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Apply Two Basic Rules to Improve Your Time Management

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The following two basic rules—80/20 and 50/10—assume that you already know how you are spending your time. You cannot manage an unknown. You will want to review the SMaRT techniques for taking control of your day, avoiding time bandits, focus and concentration, and delegation.

But once you understand where your time goes and how you can better utilize it, you are ready to apply the 80/20 rule and the 50/10 rule at work and home.

Apply the 80/20 Rule in Work

The most basic form of the 80/20 rule to improve time management goes like this: you should spend 80% of your time on tasks that have the greatest impact, leaving the other 20% of your time for low-impact tasks. The numbers “80” and “20” are less important that the realization that your efforts may be misdirected: for example, if one disgruntled person on your team makes the most complaints, you may be spending more time on soothing that one person than on motivating and rewarding the rest of the team—causing you to lose your most valuable and productive people.

The 80/20 rule applies to:

  • Productivity and Rewards: 80% of your team’s productivity comes from 20% of the team members; that 20%, correctly identified, should receive the major rewards. In addition, 80% of your problems come from 20% of the team members. In the middle are those who contribute but not at the top level. That midlevel is very important and should never be neglected; they are your future top performers.
  • Decision Making: Unilaterally take on no more than 20% of the decision making. If 80% of your team participate in and agree with the decision, they will cooperate and share in the execution. If you want to get others to contribute, change, and accept new ideas or methods, you have to let them participate.
  • Prioritization: The most urgent tasks that contribute the most to meeting team goals (high importance) deserve the most time from you and your team; the low urgency, low importance tasks deserve the least time and are mere distractions. Be careful not to label family time, vacation, and stress reducing breaks as distractions—they are highly important.
  • Communication: Spend 80% of any conversation listening, not talking.

By using the 80/20 rule to improve time management, you focus on the activities that contribute most to reaching your goals and the people who can help you the most. For example, you may find that 80% of your team’s leads come from the company website, rather than cold calls. You would then dedicate 80% of your effort into working with the IT department to improve your website and only 20% to improving your team’s cold calling skills.

TIP: Managing your time allows you to say, “no, I can’t do that now” with a clear conscience.


Apply the 80/20 Rule at Home

If you follow the 80/20 rule in your personal life, then 80% of your activities should improve your life and reduce your stress. Once you recognize which 20% of your life is stressful and unhappy, you can begin to delegate, reduce your time with, or adopt better strategies for dealing with that problematic 20%:

  • Throw out the clutter and clothes you don’t use and that increase disorganization and crowding.
  • Spend 80% less time with people who exhaust you.
  • Increase your nonexistent daily exercise by a small percentage every week until your reach the recommended 30 to 60 minutes a day.
  • Develop a hobby or add some other activity that brings you joy instead of complaining of boredom.
  • Save 25 cents for an experience you look forward to instead of envying others—then gradually increase the amount.
  • Turn off your phone and computer 8 minutes sooner instead of always being at their beck and call, and increase the time by 80% every week until you reach at least 1 hour.
  • Turn around a stressful situation—for example, spending 80% more time than you do now with a significant other who feels neglected.

TIP: When you manage your time, you increase your quality of life. You spend less time finding an outfit in your cluttered closet or mindlessly searching the Internet, and you redirect that time toward people whose company you enjoy.


Apply the 50/10 Rule at Work and Home

Now that you have arranged your work and life to focus on the 80% that provides the most benefit and joy, you are ready for the 50/10 rule to improve time management. The 50/10 rule is even easier than the 80/20 rule: you work 50 minutes and take 10 minutes to recharge, whether by looking out the window or taking a walk or going for coffee. This rule has many benefits:

  • Breaks huge projects into small bits. You can spend 50 minutes on something overwhelming or something you don’t enjoy much if you know that a 10 minute break is coming up.
  • Improves concentration. You focus on just one task during the 50 minutes—phone calls, emails, another project must all wait until the 50 minutes are over.
  • Provides perspective. Walking away from a project for a few minutes lets your brain reset and come up with connections or ideas that may never occur to you hunkered down for hours over the same problem.
  • Makes a goal reachable. During your 10 minutes you could start learning to play the flute; complete some of your daily exercises, or listen to music or read a bit of a favorite mystery—anything that excites you will slowly get done in those 10 minute intervals.
  • Emphasizes quality. One of your 50 minute segments should be dedicated to reviewing your work for accuracy and quality.

Sometimes the rule is modified to add 5 minutes to prepare for the 50 minutes, with the same 10 minute break. In the Pomodoro technique, the segments of concentration are only 25 minutes with a 5 minute break; a timer is used (the original timer was shaped like a Pomodoro—Italian for tomato).

The 60/30/10 rule to improve time management suggests that you dedicate 60% of your day on high priority activities, 30% to tasks that are low priority but advance your goals, and 10% to preparation for the next day. All these techniques have benefits and drawbacks; the important consideration is to use the one that helps you concentrate.

When you are using any rule that divides your time, make sure you know:

  • What do you need to accomplish? This is your time to focus on one
  • When is the best time for you to work intensely (following your own biological clock)?
  • How you can avoid distractions? You might turn off your phone and close your door.
  • Why you are doing this; what is your goal? Playing with your kids for 50 minutes is just as important as completing a project at work and will accommodate the 50/10 rule just as well.

TIP: Batch like tasks together to create a consistent 50-minute block during which you concentrate; for example, block together separate 10-minute meetings with each member of your team or a marathon of answering emails.


Redefine Wastes of Time

Once you are managing your time, you may find that you are able to redefine moments that you (and possibly others in your life) used to consider entirely wasted:

  • Listen to music or an audiobook during your commute.
  • Read a book or respond to emails in the waiting room.
  • Cut team meetings shorter (50 minutes tops) and make everyone happy.
  • Be able to report specific progress to your boss (“spent 50 minutes writing the technology overview for the proposal”).
  • Have your family join you for a walk or bike ride together or to help make dinner.
  • Use the time you saved to simply relax.

The point of managing time is to enjoy time and feel fulfilled, both at work and at home.

Key Takeaways

Your time is a limited resource. Simple rules like 80/20 and 50/10 help to organize your time so that you increase productivity and reduce stress. You concentrate on those 80% of activities that bring you closer to your goals and give you the greatest reward. You spend 50 minutes concentrating and then take a 10 minute break to maximize your ability to focus. The techniques are simple and achievable, and bring benefits to you, your team, and your family.

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