When talking about productivity, we often talk about how to do things efficiently to save time. While doing things efficiently could save you time in the short term, you may still lose time in the long term. The reason is that you lose more time not by how you do things but by what you don’t do. Not doing things efficiently could cost you hours or days, but not doing things at all could cost you months or years.
Why does it happen? Why don’t people do what is right to do? There are three reasons for that:
- They don’t know what is right to do.
- They know what is right to do but underestimate its importance.
- They know it’s important but procrastinate doing it.
In this post I will focus on the first and second reasons. For the third reason you can read defeating procrastination habit or my review of The Now Habit.
The first and second reasons have cost me time again and again. One example in blogging is regarding Amazon Associates program. Since the early days of my blogging I often write about the books I read. Some of the posts (like 37 Lessons to Help You Live a Life that Matters and 106 Tips to Become a Master Connector) became popular and attracted a lot of visitors. But I didn’t know that I could earn commissions by referring people to Amazon through those post. Only after blogging for almost one year did I realize that and join Amazon Associates.
Experiences like this teach me that to save time I need to prevent such things from happening again in the future. I must find the right things to do and do them.
Here are some tips to save time by finding the right things to do:
1. Expand your knowledge
The first thing you should do is expanding your knowledge. If you don’t even know that something exists then there is nothing you can do about it. That’s why it’s important that you get as many options as possible on your radar. You can do this by regularly reading books, magazines, and blogs in your field. You can also read materials from other fields – whether they are related or not – so that you can cross-pollinate ideas. Of course, reading is just one way to expand knowledge. There are other ways like watching videos, attending seminars, and joining professional organizations.
2. Write down all potential ideas
While expanding your knowledge, you will find potential ideas along the way. Write down all of them in your idea journal. The act of writing makes the ideas sink deeper into your mind. You should write not only the ideas that incrementally improve your way of doing things but also the ideas that could radically change the way you do things. I often get such ideas from unrelated fields and experiences.
3. Take the ideas seriously
This is where I often make mistakes. It deals with the second reason above: knowing what is right to do but underestimating its importance. To overcome it, whenever you encounter an idea ask yourself: what if the idea is right? What consequences will it have on my way of doing things? Perhaps there is no consequences right now, but what are the potential consequences five or ten years from now?
4. Find the ideas that have the biggest potential regret for you
Since you have only limited resources (whether they are time, money, or energy) and most likely many potential ideas, you should choose only a few of them that are most promising to implement. My favorite way of doing this is by assessing the potential regret I would have if I didn’t implement an idea.
Imagine yourself years from now looking back. What can you potentially regret if you don’t implement the idea? Questioning potential consequences as you do in #3 should help you find the regret level you could have if you don’t implement it.
So here is a key question to choose the few ideas to look deeper into:
Which ideas – assuming the ideas are right – could make you regret the most if you don’t implement them?
5. Investigate the ideas
Now that you have a few promising ideas, you should look deeper into them. Get as much information as possible about them. Ask or learn from people who already apply them. Use the questions what, why, when, where, who, and how to guide your investigation:
- What is the idea?
- Why should I apply the idea? Why is it good?
- When should I apply the idea?
- Where can I apply the idea?
- Who should apply the idea? To whom should the idea be applied?
- How should I apply the idea?
If possible, find multiple viewpoints for the questions so that you get complete view of the idea.
6. Test the most promising ideas
From your investigation you will get one or two most promising ideas. Now what you need to do is testing them in the real world. Apply the ideas. Incorporate them into what you do. Find out by yourself whether or not the ideas work. Some of them will fail but that’s how you improve yourself to save time in the future.
These tips will help you save time in the long term. As you’ve seen, the idea is to minimize your potential regret. Minimizing your potential regret has nothing to do with playing safe. Instead, it requires you to take risks here and there.
Photo by Michel Filion