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Time Management

4 Steps to Breaking Free from Time Constraints and Living the Life You Want

We're all limited by time. Learn simple ways you can eliminate distractions and accomplish the things you set out to do.
4 Steps to Breaking Free from Time Constraints and Living the Life You Want
Image credit: eclipse_images | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Director of the Entrepreneur Partner Studio
5 min read

No matter where in the world you are, no matter your race or gender, no matter if you’re in ecommerce, have a brick-and-mortar, or haven’t started a business yet, the most constant and important constraint entrepreneurs face is time. As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing more important to success than how you manage time. Managing it well is the ultimate competitive advantage.

“We all get the same number of minutes in a day and there's no way to buy more no matter how rich you are,” says Nir Eyal, the New York City-based author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (November 2014), and the forthcoming book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (September 2019).

What even some of the smartest entrepreneurs don’t realize, Eyal says, is that it's not enough to simply do the right things to be successful. “Success also requires avoiding the wrong things,” he says. “The key to living the lives we want, and to building the businesses we know we're capable of building, is to control our attention rather than constantly getting distracted.”

Here, Eyal offers his four-step process for eliminating distractions and breaking free from the time constraints that hold us back.

1. To master time, master your ‘internal triggers.’

All too often, we allow ourselves to get distracted because of feelings of uncertainty, fear, and frustration instead of thoughtfully doing what we intended, Eyal says. Instead of ignoring these triggers, we should identify the situation or emotion that’s prompting us to waste time.

“All human behavior is driven by a desire to escape discomfort. That means that time management is pain management,” he says. “We need to understand the uncomfortable sensations we're trying to escape when we reach for our cell phones or email accounts, then learn new techniques for managing that discomfort in a healthier manner.” 

Related: Why Time Is Your Most Important Business Resource

Next time you get the urge to pick up your phone and mindlessly scroll through Facebook, recognize the trigger and do something else instead. Make a phone call you’ve been putting off all week or pick up a book and read a chapter instead.

2. Remember to track input as well as output.

Far too many people use to-do lists without considering the amount of time it takes to complete a task, Eyal says. To-do lists account for things you do, otherwise called your output. Eyal suggests accounting for output as well as input—in other words, your time.

“You've got to have a template for your entire week down to the minute so you can tell the difference between action and distraction,” Eyal says. “If you don't define what it is you wanted to do with your time than everything is a distraction.”

Eyal recommends "timeboxing" your schedule—the practice of assigning a maximum amount of time for a chore or activity. Timeboxing can help give context and limits to ambiguous tasks. Plan your input wisely and the output will follow, he says.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Go on a Digital Diet

3. Remove the external triggers that don't serve you.

Anyone who works in an office with other people knows that the workplace is full of interruptions. Colleagues come by to chat, your phone rings, your desktop dings, and your focus is sabotaged time and time again.

“If we're expected to come up with novel solutions to difficult problems, we need time to sit and contemplate away from distraction,” Eyal says. He suggests that people "hack back" the external triggers that lead to distraction.

One simple way to accomplish this is to manage the notification settings on your smartphone.  For instance, try turning off personal email notifications. Unless social media is part of your job, consider turning off notifications from apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter during work hours. Designate a specific time(s) during your day to check personal communications—and stick to it.

Related: 12 Time Management Mistakes That Set You Up for Failure

4. Use ‘pacts’ to block out distractions.

Pacts, Eyal says, are ways to pre-commit to an outcome when you know you're likely to get distracted. This could be as simple as working with a friend for a set period of time where you keep each other accountable.

In this instance, technology can actually help keep you on track. Eyal says he uses an app called Forest when he writes to keep him from checking his phone. He also uses a free video tool called FocusMate (he’s an investor) to pair him with someone else who is doing work requiring concentration. The idea is that each person will hold the other accountable for the allotted time to work distraction-free.

Using these four techniques: mastering internal triggers, scheduling time for output, hacking back external triggers, and blocking distraction with pacts, you can manage your time and maximize your focus and productivity.

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