The year 1664 was unfortunate for Londoners. It was the year when Plague broke out in London, killing more than 200,000 people. The epidemic was so severe that the Cambridge University had to close its doors; the students were sent home to quarantine themselves. Most of the students would have rejoiced as they could ease off on studies. However, one particular student used the available time as a rare opportunity.
The name of the student was Isaac Newton and today we remember him as the father of classical physics. Newton spent his solitary confinement conducting various experiments focused on optics and motion; those leisurely studies laid the foundation for his later scientific achievements—achievements that changed the future of mankind for good.
As I scribble these lines, we have almost sailed through the covid pandemic. The outbreak described above seems more relevant than ever; a large portion of world population have undergone full or partial quarantine due to Covid-19. While such scenarios are certainly unpleasant, they also present us with an opportunity: to use the available time for the causes we always wished to pursue but could never find time.
The following seven lessons will help you make the best use of your time:
Lesson One: Appreciate the Value of Time
Out of our limited personal resources, time is the most precious. Time is money, as they say. In fact, time is more precious than money; ask a wealthy old man if he can buy time with his money? In philosophical sense, time defines life; your life is essentially the time allotted to you to live on this planet. Just like carbon fuels, time is both finite and irreversible. Make the best use of it before it diminishes; appreciate its value while you still have it.
Lesson Two: Be Realistic with Your Goals
Most of us have a natural tendency: we underestimate our goals and overestimate our own abilities. Consequently, as soon as you start a task with a certain timeline in mind, you always find yourself lagging behind. In order to make the best use of your time, it is important to keep your goals realistic.
For instance, you may think that you can work for eight hours uninterrupted and finish a certain task. But this will not happen. You will lose your focus after a certain time. This is natural. And with the advent of social media, our attention spans are diminishing further. While setting your goals, take this tendency into consideration. Plan regular breaks; five minutes breaks after every thirty minutes can be a reasonable plan.
Lesson Three: Try to Remove Distractions
Apart from your personal limitations, take into account distractions and time wasters, some of which would be unavoidable. However, you can work to eliminate, or at least, minimize those distraction and free up some time to focus on what you really want to focus. Here are a few examples:
- If you find yourself checking social media ten times an hour, put your phone aside— preferably, at an inconvenient location. For instance, if you put it on the other corner of the room, you will have to physically go to pick it. Make it as difficult as you can.
- Turn off your email notifications for a while. Some of those emails won’t require any action on your part. You can look at them later.
- If you are a student, avoid listening music or watching TV when you are studying. Following a discipline will enhance your progress to a great extent.
Lesson Four: Prioritize Your Tasks
The best way to manage your time effectively is to prioritize your activities. Start by setting a few clearly defined goals and list them down in terms of their priority. Eliminate the areas that seem to be wasteful. Give priority to the goals that are both urgent and important. While some of them might be as simple as quick fixes, you would need to break your bigger, long-term objectives into manageable tasks.
A typical rule applied to prioritize tasks is called the 80:20 rule. The rule states that you will often find an approximate ratio of 80:20 between related factors. For instance,
- 80 percent of sales revenue is generated from 20 percent of the customers. Those customers will become your priority customers. Tasks related to them will be your priority tasks.
- 80 percent of the problems are caused by 20 percent of the causes. Addressing those causes will be a priority.
Focusing on 20 percent priority areas allows you to produce maximum results in less time.
Lesson Five: Avoid Multitasking
Many professionals think multitasking can help you achieve more in less time. This could be true in some relatively simple scenarios e.g. you can manage cooking and laundry simultaneously. However, in most cases, multitasking is a hazard; and it is not as efficient as it is portrayed. In order to make the best use of your time, avoid multitasking.
Instead of working on many tasks simultaneously and leaving them in the middle, focus on a single (both urgent and important from lesson two) task and finish it before moving onto next one. It is better to tick a single box everyday then leaving a few unfinished.
Lesson Six: Find Smarter Ways
They say hard work never goes unrewarded and it is certainly true. However, hard work coupled with smart work is the perfect recipe for success. Wherever possible, find smarter ways of accomplishing more with less. Use technology where it adds value in terms of time saving. Delegate and outsource tasks where it seems reasonable. While focusing on a single task is necessary, keep an eye on the plan ahead.
Lesson Seven: Don’t Let Perfectionism Kill Your Time
Improvement is a continuous process; it should be balanced with practical realities. Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of your time. There is no harm in trying to do your best but over-analyzing everything and being overcautious with frivolous tasks will devour your time. Being a perfectionist is not a bad thing but be pragmatic with your perfectionism.