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7 Ways to Effectively Manage Busy People

busy people

Whether it’s a client, a boss, a friend or a spouse, we all have those one or two extremely busy people in our lives. I’m not talking about the “busy bodies,” but the truly busy, nose-to-the-grind-stone people who are booked almost all day every day with important tasks.

While their exhausting schedules challenge them, they also challenge us with how we can break through the noise to communicate with them. The good news is that it’s not completely impossible to get timely responses from these people. It simply takes managing them in a different way. Here are seven ways to help you effectively manage busy people and their busy schedules.

  1. Use clear and concise messaging

Getting answers from a busy person can be like pulling teeth. Even if they get the time to read your email or listen to your voicemail, they’re usually called away to the next task before they can provide you with the information you need.

Reduce the friction of this process by using clear and concise messaging. Your emails should be brief, to the point and should highlight exactly what you’re asking of them. Dates, times and location should also be bolded or underlined so they pop out. By cutting to the chase, you save them the time of reading through paragraphs to get to the point and increase the chance they’ll have enough time left over to shoot you a quick reply.

  1. Consolidate the number of messages you send

There may be times where you need 3 or 4 things from a busy person in a single day. This most commonly happens when it’s one of my clients. Rather than shooting off an email every time I have a question, I keep a running list for that day (or that week) and several hours before close of business, I consolidate these requests into a single, clear and concise message.

Think of it this way, the more messages you throw into an already inundated inbox makes it even less likely that you’ll hear back from them that day, week…or ever. Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  1. Schedule meetings far in advance – and confirm them

Finding a tiny time slot on a busy person’s calendar can create a game of email or phone tag that just never ends. For my busiest clients, we scheduled our reoccurring meetings for the quarter or even half of the year all at once. This got the meetings on both of our calendars nice and early and allowed us to plan around those dates. Expecting to find an open time in a busy person’s calendar just one week in advance is like walking in to the most exclusive salon in town and asking for an appointment that day. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but it’s far more likely you’ll get asked to come in 10 weeks.

Additionally, once you have these meetings set far in advance, be sure and follow-up several days before the meeting is set to take place. It’s likely the busy person has long since forgotten about this obligation. If they don’t have a secretary (or reliable calendar reminders) there is a good chance that you’ll get stood up.

  1. Provide briefings prior to events

For some of my busy clients, I schedule them to attend events such as fundraisers, public appearances, speaking engagements or media events as part of our communications and branding strategy. In these scenarios, it is also my responsibility to adequately prepare them for such events with details like directions, what to wear, other dignitaries in attendance, how long they’ll be speaking and what topics they should cover.

I place all of these details in a single-page template that serves as an event briefing and send them several days in advance to prepare my clients in mere minutes for the event. They love the efficiency of this process and the depth of the details I provide. As a busy person, your life is a whirlwind. If you can help them to feel more prepared and organized, you will quickly make a good impression.

  1. Anticipate their needs and questions and address them before they have to ask

When communicating with a busy person, you should strive to answer all of their questions before they have to ask. This eliminates back and forth communication that can drag on for days – even weeks.

For example, when setting up a meeting, don’t simply email them with “Can we schedule a time to meet?” This question produces so many more questions. Instead, be as descriptive (yet concise) as possible. Include why you want to meet and approximately how much time you’re asking of them. Also propose several dates, times and locations from which they may choose. This allows them to confirm all of these details for you within a single response, rather than through an unreasonably long email chain.

  1. Make meetings as convenient for them as possible

Simply put, come to them. In most cases, I think it’s fair to schedule a meeting somewhere mutually convenient for you and the person you’re meeting. But for a busy person (especially one who is paying me or may potentially pay me), I make it as convenient as possible for them. Why? Because every minute they spend commuting to a further location is less time they can dedicate to our meeting. I’d rather drive a little further and make the meeting last a little longer. It also shows you respect their time and it also provides them with a good first impression of how easy you will be to work with.

  1. Minimize their to-do list (take on as much as you can for them)

Finally, lessen their load as much as you can! For my busy clients, we will cover a laundry list of to-do’s during each meeting. While they’re perfectly capable of taking on many of these tasks, it’s not their time best spent. I take on as many of these tasks as I can; leaving them only with the smallest items that absolutely cannot be done without them (like asking a donor for a large amount of money). But even for these tasks, I still work to prepare and remind them so that it’s as easy as possible. I never mind taking on these tasks, because when they’re in my hands I know they’ll get done when I want them done. And with busy people…well, that’s just not usually the case.

How have you made dealing with very busy people easier? Share your experiences and insights by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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8 Time Saving Hacks I Use Every Day

time saving hacks

Living life as a young entrepreneur, I’ve tried to maintain the mindset that it’s not about building a business, it’s about building a life. How we spend our time determines the life we lead. While I love my work, I also love time spent with my family, outside, exercising and relaxing. And for me, these are all rewards of being efficient with my time.

Over the years I’ve gotten very good at efficiency, so much so that it’s a running joke between people who know me well. No, I don’t have any more hours in a day than anyone else, but I have learned some extremely helpful time saving hacks that may make it seem that way to the outside world. They’re not magical or revolutionary, they simply use common sense that we often stray away from throughout life.

1. Start your day one hour earlier than everyone else

Rise and shine sounds a heck of a lot easier than actually doing it, but getting up early and getting a head start on work is one time saving hack that has made a huge difference in my day. I catch up on all my emails, knock off the easy or reoccurring tasks on my to-do list and prioritize the remaining tasks so I have a game plan of the rest of the day.

Even though it’s only an hour of work, I find that my clear and focused mental state in the morning, combined with the silence of everyone else sleeping, allows me to work with incredible efficiency. I turn that single hour into half a day’s work sometimes. And for someone who works from home as both an entrepreneur and a mom, knowing I have that uninterrupted hour is a Godsend.

2. Simplify your morning routine

Take a critical look at your morning routine and really think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The first time I did this, I was shocked at how many minutes I was wasting by not structuring my routine properly and by doing things that simply didn’t have any added benefit to the rest of my day.

From little things, like narrowing down the number of health and beauty products I use to the big things, like eliminating my morning commute by working from home, I have become an efficiency machine. If any part of your routine doesn’t help you look better, feel better or keep your household and business running, rethink why you feel the need to make it a part of your day. Habit alone is not an acceptable answer.

3. Block-schedule meetings and errands

Because I do double duty as a mom and a business owner, strategic scheduling is a must. Finding a block of time for a meeting (that doesn’t include my son as a tagalong) can be harder than snagging a dinner reservation at one of the swankiest restaurants in L.A.

One day a week, my husband will work from home and free me up to see clients, attend networking meetings and have some uninterrupted work time. So, I try and fit as much in as I can into these days. What I’ve found is that even without my “mommy duties” as the catalyst for this type of scheduling, planning my meetings and errands in blocks of time is incredibly efficient. When possible, I’ll schedule meetings back to back in the same coffee shop where clients can come to me and I always incorporate stops at the bank or post office while I’m already out.

4. Complete reoccurring tasks in batches

Whether they’re part of running a business or running a household, we always have those reoccurring tasks that need done daily, weekly or monthly. For me, some of these tasks happen to be writing for my blog, paying bills and making baby food. While these are quite a random assortment of tasks, I’ve found they have at least one thing on common – they can be done in batches.

Unless something is especially timely, I write and schedule my blog posts weeks in advance. I often write several posts in a day when I’m feeling particularly creative. For bills that are the same every month, I use the online bill payment feature through my bank to have these checks go out automatically. And for baby food, I have one full-blown cooking and freezing day a month that allows me to mess up and clean up the kitchen just once while enjoying extremely convenient (and cheap!) mealtimes the rest of the month. Identify your own reoccurring tasks and tackle them in quantity. This will save you so much more time than completing them one by one day after day.

5. Set time limits

This time saving technique is pretty straightforward. For those tasks that chronically take up more time than you anticipate, set a reasonable time limit and stick to it. At first, you’ll likely exceed your limit and have to stop for the day, but over time I’ve found that I’ve gotten more efficient because I really want to beat that timer! It also forces me to dive right into a project rather than wasting a half hour or more getting into the “right” mindset.

6. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t want to receive

This is something I started doing a couple of years ago and it’s completely changed the dynamics of my inbox. Any time we purchase anything online, attend an event or hand over our email address in exchange for more information, we can expect to be automatically added to a list serv. Maybe it’s minutes or maybe it’s weeks later, but we can also expect to begin receiving marketing emails.

Unless this is something you are interested in receiving, take the time to unsubscribe! Sure, this requires a few more clicks and maybe even some typing which takes longer than simply hitting delete, but in the long run it will absolutely save you time and preserve the space in your inbox for important messages.

7. Push people to communicate by email

For the majority of scenarios, email communication is a much more concise way to communicate. A phone call, for example, first requires both parties to be available at the same to connect. In today’s fast paced society that is becoming less and less likely. Next, there are the obligatory “How are you’s?” followed by some chit chat. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get straight to the root of the conversation. If the information is complicated or hard to remember, often one person will say “Can you email it to me?” And if you don’t connect on the first try, you might end up playing phone tag and spending even more time dialing in and checking your voicemail.

Do I make a convincing case yet? Whenever possible, I ask people to email me. I’ve also started removing my phone number from business cards so that if people feel the need to call, they can start by first emailing me for my number and I can assess whether it’s truly necessary. This isn’t to overlook the times when phone calls and face-to-face meetings are the better option, but for a hybrid mom, I love that emails can be answered on my time and don’t convey the screeching child that is likely in the background.

8. Learn to say no

People and things will always be vying for pieces of your day; you must become a conscientious keeper of your time. First, get your priorities straight. For me, this is running a business, being with my family, staying connected with friends, exercising and relaxing. For obligations that fall outside of these categories, I carefully consider whether or not they’re worth my time.

Just because someone asks you for a favor or wants to meet to sell you something you don’t need, doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Learn to say no (nicely) and you’ll be amazed with the amount of free time you’ll earn back.

What are some of your own time saving hacks? Share in the comments below and help us all to find a little more free time in our day!

 

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Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

waste of timeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?

 

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Our Trip Around the Sun: A recap of top posts from 2013

earth and sunWith only 2 days left in 2013, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this crazy busy but very memorable year. Who knew we could pack so much into just one trip around the sun? It’s a journey we’ve taken together  – with all of its ups and downs, twists and turns. I know that I have personally grown more this year than I have ever before. I had many significant life changes, career growth and have continued to work to find contentment in every moment – even the ones that challenge me to new limits.

To honor the progress of this year, I began by sifting through the Bennis Inc Blog archives and found that I fell in love all over again with some of the thoughts I shared. So in celebration of all great things to come in 2014, here is a highlight of the most popular posts from the Bennis Inc Blog in 2013!

1. Never Lose Sight of Your Childhood Dream

In this post, I reflect on my childhood dream to become an architect and interior designer. Clearly this dream never became a reality; still I managed to incorporate the core aspects that I loved about these careers into what I’m doing now. If you take a closer look, you too may see that you never gave up on your childhood dream – you’ve just repurposed it.

2. The 80/20 Principle: How to identify the clutter in your life and business

After reading “The 4 Hour Workweek,” I was inspired to write about my own take on the 80/20 Principle. Essentially it states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort and time. I still swear by it and every so often have to refocus myself on whether or not I’m applying it to all aspects of my life.

3. A Penny Saved Is More Than A Penny Earned

This was a really fun post! I give a couple (creative) reasons as to why a penny saved is actually more than a penny earned. Instead of trying to earn more money to do more things, we should actually be focusing on living more conservatively and enjoying the free time it provides.

4. A Low-Information Diet – The Solution for Overwhelm and Overload?

After a very overwhelming start to my career on a political campaign, I’ve since prescribed my life the low-information diet. Essentially, it’s eliminating all of the noise and clutter that we needlessly bring into our lives and as a result, has helped to boost my productivity and reduce my stress.

5. D’oh! The 5 Most Common Public Relations Mistakes

I’m still surprised to see how many hits this blog gets a day! I outlined some of the most common PR mistakes that we all make from time to time. This guide is a great help especially for small businesses out there who may be looking to implement their own PR tactics, but are too scared of making a mistake.

6. A Price for Passion: Being smart and fair when pricing your services

This is an essential post for every entrepreneur or business owner as it covers one of the most critical question for making money – how do you price yourself? For those who offer services, this is even more complicated because the resource you’re ultimately selling is your time. Here are the tips I’ve learned through my own trial and error with pricing my services.

7. The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

The idea for this post came from a creative analogy that I saw as being applicable to business growth. Though we all wish success could take off like wildfire, there is necessity to the process of slow and steady growth.

8.  The Life Lessons of Parenthood

On May 11, 2013, my life forever changed. I became a mother. This post examines the life lessons of parenthood I learned in just two short months with my son, Holden. Now nearing the end of 2013, Holden is growing into a little man and the life lessons keep on coming!

9. A No Is As Good As a Yes

Un-productivity is one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate when projects get held up because of someone’s lack of responsiveness. This blog post is a plea to those regular “offenders” that a no is sometimes as good as a yes because it helps us move forward with work – and life.

10. The Working Mom/Stay At Home Mom Hybrid

This was the most read and shared post of 2013 – and one in which I opened myself up to discussing a pretty personal and controversial topic. The decision of whether to be a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom is one of the most difficult choices for any mother. This post takes a look at how I’m adjusting to life as a “hybrid mom.”

Tell me about your year! What was one of your most memorable moments from 2013?

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Life

 

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The Work-Life Imbalance

Often I come across an article or a quiz asking me to examine my “work-life balance.” It’s a term we should have all encountered by now – whether in a magazine, an HR seminar, even in a casual dinner conversation. To nod your head and affirm, “Of course, I have a great work-life balance,” carries a sense of pride as if you’re really saying “Yeah, I’ve got it all together.” But what defines a work-life balance? Must the parts always be equal to keep the scales from tipping too far in one direction?

We spend the majority of our waking hours working in some capacity. In the best case scenario, only 40 hours of our week is spent in a formal work environment, but what about all of those evening and weekend emails, phone calls and “emergency projects” that cut into the little time we’re already given for “life?” Such tasks sneak extra weight onto the “work” side of the scale and can lead to an imbalance we don’t even know exists.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken more notice to how I’ve been chipping away at my free time by choosing to do a several minutes of work-related tasks here and there. Even just a few minutes can turn into hours over the course of a week. For example, I try to finish up my last work project of the day no later than 6pm. But while I enjoy dinner and a little bit of television, my mind is still very much on work. If I hear the chirp of an email – I answer it. And so this persists throughout the evenings and into the weekends. My best estimate is that on average, I burden myself with an additional 7-10 hours of work each week beyond what’s expected or demanded. When all added up, that’s a full day! A day in which I could have taken a road trip, enjoyed the beautiful fall weather or simply decompressed. And while these off-hour emails may help progress work, they put a major halt on life.

Back when I wrote about The Two-Day Truce, I urged everyone to resist the urge to do unnecessary work on the weekends because it only causes the recipients of the emails to feel the pressure to respond. Essentially it takes away from everyone’s weekend. I have gotten better about not being a weekend warrior with work, but I realized an even bigger problem. We’re so trained to work, we do it without even knowing it. Consciously we may feel like we’re living a pretty balanced life, but really our scales are so off kilter they’re nearly falling over altogether.

I couldn’t tell you how many times a day I check my phone for new emails, especially after “work hours.” I’m not sure I would want to know. By proactively checking for emails and refreshing my inbox, I’m looking for work to do instead of enjoying that other component that should fill our time – life. A true Work-Life Balance is so much more than saying you leave your office or close your laptop at 6pm. Chances are we’re very accessible to work during any of the hours in between. But when we’re at work are we this accessible to life? Every week’s schedule is different and there’s no doubt that there will be some weeks that demand an imbalanced share of our time for work. The key is to find the balance not every day or every week, but over the long run.

The Work-Life Balance may not be so much about balance after all. Maybe it’s more about flexibility and our openness to work more when we absolutely have to, but to also seize extra moments of “life” when the opportunity should arise. If you can’t close down by 6pm tonight, don’t sweat it, but plan for some extra relaxing time in your schedule later this weekend to make up for the difference and realign the balance!

What about you. Is your work-life balanced…flexible…or somewhat of both?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Key to Time Management: Increasing Your Personal Bandwidth

Have you ever had moments in your life when you think “There is no way I will ever be busier than I am right now!” Then months or years later, you take on more projects, a new job or maybe a hobby and you again think, “No, now is the time in my life when I’m at my absolute busiest—I will never be able to fit even one more thing on my schedule.” But somehow we do. And so this gradual adjustment to an ever-increasing list of commitments continues on. It’s interesting for me to think back on times in my life when I felt the busiest and most stressed. My task list of those days now appear mild in comparison to my current schedule – but then again I was a college student who made afternoon naps a standing appointment on my daily agenda.

So how do some of the busiest people in the world continue to take on more tasks and always seem to find the time to accommodate them? I’ve concluded that it’s only possible through the well-refined skill of “increasing your bandwidth.” Just like the bandwidth on your internet determines the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time, we each have our own bandwidth for the amount of work we can individually take on in a single day.

Think of the well-known saying “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Us “busy people” know that in order to possibly accomplish all of our given tasks we need to work quickly, efficiently and stay organized. There’s no room for procrastination or second-guessing; we have to keep the projects moving through the pipeline in anticipation of the new projects that will be added to our agenda whether we like it or not. You might be able to think of a few people right now – that when a task is asked of them, they dive in head first with how they will tackle it and are already on step 2 before anyone else has picked up a pen. These are the people who are fortunate enough to have learned the skill of increasing their bandwidth, or gradually easing into taking on more and more tasks so that one or two rush projects thrown in the mix doesn’t even break their stride.

I truly believe we can all learn to increase our personal bandwidth, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as calling up our internet provider and asking for an increase on our account. It can’t be bought with money, it can only be learned through time and practice—and simply getting comfortable with processing more data more quickly. For me personally, this has become a critical component for success in my business. In addition to my continual clients, I receive many one-time projects that come with little notice and a short window of opportunity to say Yes. If I let other projects build up, when this unplanned business comes my way, I’d be forced to turn it down. It has proven invaluable to me to keep my bandwidth as open as possible so that I can always take on these projects. It’s also amazing the way we can adapt to stress and a high volume of work. I’ve found that during slow periods of work, my motivation to tackle even the most reasonable task list diminishes. Yet, when I’m busier than ever, throwing family obligations and even planning a wedding into the mix and I knock these tasks off my list with ease.

At the end of the day, we’re only ever as busy as we make ourselves. You’d be surprised where you can find extra time in your day to accomplish something if you really want to and you’d also be surprised the unnecessary items you can take off your list because they’re inhibiting your efficiency. What’s most important is to never assume you know how busy or how free someone’s schedule is just from looking at them. Just because a busy person can get the task done, doesn’t mean we should expect them to pick up the slack. This might be a golden opportunity for us to practice expanding our own bandwidth and to become a more valuable member of the team.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Business & Success

 

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Protecting Our Most Valuable Asset—-Our Time

TimeTo say these past couple of weeks have been “busy” is a gross understatement of the whirlwind the month of January has been for me.  But it’s been the good kind of busy. The busy that makes you feel like you’ve finally hit your stride in a long race, where you can no longer feel your legs but you know you’re sprinting as fast as you can. Yes, that sums up my first month of 2012 quite well—a marathon that I’ve also been sprinting. This blur of business meetings, new clients and planning events has made it unmistakably apparent that time is among our most valuable assets.

As a child, my mother instilled in me this same concept. She would tell me to “be a good steward of your time.” Back then, I found this terribly confusing because my name was Stephanie, not “Stewart” but now, not only do I understand the phrase, I understand its importance. We need to protect our time like we would any other item of great value because ultimately how we invest our time directly affects the lives we lead.

My time is of particularly high value to me because it’s my product, it’s what I sell. When I take on a new client and create a communications strategy for them, I am selling my time and my expertise (which also took more time to achieve). Unlike a bakery that sells cakes, I can’t go out and buy more time when the demand for my services exceeds my product supply. It is with this realization of my business model that I’ve recently become more protective of my time. Just as a business wouldn’t give away their tangible products for free, I can’t put my time into projects and activities that don’t earn something positive in return.

So how do I protect my time? It comes from learning to do one of the hardest things in the world—saying no. If we allow it to happen, our time can easily be taken away from us by unproductive activities and other people who are not respectful of our time’s value. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for me to fill my week with meetings and commitments that didn’t result in future business for my firm or even a meaningful relationship—only a loss of time for which I can never make up. So now before I commit my time to anything, I ask myself “Will this bring me joy, fulfillment or money?” If I can’t answer yes to at least one of these, I don’t do it (It’s important to ask yourself all three categories, because time on the earth isn’t just for earning money, it’s for doing what brings you joy and what fulfills your emotional and physical needs. This encompasses hobbies, charity, time with loved ones and exercise).

Remaining a good steward of our time takes a conscious effort, but it’s necessary for productivity and ultimately for success. I’ll leave you with this final quote to consider from a man whose time and expertise was so valuable to us all. Steve Jobs once described the battle for time as it relates to success in this way, ““It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Business & Success

 

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