In Brian Tracy's book The Way to Wealth Workbook, Part III: Blueprints for Success, he says, “Every minute spent in planning saves ten minutes in execution.” In other words, the more you put time management into practice, the more time you will save out of each day. Sound good? Let's get started. Here are seven proven time management tips from Brian, which you can – and should – start using today.
1. Write down everything you need to get done right now.
Go grab a pen and a piece of paper. Now stop everything you're doing, and write down everything you need to get done today.
Don't worry about prioritizing – just take everything that's buzzing around in your head, from grocery shopping to apartment hunting to filling out those job forms, and put it all down on paper.
Doesn't that feel better already? When all those tasks were taking up space in your mind, they seemed intimidating. Now that they are on paper, you see that all that stress boils down to a few scribbles on a little page. It's not so bad after all.
Writing down your list frees up huge reservoirs of mental energy to focus on the things that matter, instead of on remembering everything you have to do. As Einstein, himself said, “Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.”
Every night from now on, make a little list of the things you need to get done the next day. You will sleep better, and you will awake the next morning ready to take action.
2. Focus on the 20 percent that will create the most concrete change.
In every area of life, there's a principle known as the 80/20 Rule: a key 20 percent of our actions account for 80 percent of the results we get. The trick is to identify that 20 percent, so you can devote most of your energy towards those tasks.
Look at each of the tasks on the list you have written, and ask yourself, “If I did this right now, would it create a concrete improvement in my day?” Would completing this task make you money, or help someone who needs help, or boost your health, or lower your stress level, or otherwise measurably improve your life or the life of someone you care about?
If you answered “no” to all of the above, then that task is not part of your 20 percent. It's not very important.
One or two of the tasks on your list are sure to be part of your 20 percent. Focus on those above all others, even if they're difficult and time-consuming. The other 80 percent are fine to save for later, or to handle tomorrow, or even – as we will discuss in Tip #4 – stop doing it altogether if it isn't necessary.
3. Split your tasks into five priority levels.
As helpful as the 80/20 rule is for prioritizing your tasks, you can manage your time even more effectively by splitting your tasks into five priority levels. This is known as the “ABCDE Method,” and it's very simple:
- “A” tasks are your “absolutely-must-do” tasks – the top of your most-valued 20 percent. There will be serious consequences if you don't take care of these, so do them right away, no matter how tough they are.
- “B” tasks are your “better-do” tasks – they might be part of your key 20 percent, or they might just be necessary parts of your day. Take care of them when you finish with your “A” tasks, because there will be some consequences if you don't.
- “C” tasks are your “could-do” tasks – there won't be any significant results if you do them, nor any noticeable consequences if you don't. Handle these today or tomorrow, at your discretion.
- “D” tasks are your “delegate” tasks – these might need to be done, but you can probably delegate them to someone else to free up more time for your “A” tasks.
- “E” tasks are your “eliminate” tasks – there's no point at all in doing these time-wasters.
Follow this five-stage system, and you will quickly notice you have more time for the tasks that matter.
4. Go back to zero for a minute.
Stop right now and ask yourself, “If I lost everything today, and had to start completely from scratch, what wouldn’t I focus on?” Those are the things you don't need to do.
Brian Tracy calls this “zero-based thinking”. He explains it as, “Top people are always open to the possibility and the need of doing something completely different. They don’t get stuck into a 'comfort zone' and stay there just because it feels good.”
In other words, there are things we do because they genuinely need to be done, and then there are things we do because we don't like to think about what would happen if we stopped doing them. But those consequences are rarely as bad as you would think.
While it's true that you should probably keep doing laundry and washing the dishes, or at least delegating those tasks to someone, your life is full of other tasks that you assume are necessary. However, these tasks are not as important as you think. Go back to zero and ask yourself if you would still complete these tasks if you had to do life over again. If your answer is no, then they are not a priority.
5. Remember the “Law of Forced Efficiency.”
Have you ever noticed when you have to finish a project by tomorrow, you somehow manage to get it done in a single night? That's the Law of Forced Efficiency: “There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”
What tasks on your list will make a real difference if you do them today? Whether you think you have time to do them or not, the truth is that you do. You will get them done.
As for the rest of your tasks, you may get them done today or not – but they don't really matter, because there will be more low-priority tasks in your inbox tomorrow anyway. As Brian Tracy says, “You will never be caught up. Get that out of your mind. All you can hope for is to be on top of your most important responsibilities. The others will just have to wait.”
What matters most is to handle the tasks that will make a real impact. And you have time for those, guaranteed.
6. Focus on one thing at a time.
When you're working on one of the tasks on your list, none of the others matter. Nothing else is relevant.
Find a place where you can close the door and work in peace. If you live with other people, make sure they understand that this is your work time, and you are not to be disturbed. Turn off your phone, close the computer, even close the curtains if you have to. For right now, nothing is getting between you and your task.
One popular focus technique is to set a timer for fifteen minutes or half an hour, and work without pausing until it rings. Then stand up, stretch, walk around, check your email, do whatever feels nice for ten minutes or so. Then set the timer again and work for another fifteen or thirty minutes.
When you stick to each task this intently, you will find that you complete even the most difficult work in a fraction of the time you expected – and that you enjoy the work more.
7. Do it NOW.
Like the old saying says, “It's now or never.” That's especially true when it comes to the tasks you don't want to do. If you don't do them right now, you will keep putting them off day after day, until they have grown so big in your mind that you won't want to do them at all.
In his book Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy talks about the principle of “eating your frogs for breakfast” – in other words, doing the toughest things first. When you follow this principle, you will find that the tough things aren't nearly as tough as you expected, and you will have more energy for the rest of the tasks on your list.
Start applying these 7-time management tips today, and you will find that you get more done, achieve more results, and feel happier with the work you do. For more tips like these, check out Brian Tracy's books Eat That Frog and The Way to Wealth Workbook, Part III: Blueprints for Success.