The Most Important Skill You Should Master
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily” ~ Zig Ziglar
Pff, another article on productivity.
Yeah I know, I had the same reaction when I was writing this. But, bear with me, since we are in this together.
Over the last seven years, I’ve researched, studied and experimented, on myself and the people closest to me (they volunteered, most of the time), everything I could find on the topic of time.
The one thing I’ve realised is that the TIME MANAGEMENT industry got it wrong.
They have taken what is a most important skill we can master, and turned it into the equivalent of a TO-DO list.
Each one of us has 24 hours within a day. And the only thing that determines how your life will turn up to be is what you do with those 24 hours.
True, starting circumstances can be different. But, here you have a choice, whether or not you will let this serve you as an excuse, or it will be something that will motivate you.
Before I give you my take on productivity; it’s important to address two important reasons why most people don’t take action towards their goals:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success (lesser known cousin)
The failure is just a natural component of our lives, and if you take it as such, not only that you will fail less, but when you do, it will become a default to learn lessons and apply them to your goals.
On the other hand, fear of success is a bit odd and unusual fear. Biologically and socially, we are wired to be part of the community. To belong. Anything that’s different gets misunderstood and outcasted eventually.
Because of this majority of people consciously (or even unconsciously) decide not to express their uniqueness, and blend in.
One thing I learned in the previous two months, is that no matter what you do, no matter how much value you create for people, there will always be one person who will think what you did is shit. To be quite blunt about it.
For most people, this is enough not to take any action, but trust me when I say, there are more supportive people than you think. The number is much bigger than you would think. It easily outnumbers haters.
It’s likely as you read these two that you found yourself to some extent in both, which is natural.
Now let’s see what can be done about it, so here’s my take on how should productivity look like.
During my research, I’ve realised that there are four pillars of productivity:
- Setting The Foundation: Goal Setting & Time Assessment
- How To Stop Doing Activities That Don’t Support Your Goals
- How To Optimise Activities That You Have To Do
- How To Efficiently Execute Activities That Support Your Goals
If you notice, the way these pillars work is that you start off by setting the direction in life, and then they go into using the time in the best possible way.
So from today onwards, every week I will publish an article, which will tackle one of these pillars.
Why one article a week?
Because, I know myself, if someone wrote an article that has 10,000 words, I would probably skim it and bookmark it.
And you are probably similar. So, in this case, I decided to keep it simple and give you enough time to tackle each pillar without disrupting your daily life.
Let’s start with the first pillar, which consists of:
- Goal Setting
- Time Assessment
Just like everything in life, when you have clarity, it’s easier to accomplish what you set out to do. However, if you are uncertain, and without a focus, the path towards the accomplishment of your goals looks blurry.
Goals work like a lens of a camera. If you set the lens and focus correctly, you will be able to take a clear picture. If it is out of focus, your picture will be blurry.
That is why you need to intentionally set direction in life, without allowing the life, environment and dynamic change to set it for you. You should be smart about how you distribute resources. If you do not have goals, it is quite easy to waste time “by accident.”
But how can I set a goal for the next five years?
Well, you don’t. At least you shouldn’t. Circumstances change every day, things become obsolete fast, and if you are fixed, you will miss a lot of opportunities.
Nevertheless, you should have the big picture in mind, who do you want to become and what do you want to accomplish.
When it comes to setting goals, there are tons of guidelines. However, I would keep it simple here, and define following things:
- Most Important Goals
- High Leverage Activities
Shall we start?
Most Important Goals
When it comes to setting goals, there are tons of guidelines. But here I would keep it simple.
First, define your three keystone goals. These are the goals, for which you know that during execution and through accomplishment, will have a massive impact on every area of your life (i.e. becoming financially free, reaching optimal health state, relationships, etc.).
Does this mean I cannot do other goals?
No, but it means that whenever you have time, it first goes to things that can drastically improve your life, and then if you have extra hours in the day you can focus on good-to-have goals. It will often happen that when you accomplish your primary goals, some of your good-to-have goals will happen as well.
So how do you define them?
Make your goals specific, and phrase them in a way as if you’ve already achieved them.
An example would be:
I have lost 10 pounds (5 kg) by May 1st, 2017.
Now, it’s your turn to define top three goals.
Where most people make a mistake is to think this is a done deal, but instead of placing your focus on the goal itself, you should place it on the things you need to execute and learn that will help you achieve your goal.
High Leverage Activities
Usually, for every goal, there are some activities you can do to accomplish your goal.
But the thing is, only a few of them can get you the results faster.
Here you can implement Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. This principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of your activities.
To make this easier, I suggest you ask yourself following three questions:
1. If I could only do one thing on that list all day long, which item on the list would add the most value and help me get closer to my goal?
2. If I could do one more thing on the list of the main tasks, which activity contributes the most value to me?
3. Finally, if I could do just one more thing, what would that be?
An example would be:
If you want to lose 10 pounds (5 kg), there are hundreds of different things that can give you the results.
But, fixing diet alone can do the trick. By defining your daily baseline of calorie intake, and staying below, it can give you the results, even if you didn’t do anything else.
But what about working out?
It’s great, but working out is just a supplement to the diet, it will help, but if you are eating junk food, and dangerously crossing your daily baseline, no matter how much you worked out, you won’t reach your goals.
Now it’s your turn, do this for your top three goals.
Next to high leverage activities, you should define what skills you need to learn to accomplish your goals.
When I started Zero To Skill, I needed to learn over 30 skills, from things like content writing to setting up a blog. Not only that it helps you accomplish your goal, but it makes you grow and gives you additional skills which you can use anywhere else.
So ask yourself: What skill(s) can I learn, which will make my number one goal easier to accomplish?
Repeat this for the other two goals.
At this point, you might feel a bit demotivated, from all of the things you need to do, and from all of the things you need to learn.
This is entirely reasonable. The problem with us humans is that we overwhelm ourselves by thinking in the future, of all of the things you have to do.
Instead of doing this, just focus on the 24 hours ahead of you. And do everything you can do get closer to your goals, no matter how small it might seem.
Now that you have clarity on what are your priorities for the next year, you need to see how you currently spend your time, and whether or not it supports your goals, or it pushes them further away.
Let’s assess how many hours you devote to each daily activity.
Once you have total daily expenditure, multiply it by 7. That is A total time devoted to that activity in one week. Do this for every action, and then add all these times for the total.
Finally, add up the totals: _______ and subtract them from the total weekly hour: 168 — ______ (your weekly total) = ______
This will give you the overview of how you spend time, but will also show you a gap that you are not aware of.
First time I did this, I was short of 22 hours. No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t pinpoint where I was losing them. Which terrified me, because it meant that I was losing almost an entire day a week.
It might not seem like a lot, but when compounded, it’s almost a year and a half over ten years.
Next thing is to define biggest time wasters (activities that you spend time on, which are not contributing to your goals). Go back to that list and be honest with yourself.
Which one of those activities is a time waster:
Once you know which activities consume the biggest amount of your time, pick three that you will focus on.
These three will become your GIVE UP list.
It does not mean you need to get rid of those activities. But you should slowly start reducing them, until you don’t feel the need to do them anymore, or you can just use them every once in a while as a cheat day.
Evaluation of these items can give you many insights and can help you prioritise what is truly important to you.
Tracking & Evaluating Time
Doing this once is a significant step forward. But, you shouldn’t stop here.
Try to develop a mindset, where it becomes part of your daily/weekly routine to track and evaluate how you invest your time.
Keeping a time log of your most important activities and evaluating it at the end of the week is an important technique. This will allow you to see what causes the inefficiency and whether or not you can do it better next time.
Once per week, sit down for 30 minutes or so and go through the week: • When was I most productive? What made me productive? • What was unproductive? How can I improve?
You can also ask yourself these questions after every day.
The Final Takeaway
The most important message from this article is that you need to start valuing your time as if you were living your last couple of hours.
To do that, you need to have an outlined path in front of you.
“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
– Cecil Beaton
Once you know what is it that you want to achieve, and what you need to do (and learn) to get there, it will be challenging to give yourself further excuses.
And even when you do, you will see right through them. Because you will know that you can never get back your time, and it will push you to do your best, day in, day out.
The reality is that you won’t be able to do it perfectly, and you shouldn’t strive to. Not every minute of every day should be used, but the hours dedicated to your goals should be beaten into a submission.