Oprah’s biggest regret…wasting time!


Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Even Oprah, a woman who has inarguably made a great deal of her allotted time on this earth, rues time wasted.  On turning 60 she lamented, “I think the hardest part of aging really is recognizing the time that you wasted and the things that you worried about that really didn’t matter…. That’s really the only regret that I have.”

I love her for admitting that.  Because who doesn’t think that way some times?  Who doesn’t cringe to think of how they misspent time, especially when they get a little older and truly realize their time is finite?

I’m 78 and I’m still trying to live up to Oprah’s aspiration.  Time remains my greatest challenge.  Not that I just fritter it away, but managing it isn’t simple.  Just because you know the 80/20 Rule doesn’t mean you know what truly is critical (i.e., your Critical Few tasks that if left undone create serious problems in your life, work, family) or what’s less critical (i.e., your Minor Many).

That is why I am pleased that I have found the solution for both protecting your time as well as improving upon 80/20 planning.

What happens to most people when they try to decide which of the slew of tasks facing them are truly their Critical Few?  When they try to calculate which 20% of those activities will deliver 80% of the value of their endeavors?

They either freeze and can’t decide, or they get into a do-loop where they pick all of them!  Everything looks equally important.  Even if you come to understand the 80/20 Rule, you still need to categorize your Critical Few (the 20%) vs. your Minor Many (the 80%).  Otherwise you will, like Oprah and many other people, end up regretting your misspent time.

Here are five tips for sparing you such regrets:

Tip #1.  Use “Quiet Time” to Make Important Decisions

You cannot freely contemplate how to best spend your precious time when you are surrounded by the events of your “life.”  Things vie for your time day in and day out.

When this happens seclude yourself, if necessary, to find “Quiet Time,” especially if the decisions you’re making are life-altering.  That means go into a relaxed, calm, meditative state of mind.  If you utilize the mantra “calm,” a form of bliss replaces whatever chaos or confusion was an obstacle to your Quiet Time.

Utilize positive self-visualization so that you can receive advice from your very best consultant, that familiar “little voice within” that you typically ignore.  Listen to it.  Now you’re ready for some decisions.

Tip #2.  Differentiate Your Critical Few from Your Minor Many

Lose a job, health, or loved one – that’s when you know with certainty what truly matters.  That’s when you see what I call our “Critical Few” starkly.

But in the absence of a dramatic event, what happens to those Critical Few?  They get lost in the busy-ness of our lives.  Ask me at 7:00 in the morning for my Critical Few, and I reel them off confidently.  Ask me at 2:00 in the afternoon, and I might forget one, add two, throw in a problem that just erupted, and tell you what I want for dinner.  That’s not Critical Few.  It’s Aspiration Salad or what I call the “Minor Many.”

Your Critical Few are those tasks that if left undone will jeopardize your health, job, family, or success.  Everything else is Minor Many.

Tip #3.  Understand Your Priorities

If someone (God forbid) told you your house was on fire, your kid was on his way to jail, and all your clients were leaving, how should you prioritize your actions?  Naturally, all three would make your Critical Few, and maybe you know exactly what you would do first, but some of you would stop and think about the possible outcomes.

When clients wrestle with priorities, I take them through the DERSSIM Logic System.

  • Define the problem.
  • Understand the Effects of not solving the problem.
  • Identify the Reason for the problem.
  • Conceive a Solution
  • SIM stands for the Solution Implementation Methodology.

Which problem, if not solved, has the greatest negative or positive effect?  Sometimes the reason for the problem isn’t immediately identifiable, but the effect may require immediate attention.

If an individual is having difficulty breathing, the reason may not be immediately apparent; however, getting the individual to breathe is of utmost importance.  In other words, act now on urgent matters.

Even when the reason is apparent, remember that a solution without a solution implementation methodology is worthless.

Tip #4.  Establish Time Lock Agreements with Your Time Bandits

A Time Bandit is anyone responsible for wasting your precious time with unwanted, unplanned, and unproductive interruptions. The Time Lock solution provides blocks of uninterrupted time guaranteed by the Time Bandits.  To work successfully, you and your Time Bandits have to mutually agree that during certain times of the day, good friends, colleagues, even your boss, have to abide by the Time Lock Agreement.

Because of Mental Leakage, very often we are our worst Time Bandits.  Thus, we have to make Time Lock Agreements with ourselves.  The method is called Focal Locking, which means bearing down and focusing on your critical tasks during your Time Lock period.

Tip #5.  Train Your Time Bandits

A Basex Research study says U.S. companies lost $588 billion in 2005 because of interruptions.  That number is probably $1 trillion today.  There’s the interruption that throws you off task.  There’s loss of momentum due to the work stoppage.  There’s the time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources. There’s frustration at having to rebuild them, which dissipates the energy that work thrives on. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost.  All of these things can cause errors and the need to do the task over again, which of course takes even more time.

Learn how to handle that deceptively small question by doing what you do with big Time Bandits – be honest, polite, and cheerful in declining.  The cheerful part will be easy once you realize that it feels good to have protected time for your precious Critical Few and to have benefited your Time Bandit as well by restoring focused time to attend to his needs.

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