“If you have two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” -a Brian Tracy quote on time management (He’s telling you to do the hardest task first always).
How come some people seem to get three times as much done as us even though they don’t appear that much smarter or harder working?
I’ll tell you it has nothing to do with luck versus hard work. They are smarter with their time and get more done in a day than we do in a week by doing what’s most impactful first.
I wanted to share with you some of the top insights I have learned from studying time management masters. The advice here comes from extensive studying of Brian Tracy’s personal time management videos, articles, programs, and books. If you do not know who he is, he is a highly successful salesman, speaker, and personal development thought leader who started out as a broke high school drop out.
1. Make A Mindset Shift
The first thing you have to do to be great at time management and productivity is a mindset shift.
Brian Tracy argues that all the techniques on time management in the world won’t help you if you still hold the belief that you are bad at time management.
He recommends you program into your subconscious that you are great at time management and organization even if you aren’t. When people ask you, tell them you are. You have to start believing it so that you don’t hold yourself back and so that your subconscious can move you towards new results.
Being better at productivity is a long-term habit-forming process. It takes determination, perseverance, and decisiveness to commit to the process.
You must be determined and keep working on it for an extended period of time. You really have to want to change and stick to it.
2. Understand Your Values
Now that this is covered, you need to understand what you value most. If you don’t set your priorities straight, how can you prioritize?
To properly prioritize, you must have values beyond just your career and business objectives. What are your values and goals for your life?
You could end up pursuing a goal that you don’t have any interest or in. This ends up being unproductive in the long run even if you’re efficient in completing the task. It’s unproductive because even if you can’t achieve that goal in half the time, it doesn’t matter because you don’t care about the goal.
To avoid burnout and exhaustion at work, you must combine a deep passion and interest with what you do at work. People who don’t enjoy what they work get burned out eventually from overwork.
However, others never burn out because work and play become synonymous. I’ve heard a lot successful people say this including Brian Tracy, Richard Branson, Will Smith, and Warren Buffett.
3. Use The Pareto Principle: What Is The Highest Impact Activity You Can Do? Do It.
The Pareto Principle is basically a concept that applies universally to many things in life: 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. An example of this playing through is wealth: 80% of the world’s wealth comes from less than 20% of the people in it.
You will find that this principle is more pronounced in certain areas. Use this in your prioritization.
Ask yourself: What is the #1 thing you can do this week that will bring you the highest impact?
What is the #2 thing?
Usually, it’s very obvious. Do that first. Begin the day with that.
Brian is well known for his catchphrase, “Eat the Frog!” It comes from the book with the same name. It describes street performers who will eat the ugliest frog first as part of an act to get it over with. In the same way, you must start with your ugliest, toughest task first. By doing so, you make the most progress.
By simply “eating your ugliest frog first”, time management becomes simple.
Another related principle that will help is the four quadrants principle called the Eisenhower Matrix.
4. Do This To Defeat Procrastination
Having trouble beginning? The best way to be productive is to begin immediately. Start your day with your most important task. To motivate yourself, say to yourself “Do it now! Do it right this instant!” 10 to 30 times with emotion and enthusiasm. It will help move you to begin.
Note: this doesn’t always work because you don’t enjoy what you do.
For example, you could be in law school or medical school only because your parents want you there. All the motivation in the world can’t push you to continue.
Push through short-term procrastination to move to a long-term goal you do like. For instance, do a job you don’t enjoy to work towards a long-term goal you will enjoy.
5. Avoid Distractions and Multitasking
Stopping and restarting an activity constantly can require 5 times the amount of energy. You get disoriented because you were interrupted, you have to readjust, you have to re-orient, and you have to prepare to begin again.
If you can, avoid any distractions that results in this kind of start-stop behavior. Stay focused.
Studies have shown multitasking to be unproductive, even for the most adept tech-savvy teen. You can accomplish more by avoiding multitasking and focusing.
6. Avoid Semi-Productive Activities. They’re the Worst Distractions.
Your worst distractions and evils to your time management are not the things that are clearly unproductive. Those definitely play a part. But the biggest evil is usually the things that are somewhat productive.
These are usually things that are not important but made to look urgent. Examples include answering emails, people asking you for help in person, or listening to self-help when you should be working.
As you can see, the last one is an example of the most dangerous. It’s things that you can rationalize away as “productive enough” to avoid your most important task.
Outsources tasks to people who can do it better than you so you can focus on what you do best. It’s one of the best ways to leverage your time and energy.
If you run a business, this is essential to succeeding and scaling.
According to the book Code of the Extraordinary Mind, Richard Branson said that the key to moving from 7 figures to a billion dollar business was hiring the best people to do things better than you can and trusting them with it.
Brian Tracy recommends the rule of 70%: if they can do the job at least 70% as good as you, give them the responsibility.
I recommend finding someone who can do the job even better than you if possible.
8. Use The ABC Method
This is a time management method coined by Brian Tracy. It’s really simple. It’s very similar to the Eisenhower Matrix:
Group your tasks into A, B, and C buckets.
A tasks are the ones with serious consequences if you don’t do it. These are things like a big project or meeting.
B tasks are ones with mild consequences. This is like a mildly important email you need to respond to. Never do these until the A tasks are complete.
C tasks are things that have no consequence but would be nice. This is like having lunch with a friend or personal activities. Don’t do these until A and B are done.
Now, organize everything in your A group into a numbered priority list and start with #1.
If you want to go even further, you can add D and E buckets. D are things that can be delegated to other people. E are things that should not be done at all and eliminated: maybe it’s smoking or a pointless, unproductive activity someone planned for you.
9. Remember The Most Important Part of Prioritization: Higher-Level Understanding
The ABC Method or any other techniques fail if you don’t understand what truly matters to you.
You can get really, really, REALLY productive at business. But you can fail to prioritize family time with your child and regret it because you forgot to value it.
20 years later, your child is off to college and things can’t be changed.
Don’t fail at bigger picture productivity.
Ask yourself what matters most to you. Prioritize these things.
Here are some of the most common values to consider:
- dating life
- things you wanted to do before you get old
- business and wealth
- career development
- acquiring necessary skills
- meeting people or life goals
- family time
- having the people who love you love you
- big accomplishments before you die
- what you would regret most at your death bed.
- new adventures
- new experiences
10. Be Willing and Able To Say No
When you’re just starting out in life, you have plenty of time but not many credentials, skills, or opportunities. It pays to say Yes to everything you’re offered to get your foot in the door.
But what gets you in the game won’t take you to the next level. Once you reach a certain level of success, you’re overwhelmed by too many opportunities. Saying Yes too often will exhaust you to death.
But many people don’t make the switch to saying no because they were not given many opportunities starting out and maintain a scarcity mindset.
Musicians like Lady Gaga and supermodels like Cara DeLevigne have done speeches about this. Businesswomen and actress Jessica Alba has talked about this. Ariana Huffington wrote a whole book inspired by this thought, called The Sleep Revolution, after she collapsed from exhaustion from saying Yes to too many things. Oprah Winfrey has mentioned it too in her book, What I Know For Sure.
Learn this lesson ahead of time. Sometimes, it’s ok to say No. No is enough of an answer. It is one of the most powerful productivity tools out there.
Note: This rule may not apply if you’re young. If you’re young and starting out, you may want Yes more often to get more opportunities.
11. Learn To Read Faster
In one of the few appearances Warren Buffett and Bill Gates did together in front of business school students, they were asked what the most superpower they wanted.
Both responded that being able to read faster would have been huge for them. Both of them credit the power of reading the right books and applying the knowledge as massive contributors to their massive wealth. In fact, Warren said that he would have saved ten years of his life if he read faster — that’s how much he reads!
Readers are leaders. Constantly feed your mind with information from the smartest people ever and keep up to date with trends in your industry.
Even if you don’t think you read a lot, most people do: they have to check email, respond, or write things. By learning how to do something faster that you already do naturally, you are saving a lot of time over your life time.
There are plenty of free Speed Reading courses and videos online as well as paid courses. My lessons on speed reading can drastically help you increase your speed while maintaining retention of information by 250%. They are worth the price of a premium paid course.
Warren Buffett mentioned in a speech he did with Bill Gates that he probably wasted years of his life reading slow.
12. Avoid Useless Meetings
If you’re paying each employee $50 an hour for example and you have 10 people at a meeting that lasts an hour, that meeting just cost $500. Is the time spent at the meeting worth the investment?
Eliminate unnecessary meetings, only invite the people necessary, and make the purpose of the meeting clear from the start.
Meetings generally are a great way for employees to goof off or waste time. They often go longer than they should. Be aware of this. Always start on time even if people haven’t shown up.
You don’t want to build a culture of holding up everyone who showed up on time for the one person who’s late. That will just encourage more people to show up later and later.
I wrote an article with plenty of examples of billionaire productivity secrets as further proof.
13. Achieve Email Time Management Mastery. How To Get To Inbox Zero
Emails take up the bulk of most people’s day and are a major time waster. They’re usually unimportant requests that take up your time and energy. Here are the main things you can do to master email:
Never check email in the mornings or the first thing you do when you wake up.
Many successful people don’t do this. And then they learn the hard way.
It’s a huge mistake because you are failing to start your day with the most important task to you. Instead, you are giving yourself to the mystery of whatever requests come in by email, even if they are distracting or unimportant. You are letting other people’s requests and objectives control your life.
Rather than being a controller of your life, you are playing the reactive victim. That’s not what winners do.
Commit To Checking Your Email Only 2 Times or Less A Day
Emails can function as a huge bottleneck and time suck. What this means is that it’s one of those activities that isn’t scalable if not done right. It requires one person’s concentration and effort, which can only be sped up so much.
Check your email in bulk once or twice a day max to avoid distraction. Email can function like social media or other distracting entertainment where one thing leads you down a rabbit hole of wasted time. You can end up spending a lot longer than expected.
Rather than letting email control you by checking it frequently multiple times a day, limit yourself. Checking it more frequently can act as a start-stop distraction as well.
Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week, started at multiples times a day, went to 2 times a day, and finally went down to 1 time a week.
Email Anxiety: Thousands of Unread Emails – Understand It’s OK
I heard a story from a friend of Brian Tracy’s. He had thousands of unread emails and took a deep breath…
and deleted them all.
He reasoned that if they were truly important, these people would email again to get in touch. A lot of the busiest CEO’s of the top companies in the world are very hard to reach via email. They are bombarded and can’t answer them all.
Most of the requests are unimportant anyways.
Sure enough, the people who really wanted to get in touch sent another email. The other 90% never emailed again and weren’t important to begin with.
It’s to be expected that this person is busy and may have missed the email. People will understand that you may be a busy person.
I have suffered from similar anxiety from all those unread emails. It came from this perception that most of these emails were critical or important and I had to answer them all. That was often not the case. Most of the emails weren’t that important.
Limit Or Do Not Use Email
John Paul DeJoria, a billionaire, has chosen to not use email because he would be bombarded by emails if he did. It would control his day. Instead, he relies on in-person meetings, snail mail, and telephone. It helps him firmly establish and do what’s most important.
Filter Your Emails with a Gatekeeper
Many successful people set up a system so that only the most important and urgent emails end up in their email inbox. Although they get thousands of emails, only a couple end up in the primary inbox. Usually, a secretary or assistant can really help with this if you explain to them what you want.
The filter strategy
Ask your gatekeeper to use Gmail. Tell him or her to tag emails into only 2 categories while deleting or archiving the rest. These tags are: Important and Urgent! and Important and Not Urgent.
If you can’t afford a gatekeeper right now, you can manually limit emails.
Here are a few tasks you can do:
- unsubscribe from useless newsletters
- block spam emails
- start with a fresh email and only give this address to the most important people.
- Have a second email inbox for the moderately important.
14. When In Doubt, Throw It Out
Brian Tracy has employed a simple method for organizing and dealing with overwhelm of requests. This method has helped many people stay organized and efficient, even when they doubted it.
“When in doubt, throw it out.”
This applies to everything from emails to phone calls to papers on your desk.
Most people fall deeper and deeper into overwhelm and anxiety because they let the emails and papers pile up. Eventually, they are so overwhelmed or disorganized from all the requests.
Brian reasons that if they really want to reach you, they will send another message. Delete everything and the people that really matter will contact you again with the same message. This turns out to be true.
Note: for emails, this can be a short-term fix because you will continue to get bombarded with spam or unimportant emails. I suggest starting a new email address and only giving away that email to the most essential, important, and useful people and services.
15. Remove Inefficiencies
Find Out and Fix How You Are Wasting Other’s Time
Managing guru Peter Drucker said that we don’t only waste our own time but other people’s time as well. You may have made your own life as efficient as possible but how can you make your interactions with others more efficient? Ask them: how am I wasting your time and how can we be more efficient? Often, they will be happy to tell you and it will be a win-win situation for both of you if you can fix it.
When you meet with someone or ask to meet with someone, be as efficient as you can with what you want to do and get started. A great rule, given to me by Brian Tracy, is this: Say “I have 3 points I have to talk to you about and then I will let you get back to your work.”
Get To The Point
A lot of idle time is wasted because of needless small talk or confusion about the direction. If someone comes to you in your office, for example, you can respond with something like “Thanks for coming by. What can I do for you?” It’s polite and gets straight to the point on what can be done while eliminating room for idle chit chat.
Remove Distractions & Interruptions
Sometimes, you need that zone of focus for an extended period of time with no distractions. Interruptions can cause start-stop behavior, which, as I mentioned earlier, can lead to wasted time.
One great starting point is to set aside 1 hour in the morning and afternoon with a Do Not Disturb sign on your door.
The 3-Point Technique
This 3-point technique is simple but effective: Get to work 1 hour early, work through lunch, and stay 1 hour late. By doing so, you accomplish many things:
- You start the day and end with very few if any distractions because no one is there
- You get the most important tasks done
- You get in the groove and flow of working before and longer than others
- You get more work done since you’re spending more time
- Probably the biggest benefit: You avoid the rush hour of traffic and skip out on all the wasted time commuting to work
My Secret Life Hack: Leveraging Fringe Hours
Brian Tracy says an average person can finish a whole college semester’s worth of time by using their drive time to work to learn through audio books. Turn your car into a university on wheels.
I’ve applied this secret to every area of my life where I’m just standing or sitting and waiting. Maximizing these “fringe hours” has helped me get several hours worth of extra reading time in per week, which works especially well since I’m a better listener than reader.
If you’re waiting in line at the store or at a restaurant, shopping for clothes, going for a run, at the gym, or in your car, consider consuming podcasts, audio books, videos, book summaries, and courses that will advance your future. I’ve tested out audio and text book summary apps too. Check out my Blinkist review here.
16. File Away & Organize Useful Information. Consume It When You Can
Brian Tracy is great at this. He files away very useful information in articles, magazines, or web articles. Whenever he has free time (sitting in line, on the bus, waiting, etc.), he consumes this information and gets ahead of his competitors.
17. Reward Yourself
According to numerous studies in the book, The Power of Habit, good and bad habits form through a cycle of triggers and rewards.
Reward yourself each time you do the right thing. Brian Tracy did this with his sales teams. He would place a bowl of jelly beans in front of them and they would be able to eat one each time they made a successful call.
Be creative and see if you can come up with a reward that is healthy as well. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose. Maybe you can buy yourself a self-development book if you spend extra time doing the things you don’t want to.
18. When You’re At Work, Only Do Work
Brian argues that up to 40% of an average person’s 8 hour work day is wasted on unproductive activities, like small talk, bathroom breaks, or going on entertainment sites you shouldn’t be on.
Make sure that when you’re at work, you’re fully engaged as much as you can.
You may need an occasional 5 minute break to rejuvenate, which is fine. Just don’t go overboard with the 17 minutes here and 7 minutes there.
This guide is meant to be a comprehensive how-to. Save this and reference it whenever you need some help.
If it’s too much, I recommend reading a couple sentences every day and using that advice.
If you learn nothing else, remember to do the #1 most important long-term task FIRST.
Now, it’s your turn. Leave a comment with the best tip you learned here and how you are going to implement it. Remember: Action takers get ahead!
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