ClockLet’s face it. One of the most daunting challenges facing society today is how to overcome the tyranny of the urgent.

Let me start with 2 premises:

1st – There’s never enough time to do everything, but there’s always enough time to do the important thing.

2nd – You cannot overestimate the under importance of practically everything.

With this in mind let me give you a quick tutorial on getting the right things done – with less stress.

1. To do lists detached from a schedule are useless. The schedule helps promote realism in what you will be able to accomplish. Things always take longer and usually cost more than we think. Plugging “to do’s” into your real time calendar safeguards you from failure.

2. Make sure you include margin. Margin = the distance between your limit and your load. We understand margin financially, but make sure it also makes its presence known in your schedule. Life is not textbook perfect, and neither is your schedule. Things get inserted unexpectedly and at the last minute. Without margin you will be victimized by “the full plate.” And that full plate overflows into life – your life. So just like when you are driving your car, remember – when there is traffic in front of you, the faster you go the more margin you need. Without it the exceptions and unexpected happen creating danger and potential damage.

Note: by margin, I’m not referring to free time. Free time should already be scheduled in for you, and not for the unexpected surprises.

3. Rank your list before you schedule. The 80/20 principle says that 20 percent of your activity results in 80 percent of what is productive or important to you. So if you have 10 items on your list in ranked order, the first 2 will result in 80 percent of your productivity.   Put the top “to do’s” into your realistic (real time) schedule. The ones you don’t have time to do can go on a new list where you start the ranking exercise again, and so on and so on…

4. Start your day with the end in mind. Parkinson’s Law says – work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. We live in a 24/7 world. If you don’t set boundaries you will find Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.28.24 PMyourself boundary-less. 

Do you want to be home by 6pm? Start there and work backwards. This also has the side effect of creating more efficiency. When our son was in college he played baseball. He discovered that during the playing season he got better grades which he attributed to being more efficient as a result of having boundaries. Without the boundaries it was easier for him to put things off – i.e. procrastinate. Another side effect of this is that when you feel more control you experience less stress.

5. Go to the balcony and look at your schedule. Looking at today without seeing tomorrow creates a lot of wasteful movement. Activity does not equal Accomplishment. The big picture keeps you thinking strategically and not episodically. Frenetic behavior is the curse of our time, and a lot of organizations encourage it – including some job descriptions. Efficiency does not result in effectiveness if you are not doing the right things.

“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” – Lin Yutang

 6. Do less…better! Being overloaded should be a blight, not a badge of honor. What is essential? What will make you a better you? Once you discover what’s really valuable to you, then you can begin to eliminate the other. Be as drastic as necessary to cut the rope on the anchors holding you from your true valuables.

This is not about being mediocre. It’s about being amazing. It’s about doing less shallow work so you can do the deeper work. And believe me when I say most drowning takes place in the shallow end of life’s pool. If you hang out in the shallows, expect to work longer – because you’ll have to!

Here is what I unequivocally promise. Take these 6 things to heart and you’ll —

  • have less stress
  • more time for what you value
  • greater fulfillment

You will become a better version of yourself.   And you’ll begin to discover what you’ve been missing.