Tracy 01 JLet’s face it. No matter who we are or what our station in life may be, none of us has more than 24 hours a day, 168 hours per week. For most of us, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

So the challenge is this: How can we make the best use of that precious and finite resource called time?

It’s a question faced by every generation. And in today’s world—with its plethora of media and other time-sucking distractions—finding solutions to the time crunch seems more urgent than ever.

It’s possible, if not probable, that the simplest solutions make the most sense. That’s why I like Brian Tracy’s latest book Master Your Time, Master Your Life.

”How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss asked. It’s a question most of us pose every day.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Brian Tracy offers workable approaches to investing in simple time management behaviors that pay rich dividends. 

Rodger Dean Duncan: You suggest that most people live in a reactive-responsive mode. How does effective time management help produce better choices and decisions?

Brian Tracy: Most people live in a “reactive-responsive mode in that they are thrown off by almost every stimulus in their environment, plus whatever pops into their mind at the moment, whether they are working, checking their email or conversing with someone. This is inevitable, unavoidable, and getting continuously worse in our fast-moving world.

Effective time management enables you to impose a sense of control over yourself and your work. By writing down, planning and setting priorities for your day, you can discipline yourself to put a moment of thought between the distraction and the natural impulse to react. You enable yourself to call a brief moment, a “time out,” during which you can think with greater clarity about what is more important and what is less important.

Duncan: What role do clear, written goals play in effective life management?

Tracy: Clear written goals and plans are more responsible for long-term success than perhaps any other factor. When you’re clear about what you really want to achieve in the long term, it’s much easier for you to decide what you should do in the short term. Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard called this “long term thinking.” He said it was more responsible for upward socio-economic mobility than any other factor.

Here’s a simple way to change your life: Make a list of ten goals you would like to achieve in the next 12 months, exactly as if you had no limitations. Then ask yourself, “Which one goal on this list, if I achieved it, would have the greatest positive impact on my life?”

Whatever your answer, let this goal become the driving force of your life. Make a list of everything you could do to achieve this goal. Then, resolve to do something that moves you toward this goal every day, seven days a week. This simple exercise has probably been more responsible for great success than any other factor.

Duncan: You write that today there’s a pandemic of poor performance sweeping across the Western world. What do you see as the signs and implications of such a phenomenon?

Tracy: The pandemic of poor performance that is leading to underachievement, frustrated expectations for upper mobility, and lower pay is what I call the “attraction of distraction.” It’s the almost irresistible tendency to react to “shiny objects,” especially the ring, bing, or musical sound of email, text messages and phone calls. Each stimulus triggers a shot of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure center, almost like the ringing bells and crashing coins of a slot machine paying off, triggering the response, “I wonder what I just won?”

Soon, the impulse to react-respond to stimuli becomes stronger and stronger, and the willpower to resist becomes weaker and weaker. Then the person becomes addicted to the dopamine rush of momentary distractions, all day long, getting less and less done in more and more time.

Duncan: Many people understand the value of “to do” lists. But you add a fresh wrinkle with what you call the Law of Three. What is that and how does it enhance a person’s productivity?

Tracy: The “Law of Three” is a principle I discovered in working with thousands of business people, entrepreneurs and sales professionals over the years. The way it works is this: If you make a list of everything you do in a week or a month, it will usually contain 20-30 tasks or activities, sometimes more.

But when you analyze your list, you will find that only three of those tasks are responsible for 90% of the value of your contribution to your company, your work, and your personal income.

How do you determine what those three tasks are? Simple. You ask the three “magic questions: Question #1 is: “If I could do only one thing, all day long, which one task would make the greatest contribution to my company?”

Circle that task on your list. It’s usually quite clear. (By the way, if you don’t know the answer to this question, you had better find out, and fast. You are in great danger of wasting your time, all day long).

Then ask the question two more times: “If you could do only two things, or three things, all day long, which would make the most valuable contribution?”

From this day forward, focus on those three tasks all day long, and dedicate yourself to continuous improvement in each one. This can change your life and make you one of the most valuable people in your organization.

Duncan: Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, says we don’t have an “income gap in our society. We have a “skills gap.” What role should continuous learning play in an individual’s personal time management?

Tracy: Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and Bill Gates are all lifelong learners. They attribute much of their success to “CANEI,” which stands for “continuous and never ending improvement.”  The reason is simple. In the final analysis, you get paid only for results. If you want to earn more, you must learn more. You must achieve more, better, faster results. You must become more competent at getting the results that people want, need and will pay you for.

The wonderful discovery is that each person has extraordinary abilities, great powers for success and accomplishment that, if they were to tap into and unleash them, would enable them to create the life of their dreams.

This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor. Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

Rodger Dean Duncan
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