Oswald Letter

Spend your time on what is most important

multi-purpose business woman with a large number of handsby Dan Oswald

Time is a limited resource. No matter how hard you try, you can’t pack more hours into a day. There are 24 hours each and every day, and there is simply nothing you can do to change that. Time just rolls on. How often do you catch yourself wishing you had more time to do something? How often do you find yourself saying there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do?

We live in a busy, hectic world. The rise of technology has completely changed the way we work and live. And a lot of that change has been for the good. We’ve seen huge increases in efficiency and effectiveness of workers, but it comes at a cost. It’s often difficult to disconnect from work because we walk around with our phone and e-mail in our hand—24-hour connectivity, how grand!

We talk about our ability to multitask like it’s a special skill that we have mastered. But is it really great that we’re even attempting to do three things at once? How much attention are you giving to any one task if you’re doing three things at one time? A third if you’re giving each equal attention, which is unlikely. That means it’s highly probable that one of your tasks is getting only 10 or 15 percent of your focus.

If you’re focusing on everything, you’re focused on nothing. You can’t do three things at once very well. And if you think you are, you’re fooling yourself. If you’re writing an e-mail while talking on the phone, either the e-mail will suffer from lack of attention or you won’t be fully engaged in the conversation you’re having—and more than likely it will be both.

It’s time to ask yourself how important each of the tasks you’re doing really is. You need to separate the things you spend your time on that are just activities and focus on those that produce real action. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that there are certain things we do because we’ve always done them. We’re creatures of habit.

We have meetings because we’ve always met each week to discuss certain items. Maybe the subject of the meeting isn’t as important as it was a year or two ago, but we continue on with our weekly meeting nonetheless. Or what about reports that we produce regardless of their value? Sure, what they contain was critical to the business in the past, but now their value is diminished. We continue to produce them because we always have.

If we truly want to manage our time, we need to first know what we spend our time on. Here’s an idea for you: For one week, record how much you spend on every activity at work. I know it sounds tedious, but my guess is that you’ll be surprised by what you record. How much time do you spend reading and responding to e-mail? How many hours are spent locked in meetings? How much of your day is spent socializing with coworkers? How many hours are consumed by outsiders looking to sell you something? There are dozens of things we do each day, but do we know how much time they take? There are only 24 hours in a day—are we using them wisely?

Once you have a record of how you’re spending your time, you need to evaluate the importance of each activity. You need to determine whether the activity is worth any of your time. Then you need to decide how much time you should be spending on each activity that is worthy of your time. Not all activities are created equally. And if you want to truly manage your time, you need to take control of your day. You need to set priorities, and you need to set limits. There are certain activities that just aren’t worth much of your time. Don’t allow them to take more of your precious commodity than they’re worth!

When I think about my biggest time waster, I know instinctively that it’s e-mail. Like most people, I get hundreds of e-mails per day. And it’s not uncommon for me to constantly be reading my e-mails and responding. I take a certain amount of pride in keeping my e-mail current, discarding unwanted messages and responding to others almost immediately. What I lose sight of is that others are controlling my schedule. I’m not setting my priorities; I’m allowing others to set them for me, and I’m just reacting. I need to take my own advice and record my daily activities. I’m certain I’ll be frightened by the number of hours I spend each day responding to others on their schedule, not mine.

We need to better manage our time and our priorities. We all understand the importance of a budget in helping to manage our finances. We also need to budget our time so that we can better manage it. Unlike money, where there is an opportunity to make more of it, there’s only so much time in a day. We all need to make sure we’re spending the 24 hours we have each day on the things that are most important.


1 thought on “Spend your time on what is most important”

  1. Howdy Dan,
    This week’s commentary was right on target and very similar to the counsel I provide. I strongly recommend that my clients save 20 % of their time much as a financial advisor recommends saving 10-20% of one’s earnings. Thank you!



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