Time is increasingly becoming the most important currency. We need to prioritise and learn to say 'no'
Have you come across people who feel like super-humans — these people have excellent careers, continue to lead and motivate a huge workforce, are constantly bringing up new ideas, have time for being physically and mentally fit, and are also able to give ample time to their family and friends? Do you wonder how they can so wonderfully manage their time?
On the other hand, I am sure you have also come across people who are always running behind schedule on their commitments (social, personal, or professional) and who constantly complain of crazy schedules, always racing against time, exhausted, and in need of a holiday. And perhaps when you look at their low levels of productivity, it makes you wonder what they really have been up to.
All of us experience the same limited and constant amount of time each day — 24 hours. How is it then that some people are able to be so productive and still find time for all important things even if they are last minute and some are constantly complaining without having much work done? Our sense of time is malleable and flexible and it depends on a number of dispositional (person-related) and situational (environment-related) factors. And then time has a unique ability to fill itself. How much ever time we have in hand, it will ultimately pass.
We have developed several habits over the years that amplify this problem of not having enough time. One of our maladaptive habits is that of procrastination. We tend to delay working on topics that we aren’t fond of. As a result, those items continuously show up on our to-do lists and we feel a sense of being too occupied.
One another habit that eats up our time is the need for perfection. No doubt, for musicians, players, and artists, perfecting that one rhythm or stroke is extremely important. However, for several other things in life the returns we receive from mastering or perfecting that last bit are usually much less than the time spent.
Related, distractions in our surroundings can create a havoc with our productivity too. While trying to multi-task, precious time can be lost in moving from one activity to another. Throughout the day, we make multiple decisions and do several activities. And doing so can be mentally taxing and physically exhausting. We start suffer from decision fatigue. Our productivity lowers and our mind begins to take shortcuts. These shortcuts could range from being impatient, being impulsive, or just doing nothing and maintain status quo. And, therefore, something that we have been procrastinating on for days actually starts to look tougher and even more boring.
So, what can we do to fix these issues about our productivity levels? Experts of time management vouch by the so called 80-20 rule — also called the Pareto Principle after its founder. According to this principle that is widely applicable across various aspects of life, 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes. So, for example, 20 per cent of your customers will account for 80 per cent of sales, 20 per cent of your products would account for 80 per cent of the profits, or 20 per cent of your activities would account for 80 per cent of the value you generate. In terms of time, what this means is that 80 per cent of the results can be achieved by 20 per cent of effort or time. Which this also means that only 20 per cent of the results would come from that huge remaining 80 per cent chunk.
This also points to the importance of prioritising. Suppose you have a list of things to do with 10 items on it for an upcoming client meeting and, as usual, there is limited time. All tasks do take time. However, identifying those 2-3 most crucial pieces that would bring 80 per cent value would be important. Perhaps, they would be the toughest activities — that naturally might invite procrastination. Target such tasks and do them first. I also remember a senior colleague once told me, “As an academic, time would be the most valuable asset for you. Multiple things would demand your time and the one skill you will need to master would be to identify when to say a ‘yes’ and when a ‘no’.”
Our lives today have become extraordinarily fast. Time is increasingly becoming the most important currency. In all this, we need to prioritise and learn to say ‘no’. We need to train our minds to tackle the crucial challenging tasks upfront without delaying them forever. And, I recently read somewhere “Just as unplugging equipment makes it work again, unplug yourself from time to time to recharge those dipping energy levels.”
(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Busine?ss School, Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)