Since the whole point of this article is to help you make the most of your time and career, I won't waste words here. All three of these techniques work well, but you should pick the one that best fits your personality and personal situation:
1. The Repeat Test
Take a piece of paper or a spreadsheet, and make a column of numbers representing the hours of the day that you are awake. Mine goes 7, 8, 9, 10 11, 12... and all the way back to 11. Leave enough room for a wider column to the right of the first one.
At the top of every hour, stop for one minute and consider how you spent the past hour. Was it useful or a waste of time? Would you repeat the same action again, or are you frustrated that it was an incredible waste of time?
Now jot a few words next to the number that represents that hour. You might write: ran six miles, feel fantastic. On the other hand, you could observe: dept. meeting accomplished nothing... 30 people in one room is far too many.
Be careful not to let this exercise transform you into a selfish jerk; sometimes wonderful uses of your time are inefficient and require patience and/or generosity. For example, after I met with a young assistant, I wrote: it took three tries, but was worth it; Dave gets it now.
You can use this technique to improve your own performance. If you make the mistake of dominating a meeting and offending others, you might write: I need to listen a LOT more.
Try this for a couple of days, and see how it works. At the very least, you will gain immediate insight into the ways that you use your time.
If you keep at this, The Repeat Test will give you a valuable record of how you spent your week, month or year. In my experience, it is much more useful to have a What I Did list than a To Do list. The former is based in reality, while the latter is often a pipe dream.
2. Take 10 at the Hour
For some, The Repeat Test is too judgmental; they don't feel comfortable evaluating every meeting and personal interaction. If this describes you, try this technique that is utterly non-judgmental.
At the top of every hour, take 10 long, slow deep breaths. While you do this, clear your mind of everything. Don't analyze your day, and don't start spinning your plans about what you are going to do three minutes from now. Just stop.
The benefits of Take 10 don't occur while you are pausing, so don't expect immediate miracles. But I find that after such a break, my stress level shrinks and good ideas tend to pop into my head.
And, yes, sometimes it becomes clear to me that I am using entirely the wrong tactics to get what I want.
3. Go Slower
This may be the most counter-intuitive advice you have ever received: by going slower, you can save time.
Instead of rushing to send a cryptic email that results in three or four back-and-forth exchanges before the other person understands your intent... go slower and compose a clear and complete message that the other person understands the first time.
Instead of rushing out a report that triggers alarm bells across your business... go slower and "socialize" your conclusions before you release the report, giving others the opportunity to influence - and understand - your conclusions.
Instead of rushing to furnish your apartment, buy a new house or plan a vacation... go slower and figure out what will really make you happy over the long run.
It takes far less time to do something right the first time, than to suffer through countless rushed efforts.
Treat time as the most precious of all gifts, because it is.
Image: David Gallagher/Flickr