If you win the lottery, what will you do with your winnings?
That’s a mind game that almost everyone plays at one time or another. If you’re anything like a lot of lottery winners, you’ll probably end up broke.
Let’s face it. People are not geared to handle windfalls. Actors, pop stars and athletes let sudden riches dissipate. When wonders land in their lap, they sometimes squander them unintentionally.
If people do that with money, why would it be any different with something equally precious and hard to acquire -- like time?
Yet, increasingly these days, people are recovering their time by deterring interruptions. They are learning how to recognize would-be "bandits" of their time and negotiate with them in order to work uninterrupted productively, thereby recovering as much as three to five hours a day.
The challenge then becomes how to not just luxuriate in the extra time but instead use it to good purpose. The answer is to leverage that time by spending it on the most critical work. Here are four tips for doing so:
1. Carve out the "critical few."
My wife has a helpful habit when she takes a call of cupping her hand over the phone and saying, “He says it’s urgent. But it might be his urgent, not your urgent.” Study your list of all the things you intend to accomplish today. I guarantee you that some of those items are somebody else’s urgent.
Your "critical few" are the tasks that if they are not completed on time, this could affect your business, your ability to stay employed or the health of a loved one. Please take note of the word “few.” Every task you count in this category automatically rules out something else.
Time is not elastic, even when we have a windfall of it. What happens if you have two critical tasks? Calculate the effects of not doing either one of the two activities. When you do, one set of tasks will clearly be more pressing than the other. That's your priority.
2. Batch process the many minor tasks.
Even if you deter interruptions, the many minor tasks you have are likely to get you in trouble as far as managing your time. Sure, you need to check email. But do you need to check it every five minutes? Must you attend every meeting you’re invited to?
When you tally up all the things that didn’t make your "critical few" list, some will turn out to be similar. They don’t require a lot of thinking, but they do take time, usually more than they should. These tasks might include returning perfunctory calls to subordinates, filling out compliance reports or reviewing documents.
You need to batch process these tasks. Doing similar types of work in batches creates momentum. Fingers go faster, muscle memory is triggered and distractions disappear. Save up your repetitive tasks and do them all at once for efficiency, momentum and concentration.
3. Distinguish between hard vs. easy tasks.
Everyone has some work that he or she considers hard to accomplish, meaning it takes serious concentration, thereby depleting energy and possibly joy.
You know what’s hard for you. The solution is to deliberately choose your most energetic time to tackle the most challenging tasks. Do them at the beginning of the week. If you're a morning person, do these things at the start of your day. Do the easiest things later in the day and at the end of the week.
4. Create a whole-week plan.
Now, give yourself a structure for leveraging your “extra” time by planning a whole week in advance. Seeing the entire week's tasks at once makes it clear the activities that are critical as opposed to minor, the hard tasks and what can be batch processed.
Allocate the hours you've recovered from interruptions to the "critical few" tasks. The process of committing your plan to paper will embeds it into your consciousness. Writing something down influences thinking and spurs creativity and task execution.