Matt Nagin
Jul 2 · 7 min read

I recently began diligently studying Time Management. This includes reading books, reviewing articles, and attending lectures. It has been great. Fantastic! The only problem is it’s taking up far too much time!!!

Dali — Great At Time Management

In all seriousness, if you want to be like Salvador Dali, who melted clocks with his immortal, creative paint brush, then it is advisable you either attend Carnegie Mellon or study rudimentary techniques within this burgeoning science. Here, then, are five superb techniques that I hope to review in an expedient fashion — for taking a lot of time would be like a vegan selling you steak knives. Good luck and learn fast — otherwise this advice may end up being counterproductive.

Vilfredo Pareto-Bearded Economist

1) Apply The 80/20 Rule — Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, devised Pareto’s Law, which states that 80% of the wealth is held by 20% of the population. He soon found this law applies outside of economics as well — that 80% of his garden peas were produced by 20% of the peapods he’d planted. This law seems to appear quite often in nature — at least 80% of the profits in the stock market, for example, are produced by 20% of investors. Additionally, 80% of the wealth from individual portfolios is produced by 20% of the holdings.

Clearly, this rule can be applied to work output as well. The trick is to identify the key 20% that that produce the most value and focus on achieving those tasks succinctly. For example, 20% of your contacts produce 80% of your networking benefits. Focus on which contacts are most important and enhance those relationships. Many other applications of this rule can be made. The key point is to focus on the essential elements of your business or creative venture in order to maximize productivity.

2) Employ A Mix Of Solid and Stretch Goals — In Time Management In An Instant,Karen Leland and Keith Bailey emphasize the importance of setting a mixture of solid and stretch goals. Solid goals are practical, necessary, within your comfort zone, and relatively easy to achieve. Stretch goals are unpredictable, outside your comfort zone, and, quite often, demand new levels of effort.

An excellent addition to the above I developed through experimentation is completing a solid goal in order to build confidence, rewarding myself, and then turning to a stretch goal. By breaking up solid and stretch goals throughout your day you avoid two pitfalls: 1) only accomplishing the simple and easy (solid goals), 2) becoming so overwhelmed (by stretch goals) that you feel a sense of paralysis.

3) Use Time Boxing — Contrary to what you might imagine, time boxing does not involve a fist fight between two anthropomorphic clocks. Instead, it involves setting a predefined limit for the amount of time a project can take. For example, let’s say you know you want to write an article on bird watching. If you know your bird watching articles tend to take two hours to write you time box the situation, leaving yourself a mere one hour of work time. If it’s not done in an hour it becomes a part of your next day’s tasks. This, in theory, at least, forces you to be more productive.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferris explains why time boxing works: Parkinson’s Law. This law states that a task will grow in perceived importance and difficulty in proportion to the amount of time provided for its completion. If you have an extra two days to complete a project you’re likely to make a mountain out of a molehill. What is more, owing to the increased focus, the end result of the shorter deadline is often a product of equal or higher value. Just ask the executives at Dupont, who used time boxing to triple software developer productivity in the eighties. Incidentally, time boxing is also an excellent cure for perfectionism.

One fear is it will reduce the spontaneity and potency of creative ventures. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Besides, the productivity increases tend to make up for any pitfalls. As Peter Drucker, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once put it, “what gets measured gets managed.”

Reward Yourself — Even If You Have To Pay For It

4) Reward Yourself After Completing Small Goals- This sounds counterintuitive, for the task of rewarding oneself eats up more time. I used to set one stretch goal after the other, constantly feeling there was never enough time. It felt like I was treading water.

A technique that leads to greater productivity and well-being is to adopt an attitude of abundance. What this involves is rewarding oneself after every goal completed, or, as Leland and Bailey put it: “giving yourself incentives.” Write a list of favorite activities or experiences. Buying a smoothie. Taking a walk. After each task you complete, particularly if it is a stretch goal, you should give yourself this brief reward.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, which learned to salivate on cue, rewarding yourself in this fashion trains your brain to want to pursue stretch goals, since there is a reward at the end of the tunnel. Other ways of supporting your goals are reading biographies of others who have gone through similar struggles, obtaining coaching, browsing inspirational quotes, joining a support group, and eliminating all goals that are not truly connected to your most intrinsic values.

4)Eliminate Worry-Neurotic anxiety eats up time and energy. It robs you of the strength needed to accomplish what you most desire. In his book Time Management, Richard Walsh mentions that, regardless of the nature of your problems, worry doesn’t help. To prove his point he asks his readers to:

1) Write down something you were worried about when a child.
2) Write down something you were worried about in high school.
3) Write down something you were worried about a year ago.

He then says you should ask yourself these three questions?

1) Am I still worried about this?
2) How has the situation resolved?
3) Did worry help in any way to resolve the situation?

Walsh’s point is that worry accomplishes very little. Either the situation resolved itself on its own, you solved it through focused action, or you learned to accept your new reality. By focusing less energy on worry and more on actually completing tasks you take back your power and are likely to be more adept at handling the vicissitudes of daily existence.

An Example Of Confused Priorities

5) Utilize The Four D’s- Another excellent bit of advice in Leland and Bailey’s Time Management In An Instant is prioritizing by using the four D’s — Do, Dump, Delegate, Defer. One has to ascertain what goals you are best accomplishing, what goals simply are not worth achieving, what goals are better off being delegated, and what goals one should defer.

An interrelated technique is to prioritize all goals on your To-Do-List. Goals should be labelled A, B, and C. A goals are essential. B goals should be addressed as soon as possible. And C goals can be accomplished at a later point.

Time Management is an exciting field filled with a wealth of information that can increase productivity and lend order to one’s day. These slight changes can have a significant impact on one’s success and sense of well-being.

If you are interested in reading more about Time Management you might consider the following time management books. You might also want to consider watching/attending a lecture on Time Management. Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote by Steven Wright.”My watch is three hours fast, and I can’t fix it. So I’m going to move to New York.” A funny line, sure. But it also sums up the advice in this post. Make time work for you and not the other way around.

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Matt Nagin

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Matt Nagin is a writer, comedian, actor, and educator. His latest book, “Feast Of Sapphires,” is available on Amazon. More at mattnagin.com.

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