3 Life-Changing Strategies They Don’t Teach You in College
And yet, your quality of life depends on them.
The three simple, yet powerful strategies contained in this story can help unlock the true power of your most valuable commodity: time. They took me 10 years to distill into actionable steps (I wish I knew then what I know now) yet you can use them to upgrade how you approach the rest of your life.
First, let’s set the scene.
As a young man from Liverpool “Eight Days a Week”, a classic Beatles track from 1965, blared from the speakers of my dusty old range rover as I drove down to London in 2010 — my first move as a recent graduate. 45 years since its release, little did I know that song would become the soundtrack to my first year in the ‘big smoke’.
A Rude Awakening
I was working 60–70 hour weeks as an International Sales Executive, which — fresh out of college — made me sound far more important than I actually was. Highly demanding clients, extensive travel and a steep learning curve visiting new countries — I often joked that hitting targets would be easier if I actually had 8 days in a week.
This baptism of fire correlated with the Directors’ ambitious growth plan and our stretching, collective goal: keep expanding sales by 40%. Every year.
It struck me as no coincidence that John, the regional manager and my boss, would jibe “there just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
I realise now that my ‘8 days’ and his ‘time poor’ perspectives, were way off the mark. We were working hard but we could have been working much smarter.
The Tone From the Top
John was overheard complaining to his Director about being “time poor” — again. Her reply was telling — “time poor, John? It’s like you’re in a constant time famine!”
And yet, if someone says “I just don’t know where all the time goes”, how can they lament having too little of it? They have just admitted they don’t know where it goes!
A Discerning Decade
10 years on, I am reflecting on my experiences working in multiple industries, from Technology to Transport and Financial Services to Flooring, and for companies small and large; gaining exposure to people at the top of their game in entertainment, sports and business has totally changed the way I look at things, especially time.
As an avid journaler, my aim here is to ‘pay it forward’ by synthesising a decade’s worth of learning into the most salient points, so that you can make your time an asset rather than a liability.
This is critical for you to thrive, not just survive, because what you do with your time is the main determinant of your quality of life:
Strategy #1: ‘Time management’ is a myth, you can only manage yourself — building self-awareness and executive skills is vital for your success.
Strategy #2: How you invest your time between 9 pm and 6 am at weekends will determine your productivity and happiness between 9 am and 6 pm on weekdays — you are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices.
Strategy #3: Compound interest has the same effect on time as it does on money because it acts as a multiplier — ensure you multiply the good stuff.
Let’s take each in turn with a short story.
1. ‘Time management’ is a myth; you can only manage yourself.
There is one constant in life: we all get 86,400 seconds to play with each day.
Time is therefore the dimension where we’re all equal.
Against that backdrop, consider this extraordinarily important observation: nobody can manage time per se.
You can, however, manage yourself and specifically how you choose to apply your energy within any time period.
It is a subtle distinction. Those who know this can progress further and faster in life than those who don’t.
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to achieve an exceptionally high quality of life?
Why is it that some people can turn adversity to their advantage and thrive, yet others frequently seem stressed and don’t even come close to their potential?
Taking two notable figures from the world of business, how do Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who get dealt the same 86,400 seconds in a day as you or I, drive more productivity and value than over 99% of other people?
Alice Morse Earle provides a significant part of the answer:
“The clock is running.
Make the most of today.
Time waits for no man.
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
Watch any interview with Buffett or Gates and you will see they live by this. They have presence because they understand the power of the present.
Timing is everything.
In his bestselling book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink argues that, if we are to succeed in the areas that matter most to us, we must take control of how we invest our time, at the key points of each day.
Not all hours are created equal.
Pink discusses how you can leverage your chronobiology to your advantage. In practice, being in tune with your mind-body connection means turning daily peaks and troughs into windows of opportunity. Once you acknowledge that, the trick is to match your highest value activities to when you’re at your best.
Pink explains, “if you’re a ‘lark’ (morning person) it pays to do the hardest thing earlier in the day while your energy levels are high”.
Naturally, if you’re a night owl and prefer to work on tasks that require greater concentration in the evening — take care to invest your time accordingly.
This can be challenging because it takes discipline to plan what you’re going to do within a particular time slot and then actually do it.
Actionable step: make a plan for how you will invest your time the day before, and stick with it.
I’m not saying that’s easy. I’m saying it’s worth it.
2. 6 pm-9 am affects 9 am-6 pm and vice versa.
John was a case in point. His bragging about how he spent his ‘off-duty’ hours was well-known.
Yet how much are you inclined to socialise with someone who claims “Debauchery is my middle name”?
Do you think it was a coincidence that his performance started slipping? It did not go unnoticed — the director put him on an ‘action contract’ which is code for “sort it out, or sayonara”.
Suffice to say, within 3 months he was gone.
Before leaving, he invited me to lunch — it transpired he thought I would make a good protégé (he was wrong).
John said that he saw a “sparkle in my eyes” and he thought it would be remiss not to have an out-of-office chat about (his perceptions of) the ways of the world.
I humored him.
He explained that he had wasted a great deal of time and money on 3 ‘Ls’.
- Leverage: one consequence of his lavish and unsustainable lifestyle was an eye-watering amount of debt.
- Ladies: or as he put it “slow horses and fast women.”
- Liquor: John’s penchant for cocktails was common knowledge.
Of course, John could have been more selective.
He could have focused on landscaping his garden or playing lacrosse.
Learning could have been how he spent his ‘off duty’ hours. Leaders are readers, after all.
The fact is: you are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices.
Simply put, life is a collection of moments. Choose to see that as a great source of opportunity. Choose to be liberated by that. If, instead, you behave like John, you’ll feel short-changed even though you’ve been dealt the same time gift as everybody else.
3. Compound interest acts as a multiplier effect.
“Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”
— Albert Einstein
The third strategy explains why the first two are so important.
It’s the reason that the downward spiral John experienced also works in reverse, meaning you can earn exponential dividends if you invest your time, rather than fritter it away.
You can create a good kind of contagion because everything you do affects everything else in your life.
The people who excel have an uncanny ability to discharge their talents effortlessly. They make it look easy — like they have all the time in the world even though they get precisely zero more time than anybody else.
In short, they harness the power of these three strategies.
Few people would ever judge you for allowing yourself time to get distracted from your goals on the odd party weekend. As John Lennon said, “time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”
Just remember if you consider something a mistake and it happens more than once — that is a choice. Over time, you can either earn compound interest on good uses of your time or pay interest on an accumulation of bad choices.
Herein lies the power of Dale Carnegie’s recommendation to “live in day-tight compartments”. You can forge a better future, one day at a time, starting today by building these strategies into your life.
Focus on managing yourself by investing your time wisely, both at work and during your leisure hours, and keep earning compound interest — the more you do, the more your progress will soar.