It’s not the hours you put in; it’s what you put in the hours.
Some people wear their long hours of hard work… or work-aholism… as a badge of honor. They brag, “I get up at 4 and go to bed at midnight. And when I go to bed, I take time to read 1 more book and write out my goals for the following day.”
They may also brag about being successful. They may announce, “Yeah, I got another promotion… or… I’m making more money than ever before… or blah, blah, blah.”
Well, I would hope to Betsy they’re successful. After all, all they do is work.
And that’s why I tell my audiences it would be very embarrassing to be an unsuccessful workaholic. And that’s why I tell my audiences that time management is more about life management than it is about clock hours.
Or as author John Alston says, “The time you get is the time you get, and that’s all you get.” So you’d better manage your time with every bit of wisdom and skill you can muster. Never, ever take it for granted.
Here’s what I suggest.
=> 1. Plan ahead.
As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s true. A lack of planning can easily turn into wasted hours, days, weeks, months, years, and lives.
Or as Elmer Letterman said, “It’s not the hours you put in; it’s what you put in the hours.” And if you plan ahead, you dramatically improve your chances of getting the most out of those hours.
For example, you could prepare for tomorrow the evening before. Take five minutes to jot down your priorities and schedule your commitments.
Plan ahead to avoid emergencies. Don’t let your gas tank get below one-quarter full. Keep a well stocked “emergency shelf” of home staples. Don’t wait until you’re down to the last bus token or postage stamp to buy more. Make duplicates of all keys, and keep a house key in a secret spot, apart from your key ring.
Practice preventive maintenance. Personally, I schedule one day a month as a tune-up or fix-up day. And as a result, we have very few crises or inconvenient breakdowns around our house.
And as you plan ahead, set your limits. If you’re looking for more time and more balance, look at your schedule. If you currently keep four appointments a day, cut back to two or three. If you normally stay an hour after work, go home on time. If you take twelve business trips a year, cut back to six or eight.
On one of the NASA space missions, one of the astronauts learned the importance of planning ahead. Perhaps you remember the story.
Three astronauts were selected as the best individuals to handle a two-year space mission. They were told they could take anything with them if it did not weigh more than 125 pounds.
The first astronaut said, “I’ll take my wife. She weighs 112 pounds.” The officials said, “Fine.”
The second astronaut said, “I’ve always wanted to learn Greek, so I’ll take 125 pounds of Greek books and CDs so I can learn the language.” Again the officials said, “Fine.”
The third astronaut said, “I want to bring 125 pounds of quality cigars. It’s my favorite recreational activity.” Again his request was granted.
Two years later, when they returned to Earth, the first astronaut stepped out of the capsule holding an infant in each arm. The crowd roared its approval. The second astronaut came out speaking flawless Greek. Again the crowd roared.
But when the third astronaut stepped out, his mouth was downturned and his teeth were clenched on a cigar. He got up to the mike and asked, “All right, anybody got a match?” Obviously, he failed to plan ahead.
=> 2. Simplify your life.
Toss out the clutter. If you have stuff stacked up everywhere, get rid of it.
If you don’t know you have something, or if you can’t find something, there’s no way it can help you. So get organized or get rid of it.
I know that will be gut-wrenching for some of you. As one person said, “Junk is something you’ve kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.
Or as someone else quipped, “The nice thing about being disorganized is — when burglars break in, they can’t find anything either.”
But simplifying your life goes beyond stuff. As motivational expert Brian Tracy says, “Examine your activities and ask whether each is worth the time you spend on it. Discontinuing just one major activity or separating yourself from one person who no longer belongs in your life can dramatically simplify your life, sometimes overnight.
=> 3. Say “no.”
It’s one of the most important time-life management techniques you’ll ever find. As I say in my program, “Take This Job And Love It: A Program For Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life,” stress is what happens to you when your gut says “No” and your mouth says, “Of course, I’d be glad to.”
You see… if you can’t say “no,” you will never have control over your life or your time. You’re either living your life or someone else’s.
You may be a person who creates a “To Do” list once in a while. Great. But you also need to create a “Not To Do” list… or you’ll never get to your “To Do” list.
But you must realize that the more successful you are, the more you will be asked to help others. That’s okay. Just don’t be talked into something you don’t want to do or don’t love to do. Say “no” when necessary and appropriate.
=> 4. Seize the moment.
While it’s a good idea to have a “To Do” and Not To Do” list, there are times in your quest for life and time management that you simply have to do it… no matter what.
That’s what Gareth Carrigan found out. He’s a Senior Manager at Lloyds TSB Bank in the United Kingdom. Gareth says, “Making time to attend your JOURNEY TO THE EXTRAORDINARY experience was the best thing I have ever done for my self-development. Powerful content, excellent delivery, and an energizing two days.”
You may never “”have” time. Sometimes you just have to do it.
As one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers wrote me,
“Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming, or are too rigid to depart from their routine. I cannot count the times I called my sister and said, ‘How about going to lunch in a half hour?’ She would gasp and stammer, ‘I can’t. I have clothes on the line. My hair is dirty. I wish I had known yesterday. I had a late breakfast. It looks like rain.’ And my personal favorite: ‘It’s Monday.’ She died a few years ago. We never did have lunch together.”
She’s right. We tend to put things off unit all the conditions are perfect! We’ll go back and visit the grandparents when… we get Stevie toilet-trained. We’ll entertain when … we replace the living room carpet. We’ll go on a second honeymoon when… we get two more kids out of college.
One morning, we awaken, and all we have to show for our lives is a litany of “I’m going to… I plan on… and… Someday, when things are settled down a bit.”
I think author Frank Bucaro makes a good point when he says, “Live each day as though it were your last, and someday you’ll be right.”
Sometimes you simply have to seize the moment and TAKE the time. An old Irish prayer says it well.
Take time to work. It is the price of success.
Take time to meditate. It is the source of power.
Take time to play. It is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read. It is the way to knowledge.
Take time to be friendly. It is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh. It is the music of the soul.
And take time to love and be loved.
Action: Create a “Not To Do” list. It will be extremely liberating.