Time is the most valuable entity you have. It is a unit in which we don’t fully know the limit of, and it’s an entity that you can’t obtain more of. Yet even though it is so valuable and scarce, most of us don’t consider our own time as being “of the essence” as we should. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time doing things we enjoy, such as talking freely with our coworkers, socializing with our friends and family, or spending time to relax. In fact, these things are all positive behaviors that help us perform better during our periods of concentration as long as we don’t overindulge and permit these activities to take over our lives. But I am saying that there is a lot that we can do to reduce nuisances and wasted time in our lives, especially in the business world.
The biggest waste I often see is during meetings, where time will be spent discussing items that aren’t critical to the team or organization, and then the meeting runs over its scheduled end time. When I run a meeting, I always look to remove non-critical items from the agenda and place them for discussion at a later point or in an alternative medium, like an email or chat session. If the items should be mentioned, but aren’t critical, then I try to save them for the last few minutes of the meeting if time permits. In short, if a topic can be conveyed in a memo, it should be said in a memo; otherwise, it belongs in a meeting. By doing this, you are taking steps to make your meetings more efficient, which enables your team to discuss items of critical importance to the fullest extent necessary. When you do this, you will save yourself time and your participants will be greatly appreciative when you don’t waste their time.
But beyond meetings, there’s plenty of areas in which you can become more efficient in both your professional and personal life, and prioritizing your to-do list is imperative to doing this. If you don’t plan things out on an agenda, you should definitely begin to do so. If you already create a daily agenda, make sure that you always put estimated times on your agenda, so that one item doesn’t encapsulate your entire day or prevent you from completing other tasks. And unless something is of a critical priority, you shouldn’t amend your agenda unless you get ahead of your plans.
Furthermore, your agenda should include both work tasks and other elements of your life. From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you should have an idea of what you need to do in order to accomplish your goals, both inside and outside of the workplace. And while it may sound crazy to write “take out the trash” on an agenda, it is a critical task for your home, so it should be recognized in your agenda. If you’re planning to spend time with your friends and family, read a book, or watch television, that should be included as well because those activities take up a significant portion of your time.
And while it does take some time to plan out your day, remember that time is a resource, and resources can be invested so that they become more valuable in the future. Planning out your day is investing a small portion of your time so that larger portions of your time can be used more efficiently, thus becoming more valuable and profitable. This is the same concept with education – relatively small portions of your time are invested in learning new skills so that larger portions of your time can be allocated to generating many times the profit that it would have without the skill.
If you’ve studied lean manufacturing, this topic is likely very familiar to you, as it’s important to eradicate unnecessary effort from a lean manufacturing cycle. If this is familiar, you may have heard of the terms “muda, mura, and muri,” which are coined in the Toyota Production System process. For readers who aren’t familiar with those terms, muda is considered wasted activity, mura is having inconsistent levels of work to do, and muri is working harder in the future to make up for work in a backlog. If you’re interested in studying this further, take a look at the Toyota Production System and many popular lean methodology books, most of which discuss this at some detail ().
For the purposes of this article, the important thing to note is that you want to remove all of these issues from your day, so that you can utilize your time in the ways you desire to. By planning your day in advance, you remove much of the muda that would otherwise enter your day. The mura of your day may not be preventable, but having other tasks already on your agenda will enable you to get ahead of other tasks during downtime. And if you remove the mura from your day, you won’t have muri at a later point.
So now we’ve established the fact that living efficiently is important, and we’ve discussed the reasons why planning is critical for efficiency, but let’s talk about another element of efficient living: eradicating unwanted things from your day. Like I said before, your time is the most valuable asset we have, so why are we so frivolous with it? We should be willing to say “no” often to things that are unnecessarily burdensome or undesirable for us. If someone is asking you to attend an event that you have absolutely no desire to attend, you should say “no.” If someone asks you to do something for them that they have the ability to do themselves, or it is a task that should be performed by someone other than you, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Many successful people state that saying “no” is a crucial factor to their success, and while it may seem harsh to turn people down when they ask you to do something, it is imperative that you do so in order to prioritize your time. You’re not being mean if you tell someone that you don’t have the bandwidth to do something – in fact, not refusing items that would create burdensome work for you would result in you being mean to yourself.
This doesn’t mean not to help people out; you should make it a priority to help others. But at the same time, you shouldn’t create excessive burden on yourself when you have more pertinent things to accomplish. It’s fine to spend time with your friends and family, but if the conversation isn’t enjoyable and productive, there is no benefit to you or your friend and you should move on to doing something else. Again, your time is the most valuable asset you have, and you need to treat it as such. If you begin treating your time as valuable, other people will see it as valuable as well, and your day will become more productive for everyone. That’s why time management is so important, and if you’re not proactively doing things to manage your time, today is the day to start!