A Structured Day Can Keep Wasted Time at Bay Americans may work longer than the rest of the world, but are we using our time efficiently?

By Adam Toren

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Americans may as well start giving flowers to their computers, buying their business phones diamond encrusted cases and taking their briefcases on expensive vacations -- our nation is having a love affair with work.

For most entrepreneurs, this is not news. In fact, ABC News reports that Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. We work longer days, take less time off and retire later in life. But, is love really the basis of this affair? The answer is usually no.

It's not love, but a drive for success that leaves us frequenting the office like drunk college kids frequent a Taco Bell. However, beyond the insatiable desire to win, it's also structure -- or more accurately, lack of structure -- that causes many to spend 20 hours on things they could actually get done in five.

Misuse of time is prolific and can envelope both personal and work-related activities. Too frequent checking of email, an inability to delegate tasks, excessive meetings and the failure to make a plan all add up to "work" being more aptly titled "waste." It doesn't have to be this way.

Related: Get it Done: 35 Habits of the Most Productive People (Infographic)

Most of you are probably familiar with Tim Ferriss (of Four Hour Work Week fame) and his approach to success. Tired of working 14-hour days, Ferriss came up with a system to work less and live more.

The goal of Ferriss' book may be to communicate how people can work less, but let's face it -- many people don't want to work less. I don't want to work less. I like my work. However, I do want to be as effective as possible with my time. Doing so will help me capitalize on opportunities and find greater fulfillment in those opportunities.

Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, follows a similar train of thought. His core message isn't about working less; it's about doing what you love. Sounds great, right? And it is, but as Dinsmore clearly points out, it isn't easy. In order to do what you love, you have to use your time to maximum effect, and that starts with a process. It starts with structure and planning.

Dinsmore's approach involves eight steps (normally concentrated to five) that are executed weekly:

  • Carve out some time to plan your week before it begins
  • Mentally focus on your long-term goals
  • Celebrate your successes from the week before
  • Identify lessons learned in the previous week
  • Take note of things that were planned that didn't occur and determine why
  • Call out the most important goals for the current week
  • Schedule everything -- yes, everything -- formally on a calendar
  • Schedule everything else, including the planning itself

While Ferriss may reject the use of some technological tools, and Dinsmore may evangelize the use of similar tools, the common denominator is that they both promote a structured methodology to achieving goals.

Related: 3 Secrets to Develop Habits That Matter

No single approach is going to work for everyone, but the correlation between the adoption of a structured approach to your workday and success can't be ignored. The key is to take the ideas that resonate best with you and adopt them. If you can't swallow an entire method immediately, then begin one step at a time. Start with a weekly planning session, then layer in maximizing the use of virtual assistants. In a month's time, commit to spending 10 minutes a week reflecting on the successes (and missed opportunities) of the past week. Before you know it, you'll have an approach to addressing the work week.

Underpinning any methodology for addressing the opportunities in front of you are consistency and flexibility. Helmuth von Moltke, the chief of staff for the Prussian army in the latter half of the 19th century, noted that "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Events will inevitably conspire to foil the best of plans. This doesn't obviate the need for structure, rather, it reinforces it. As Dwight D. Eisenhower sagely noted, "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

Related: Why Self-Discipline Will Make You Unstoppable

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Adam Toren

Serial entrepreneur, mentor, advisor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com

Adam Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Matthew, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Phoenix, Ariz.

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