Multiply Your Time By Cutting Out The Noise
Taking a leaf out of Steve Jobs’ management book.
Many people know Steve Jobs as the Apple boss whose relentless drive and vision drove the company to become the largest in the world by market capitalization and more recently as one of the world’s highest-valued companies.
But fewer are aware of the Apple boss relentless management of time and focus. “Perhaps no other executive managed organizational time more effectively”, wrote Michael Mankins, in his book Time, Talent, Energy: Overcoming Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. “Focus was key to Apple’s success.” Each year Jobs took Apple’s top 100 executives off-site for a planning retreat and pushed them to identify the company’s leading ten priorities for the coming year. Executives jostled to get their ideas on the shortlist. Then Jobs would take a marker and cross out the bottom seven. “We can only do three,” he would announce.
His gesture made it clear to everyone present what the company would and wouldn’t take on. Jobs cut through the noise and enabled Apple to invest the time of its top talents strategically, without dilution or waste.
More than its effectiveness in the boardroom, this time management approach is essential to individual success. To manage time well, you must embrace one truth above all others: “You can’t do everything.”
As far as the “time it takes” is concerned, your desires will always race ahead of your ability to fulfil them. You can’t be in more than one place at a time, neither can you use the same unit of time for two different tasks. Every minute spent on one task is one minute you don’t spend on another.
Therefore, it can quickly seem all bleak, until you realize another truth: “Everything is not important equally.” This is the idea behind the Eisenhower’s Time Management Matrix which sorts activities into four quadrants based on urgency and importance to enable us to devote attention and time to our activities accordingly. Quadrant I includes urgent and important things, whereas Quadrants III and IV include things that, urgent or not, do not matter. Quadrant II contains the oft-neglected important but non-urgent activities.
“Effective people spend more time in Quadrant II, minimize the time spent in Quadrant I, and do not worry too much about Quadrants III and IV.” wrote Francisco, founder and CEO of FacileThings.
Thus, the Eisenhower’s Matrix represents, roughly, the basis of prioritization: sorting an almost infinite number of tasks into boxes of urgency and importance, based on your values and goals.
If you combine the aforementioned truths: one, that you can’t do everything and two, that not everything matters equally, you’ll arrive at why prioritization is the key to taking charge of your time.
Set a focus for your day/week/month/year — based on your values and goals — to ensure the high-value non-urgent task don’t get sacrificed for the low-value urgent ones. This is the key to cutting out the noise and taking charge of your time.
The importance of having a daily to-do list is largely well-emphasised. But if your to-do list has 23 items, the only positive you can take from that is probably that you have one in the first place — a lot of people still haven’t gotten around to keeping a daily to-do or a calendar.
But, to be effective about managing your time, irrespective of your to-do list, you have to move on to a much-needed Step 2, which is to arrange your to-do list by priority and ruthlessly trim the bottom.
There’s no need worrying too much about what doesn’t make your list, you aren’t losing anything so long your list reflects your priorities. You’ll still get the most important things done each day, and that is what time management is all about anyway — maximizing the use of an all-important but limited resource by focusing on what’s most important.
Maybe we are prone to making time management fancier than it needs to be, or we beat that particular horse with a little too much fervency. That’s what you’re doing if you are buying all the time management books on the market, or all the time management app in the app store, yet you find yourself no closer to better managing your time than when you started.
You really don’t need that level of complication. Taking control of your time and your life boils down to two things:
- Identify your most important activities that move the needle — daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Hint: your most important activities will be found in your values and goals.
- Keep focus and take action on them.
One of the biggest challenges we face with managing time is that the most important things are rarely urgent — in the interim. But in terms of sheer return on time invested and improving the quality of life, nothing else you’ll do will give a better return and life satisfaction.
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