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Time Management Strategies That Pay Off

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

If you had two $100 bills and ninety-eight $1 bills in your hand and a sudden gust of wind blew them out of your hand and down the street, what strategy would you use to pick them up? If you start with the bills closest to you and work your way to the others, you are probably efficiency-minded. If you go directly to where the $100 bills are and get those first, you are effectiveness-minded.

My research has shown that most people are not inefficient; they're efficient at all the wrong things. To be effective you must target all the important things in your life and at work. You see, efficiency is doing something well. Effectiveness is doing the right thing well. To become more effective, you must...

1. Remember the 80/20 principle.
The true basis of time management - and therefore life management - is knowing which targets to focus on. And one way to do that is to apply the 80/20 principle...

The 80/20 principle states that in many situations about 20% of what you do yields about 80% of the results. With a typical to-do list of ten items, the 80/20 principle suggests that two of them will yield about 80% of the value. The remaining eight will yield the remaining 20%.

For example, Peter A. Turla, a former NASA engineer on the Apollo moon-rocket design team, found that 20% of your customers give you 80% of your sales. (Concentrate on those customers.) 20% of your customers make up 80% of your complaints. (Keep your perspective.) 20% of the inventory gets 80% of turnover. (Keep these items well supplied.) 20% of the house gets 80% of the dirt. (Clean other parts less frequently.) 20% of your friends call you 80% of the time. (Call them back at your convenience.) 20% of the newspaper has 80% of the news. (Skim the rest.)

If you remember and implement this principle, it will not only give you a greater peace of mind but also make you much more effective. And then...

2. Remember you'll never have enough time.
I hate to say it, but there is never enough time for everything in life. One of keys to success is to spend your time on the really valuable things instead of the low-payoff activities.

Take the Army doctor, for example, who is overwhelmed by the number of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Because of his limited resources he has to decide which men and women to focus on and which ones to overlook. You must do the same thing with all of your projects, responsibilities, and dreams. Some are worth saving, and some have to die. Some, with just a little attention, can be kept alive until later when you have more time. Focus on your most meaningful targets. As Turla says, "Don't stomp on an ant while the elephants are coming over the wall." Once you know you'll never have enough time, you must...

3. Remember the difference between priority and payoff.
Priorities have to do with the order in which things get done. They are usually related to urgency and deadlines. Payoffs have to do with the value of what is to be done.

Quite often, things that have a high payoff do not have a high urgency. They are things that would be great to do ... like investing in your team's development, building a stronger marriage, or getting yourself in better shape physically and financially ... but are easily put off until later. Don't fall into that trap!

The less successful people in life and at work keep priority-urgency lists and keep so busy doing them that they never get around to doing the less urgent but far more important high payoff activities. And then, one day, they wonder why their team is not performing as well as it could, or how their marriage fell apart, or when it was that their physical and financial lives started to head downhill. To avoid those tragedies...

4. Choose your targets.
Your life is very much like taking a walk down the street. Which way do you go when you reach the first intersection? Do you turn left, right, or go straight? If you know where you are going, the decision is very clear to you. If you haven't decided where you are going, you have to make a decision at every intersection. And decision-making takes time and mental energy.

In other words, you can't increase your time, but you can increase the value of your time just by defining your objectives. A specific destination ... or set of targets ... will motivate you more than aimlessness will, and when you're motivated you automatically use your time more effectively.

So I challenge you - right now - to choose your targets. Select your high payoff goals or objectives. Write them down. And make them as specific as possible. Instead of writing down something like "be nicer to people," if that is your target, add a few specifics as to how you will do that. You might decide to express your appreciation to at least one person every day. At the end of the day, it will be clear whether you are on target or not. You either did it or you didn't. Measuring progress - and holding yourself accountable - becomes very easy this way.

Life is too short to "wing" it. Use your time well and you will reap dividends for years and years.

Which activities in your life promise to bring you the greatest payoffs? Are you spending enough time on those activities?

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman
As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is focused on "transforming the people side of business." His keynotes and seminars are noted for high content, high energy, and high involvement that transform people's lives and the companies where they work. To learn more about his programs and products, or to receive a free subscription to his weekly Internet newsletter, click here.
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