One of the most frustrating things in life – consciously or subconsciously – is the sense that we have talent and skills and abilities, but somehow the universe doesn't seem to recognise them. And we know it doesn't recognise them because we lack the rewards that we feel we are entitled to. Haven't we all felt that?
Most of the time, however, the problem is not our skills and abilities, although sharpening these is always a good idea, but time itself – our failure to utilise time effectively, to be distracted by the inessential, and to not leverage what we have. As time management consultants like to say: time is a precious commodity which once used cannot be reclaimed; further, it is highly finite, and whether we 'use' it or simply drift through existence, it drains away anyway. Thus loss of time, time that is genuinely non-productive (to be distinguished from time to relax and re-create one self), is to be avoided.
What, then, are the superior uses of time? Richard Koch wrote a great book on the Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 rule, explaining how this applies to time. And the Principle does apply all the time. We need to work out what are the probably small but significant strips of our life, and amplify time spent in these. The Pareto Rule applied to time basically says that 20% of our time produces 80% of our results. If that is true, which it is, then the idea of having a day or a week or a month in which equal time is spent on all that arises is ludicrous, because the relatively non-productive 80% of time, that only creates 20% of the value, is thereby given equal status and attention to time that is really important.
What kind of areas, then, are where we should be putting our focus if we wish to be more productive?
First, are we doing things that advance our mission in life – our central purpose? If we haven't got one, then how would we know we were spending our time productively? Instead, we are simply doing 'things' and just existing. So if you haven't got a clear mission in life, the first thing of all things is to get one. Then, to ask yourself, how much of your time is spent on it? For most people this comes as a nasty shock: not a lot or none!
Now we need to look at some wider principles: creativity and innovation always make us feel good. What are we doing in these areas – in our work, our relationships and in our own internal growth? Are we just re-cycling what we have always done (always very dangerous in a relationship especially), or we really creating a new future that is genuine and ours?
What can you get other people to do for you as well – get them, that is, with not too much effort on your part? And this leads on to working with high quality colleagues, friends and collaborators who like you use the Pareto Principle to leverage results. One important point that Koch made was that just as the Pareto Principle seems unfair – or more accurately, asymmetric – so those who use it will undoubtedly use time both effectively and eccentrically. 'Normal' people, with normal working 9 – 5 kind of lives, will never know why or even how you are able to be so successful and yet not conform to their, the normal, pattern of time usage.
Finally, to get more out of your time you need to be bold: do things which, if you don't, you never will. In other words, the window of opportunity opens and you seize the moment and do it. This is such an important, and its importance is most memorably summed up in that dreadful phrase: most people die with their music still inside them. They are always waiting for another period of time when they will do what they want – but not now. When they retire for example; this is a fatal mistake. Take that opportunity, particularly concerning things you always wanted to do.
All of these points lead to one inescapable conclusion: if you follow them, you will create a life worth living, and you will, thereby, get the most you ever could from the time that you have. May we all get to that situation soon, especially in 2013 !