Life is a lottery, and it starts from birth, whether it is your height, financial inheritance, country of birth, or something else. Unfortunately, not many things are fair in life but the one thing that is fair is the amount of time we each have in a day. Henry Ford said, "It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time others waste."
YouTuber, Mr. Beast posted a video where he said the name Logan Paul 100,000 times, and it received sixteen million views. I repeat sixteen million views! If that doesn't show that humans use our time wisely, I don't know what does.
In this article we are going to cover where we spend our time, why we spend our time where we do, and what we can do to be more productive.
Let's start with low value activities. What are the low value activities that can drain the time out of our day?
Not so fast! What about the low-value activities we don't want to admit?
On the other hand, what are the high-value activities that will move the needle on your career or your company?
If you haven't yet I encourage you to write the low and high-value activities you engage in during a typical week. High-value actives are often hard, take time, and can be easy to avoid. If you are having difficulty, consider sharing the list with your boss and ask, "what else should be in the high-value bucket?" If they have your best interest at heart then your boss may provide you with some eye-opening suggestions.
Step 2, during a typical week, what percentage of your time do you spend on low vs. high-value activities? The most common response is 70/30 as seen in red below.
In comparison, when you are having one of your more productive weeks, what would the percentage change to? Most people typically increase the high-value activity bucket by 10-50% when comparing their typical week to their most productive weeks, as shown in blue below. This number change is often eye opening and it is probably a big reason why we are not achieving the results we would like to see in our lives.
Step 3, why do we spend so much time on low-value activities? I hate to say it, but it's because we secretly enjoy the low-value bucket. I can hear you screaming in your head, "come on, Steve, I don't enjoy TPS reports!”
I am not saying you love producing TPS reports. I am saying; we love the instant gratification we feel after finishing low-value activities. For example, you feel great after replying to 50 emails, the number feels good! After we attend meetings we can prove how busy we are, and this is a form of measuring our productivity. Low value activities feel good because we finish them reasonably quickly, we can quantify our productivity, and we feel like we are getting something done. We secretly enjoy low-value activities because this is the bucket of instant gratification.
The other reason we enjoy low value activities is because they interfere with our ability to complete high-value activities. If you attend six meetings in a day, we can say, "I couldn't get any real work done because I was in meetings all day." Do we need to attend all those meetings? Could other people participate in our place? Was our involvement absolutely critical? Yes, we probably needed to attend a majority of the meetings but I doubt we would need to attend every single one. It is easy to admit we spend too much time in low value activities but it can be tough to admit that we enjoy low value activities. However, if you can acknowledge that you enjoy low value activities more than high value activities, it is the first step toward finding more time for high-value activities.
Step 4, why do we avoid high-value activities? Because they are difficult and we aren't as skilled at them. For example, if we don't network often, we won't be as successful at networking, and we'll avoid it. If we do not present often, then we won't be as effective at presenting and we'll avoid it. As a result, we'll keep avoiding high-value activities to focus on low-value activities because we are much better at those activities. It is easy to ignore high-value activities because the results come at a much later date. For example, with networking, we might not see the results for months or years. Strategic planning results take forever. Coaching and mentoring takes time. WIth the gym it can take weeks before we see an impact. High-value is the bucket of delayed gratification.
Let's go back to 1972, where Walter Mischel published the famous Marshmallow experiment. Stanford professor Mischel ran an experiment where he offered a young child a choice, one marshmallow immediately or wait 15 minutes and you'll receive two marshmallows. The kids' reactions were priceless.This kid was circling with joy!
Some kids smelled the single marshmallow but resisted the temptation. Other kids moved uncontrollably fighting the urge to gobble down the white pillowy treat. Where the experiment became interesting is 40 years later. The researchers tracked the children over 40 years, and the kids who were able to delay gratification and hold out for two marshmallows achieved higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, and more success across almost every life measure. Delayed gratification appears to be a recipe for success.
However, there was an updated version of the marshmallow experiment that found the environment plays a significant role in delayed gratification. The research found if you are in an atmosphere of low trust, then delayed gratification is much more difficult to develop. For example, if a child were born into a challenging environment where they could not trust anyone, then, of course, they would immediately eat the marshmallow. If you are in a terrible climate with no trust, then it will impact your ability to delay gratification. If you are in a tough situation, try your best to change your environment, department, boss, set of friends, or whatever else is destroying trust.
The marshmallow experiment tells us delayed gratification is an essential ingredient to success, and it's logical. If someone has the choice between eating pizza or going to the gym, the easy option is pizza, and the difficult decision is the gym. Chances are the person who goes to the gym is going to be more successful in the long-run. That is unless you are a ninja turtle. They love pizza, and they're successful.
However, if you can delay gratification, this will enable you to complete long-term projects such as achieving career goals, writing a book, building a company, or running a marathon. With the proliferation of mobile phones, the ability to delay gratification is going to become harder and harder. Therefore, those who can delay gratification will be able to separate themselves from the pack.
High-value activities are challenging because the pay off is long term. I always ask, "what do most people do, and what can I do differently?" If you are in a situation that is drowning you in low-value tasks, what will most people do? Almost everyone will complain and blame. To be fair, complaining might be justified, but it's not going to do anything for you aside from making you feel better in the short term. On the other hand, what is something I can do differently? Experiment, delegate, wake up early or do whatever's possible to find time for high-value activities. People who think this way know high-value activities will get them promoted or enable them to achieve their goals. As a result, they will do whatever they can to find time for these activities. This is NOT easy but it is possible.
What is the moral of the story? High-value work is hard, and few people create time for high value work because it requires you to delay gratification. Yes, the environment has an impact, but fortunately, as we get older, we can choose our environment and who we spend time with. If you are avoiding or uncomfortable completing a specific goal, then it should be on your high-value list. There is a good chance that this is going to get you where you want to go. Go out there and face the proactive work you need to do, such as networking, coaching others, delegating, strategic planning, or creative problem-solving. Remember, the pay off will not be immediate. The real pay off is the confidence you gain from facing what you are afraid to do. Consider having two to-do lists, one for immediate gratification and another for delayed gratification.
You might feel pain or sickness in your stomach after reflecting on where you are spending your time. That is ok! If you experience pain, you can always make a change and start choosing high-value activities. Now, go back to your list and select on one high-value activity to focus on. The temptation might be to do all of the high-value activities, but please don't do that because you'll end up doing nothing. Instead, pick one high value activity that you will commit to no matter what. Once you master that one high value activity and turn it into a habit, then go and select a second high value task to focus on. Alternatively, you can use Jerry Seinfeld's rule that he calls "not breaking the chain." He writes comedy every day because otherwise, he will be breaking the chain of discipline. If he breaks the chain of discipline then it's easier for him to avoid the work he needs to do, writing. As a result he does the high value activities everyday to keep the momentum going. Card magician Richard Turner says "discipline breeds discipline." Do not try to do high value activities, decide to do your high value activities.
Even though I teach this concept, it doesn't mean it is easy. I am writing a book, and there are a million things that get in the way. However, the book will enable me to elevate my career and get me to where I want to go. The problem is, with high value activities, discomfort or fears can come up. What do I do when I am not at my best? Put it off, say I am busy and focus on other things. However, when I am at my best, I wake up early, find the time and face my fear of writing. I have good days and challenging days, and low value/high value is something I keep in my mind to remind me to face the fear of high-value activities and to show me where I am spending my time. It is essential to remember high-value activities are going to get me to where I want to go. Go forth and decide to find more time for high value activities!