The Top Time Management Mistake Most of Us Make

How many of us find ourselves constantly distracted from the things that really matter?

At any given moment, there are so many flags waving, trying to get our attention. Social media, the Internet, phone calls, text messages, not to mention the gluttonous appetite of our email inbox.

Somehow we’ve been trained into thinking we MUST answer that call, respond to that text or email, and continuously keep abreast on the status of our social media connections.

As such, the days fly by in a flurry of activity, yet our To Do list somehow is always untouched.

“But”, you tell yourself, “I was busy all day!” It’s truly astonishing how we can appear to be doing so much yet accomplishing so little.

Why is it that we find it so easy to be pulled away from our priorities?

Social media isn’t the cause of this issue but it most certainly contributes to our interruption infatuation.

A study conducted at Stanford University showed that ‘heavy media multi-taskers’ are more vulnerable to irrelevant environmental interference than those who are ‘light media multi-taskers’. In fact, heavy media multi-tasking tends to incite more general multi-tasking, leading to a ‘reduced ability to filter out unwanted intrusions. In a nutshell, the more we get distracted, the more out of control we become and as such, the more vicious the cycle.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Our list of To Dos often feels infinite, especially when extraneous influences continually divert us. As such, many of us turn to multi-tasking, attempting to get more done in less time. Multi-tasking is defined as ‘doing 2 or more unrelated activities simultaneously’. But research has been proven that our brains can only truly focus on one thing at a time. Ultimately that means we are doing a lot of things poorly or simply spin our wheels without getting much accomplished.

How the 80/20 Rule Can Help

Employing Pareto’s Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 Rule, can help us break out of this distraction cycle. Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, this Principle basically states that 80% of things are trivial while only 20% are vital.

This rule can be applied to almost anything and can be a tremendously valuable tool to manage your time and priorities effectively.

Of all the things you do each day, only 20% really matter. That 20% produces 80% of your results. Identify and focus on those things. If something on your daily agenda has to give, make sure it isn’t one of those vital priorities.

80% of your time and energy should be directed on that critical 20%. Rather than working ‘hard’ and multi-tasking yourself into a deeper hole day after day, work smart by focusing on the right things.

As quoted in the book, “The Tao of Warren Buffet” by Mary Buffett and David Clark, “You only have to do a few things right in your life, so long as you don’t do too many things wrong. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

8 Steps to Prioritizing and Staying Focused

  1. To determine your key priorities, begin with an action list.
  2. At the end of each day, write down in order the top 6 things you need to accomplish the next day.
  3. The first item is your focus for the next day.
  4. Write it on a sticky note and place it in a prominent place.
  5. Schedule dedicated, uninterrupted time, say 60-90 minutes, to work on that project. Get right to it. Nothing else takes precedence.
  6. Do not answer calls, check emails, respond to texts or fall into the social media abyss. If you feel the urge, look at that sticky note as a reminder to stay focused.
  7. Once your dedicated time is up, take a short break to address any calls or emails. And if you must, get your social media fix.
  8. Now that your top priority is completed or well underway, move onto priority #2 on your list.

These 8 simple actions can help you focus and use your time more productively. It may take awhile to wean yourself from your distraction habits and multi-tasking madness but stick with it and soon enough, you will find that your time management and efficiency will dramatically improve.