Oct. 6th, 2010
Dillon and I realized that we needed to do some catching up today: online work (yeah, we still work for a living!), restock the RV, dump the… waste ;-), clean the laundry and so on. So I decided to take a day off from skating to get some work done. I’ll be skating tomorrow. I had a lot to do today and found myself a bit scatter-brained and frustrated. Ultimately, I felt as though I didn’t really accomplish much of anything. I’m sure you can relate, but it got me thinking about how I’m using my 2,209,032,000 seconds (approximate life expectancy in seconds!). I was reminded of some old lessons that I feel I’ve begun to forgot. Allow me to share them with you.
Why We Can Do more in less Time but still Have no Time!
I have a theory: I believe that our incredible advances in technology in recent years, especially in the area of communication, have created the potential for incredible increases in productivity, but they have also created infinite opportunities to waste time! Thank about how you start your day: coffee, news story online, email, email, text, email, text, random online distraction, phone call, etc. Do you see the problem? We are so connected that we lose track of the simple strategy of finishing important tasks, ignoring less important ones, and moving on to the business of living life. In the fragmented world that we live in, it is crucial for us to be able to decide which tasks are most important and which tasks can simply be left unfinished.
Two Rules that Will Give your Time Back
Have you ever heard of the Paretto Principle (80/20 rule)? It states that in most systems, 80% of results come from 20% of the inputs or efforts. For example: If your job is heavily communication based, 80% of the profits/results you produce for your company likely come as a result of a specific 20% of your communications. In my experience, the rule has often been more like 90/10 or 95/5. Whatever the numbers, the point is that we spend most of our time and efforts focusing on worthless dribble. Usually, we are using the dribble as a distraction from the few short, but uncomfortable, tasks that could actually produce results. The key is to develop an intuition for what is dribble and what is not and then ruthlessly apply the 80/20 rule to everything you do.
There is another interesting rule that explains why we waste time. Parkinson’s Law dictates that work expands so as to fill the time allotted to it. Need proof? Think about some of the important documents, emails, or letters you’ve drafted up in the past month. Have you noticed that the longer the amount of time allotted for a task, the more time-consuming dribble you add to it? Try this: Next time you need to write an important email or document, allot an amount of time that is no more than half of what you would normally expect to spend on it. I think you’ll find that the end result is more concise, more focused, and clearer than usual, because the limited time forced you to be judicious and frugal in your writing.
As some of you may know, what I’m talking about here flows right from the best seller, The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss. That said, I’ll just give you his conclusions on the matter:
1. “Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20)”
2. “Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law)”
– The Four Hour Work Week P. 75
Do you see how these two conclusions work together? As I said, the key is in developing the intuition to know what is important (80/20) and when you have reached the point of marginal return (basically Parkinson’s Law). You are more likely to err on the side of doing too many worthless tasks and taking too long to do them. I know: I’ve been guilty of it far too many times. These two rules are especially important for entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, we are aware that our success or failure rests more heavily on our shoulders than in the case of an employee, because we can’t fall back on the company, if things get rough.
This situation causes many of us to feel as though we must be in a constant state of work. There’s always something important we ought to be doing. Right? Do you see how this attitude is completely opposite to the rules mentioned above? We’re increasing our work time to include all our time and thereby increasing opportunities to create meaningless work for ourselves. We then focus too much on the meaningless work, because we can’t distinguish between it and the important tasks. Worst of all: We’re removing our ability to enjoy life in the process! Don’t be silly: Learn to do less work, strive to do the work that is most important, and learn to spend less time doing it!