Take a minute to think about the most valuable things in life. If you are like most people, your list includes things such as family, friends, fitness and finances (money).
Now, how would you rank these things on your list? It might surprise you to discover that many of those who are considered highly successful all rank the same thing at number one: time.
Why do these people consider time to be such a valuable asset? Shouldn’t health be No. 1? Well, think about it: You can be healthy, and then get sick, and then regain your health.
How about money? You can lose all your money, and then you can make it all back.
Friends are important, and yet, how many friends did you have back in college that you no longer keep in touch with? Or even people who were guests at your wedding, and that was the last day you ever saw them? Yes, friends are prized, yet we lose them and make new ones all the time.
Your spouse might mean the world to you. And yet, 50% of married people get a divorce, and many divorced people find a new husband or wife that is suddenly the love of their life.
But time… You can never lose time and get it back again. You can’t spend time and go earn more of it. You can’t buy it, rent it, or borrow it. Use it wisely and enjoy the benefits. Squander it, and it’s gone forever.
The Great Equalizer
Some people are born rich; others born poor. Some have Ivy League degrees, while others are high school dropouts. Some are genetically gifted athletes, others physically challenged. But regardless of our backgrounds and talents, all of us have the same number of minutes in a day. Time is the lowest common denominator.
Think about how much attention you give to your money. Working hard to make money, tracking that money in your bank account, researching the best ways to invest said money, reading about ways to make more money, worrying that somebody might steal your money.
You would never leave your wallet sitting out in the open, would you? You would never give your ATM bank card and password to a bunch of strangers.
And yet we typically think little about our time. We routinely let people steal it away from us, even though it’s our most valuable possession.
So how do we break free? Consider three examples of what I like to call “time-thieves”, and how you can guard yourself from this particular form of grand larceny:
Meetings are notorious for killing time. They start late, are poorly run, and often end without any material accomplishment.
Mark Cuban once told me, “Never take a meeting unless someone is writing you a check.” While we might not have the same level of control as Cuban, if you’re sitting in a meeting and discover that you don’t need to be there, just excuse yourself politely and leave. Even better, give thoughtful consideration before the meeting as to whether you should even attend in the first place.
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My poll of over 100 CEOs recently revealed that too much email is the No. 1 thing that’s impacting their productivity. Research shows that breaking our concentration to respond to an email takes away more time than you might think. (This study by the University of California-Irvine estimates that it takes upwards of 20 minutes to regain momentum following an interruption.) Further, since we’re constantly connected, we may be tempted to check email every free moment we get—instead of using those free moments to do something more productive.
The most successful people know that the temptation to check and respond to messages is strong. So, they shut off their notifications and only check messages at specific times during the day.
You want to be approachable and helpful. But you only have 1,440 minutes in each day. How can you help others while ensuring that you achieve your priorities?
Instead of having an open door policy, have designated times for communication—similar to “office hours”—when team members are free to ask questions and discuss issues. Doing so will keep them from becoming dependent on you and allows you to use your time more wisely. Another strategy is to pre-allocate the amount of time you’ll spend each week or month helping others not on your team. How many “cup-of-coffee” or “pick-your-brain” meetings do you typically do? You can still say “yes,” but if your allotted time for next month is up, you just say “yes” but schedule the meeting for the following month.
Of course, time-thieves are everywhere. The key is to identify which ones are robbing you blind, then develop your own strategy to combat them.