or longer appears in your day, ask yourself: “What is the most important thing I can get done in the next five minutes (or whatever your unit of time is)” and then attack.
Join the ranks of the highly successful by prioritizing what is most important and creating more time in the day to make each day truly count toward your success.