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.

Who is your greatest Time Bandit? Ask the mirror.

Ask the mirror

Ask the mirror


What is more self-defeating than a command to “Concentrate!”  Even when you say it to yourself.  Concentration has never been a highly cultivated skill, but these days, in our interruption culture, it’s even more difficult.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that our average attention span is down to about 8 seconds (from 12 seconds fifteen years ago.)

Eight seconds!  That’s a problem.  Elsewhere on this blog I’ve written about Time Bandits and the damage they inflict.  But just as big a story about Time Bandits is this:  We are our own worst thieves of our precious time.  We steal from ourselves.  What could be more perverse?

Even (especially?) when we most want to concentrate on the job at hand, we experience what I call Mental Leakage.  The mind goes elsewhere, to some other subject.  Maybe something more entertaining.  More distressing.  More visible or audible.  If we are unaccustomed to concentrating, that means we are accustomed to mind-wandering, so we give in to a habit honed by years of accidental “practice.”

I said “we,” not “you” for a good reason.  Even though I invented the term and created the solutions for Time Banditry, I have not entirely immunized myself against the pull of old habits.  I am as prone to fragmented focus as you.  That’s why over the years I have developed and perfected a series of techniques to permit Focal Locking, which is the solution to Mental Leakage.

It was a harrowing personal situation that prompted me to do so.  I tell the whole story in my book, but let me sketch it for you briefly here.

I’d been scuba diving and got a dangerous case of “the bends.”  While I was experienced and knew better than to rise to the surface too quickly, I was aiding an inexperienced diver who didn’t know the danger.  I was taken to the emergency room where the doctor told me what I already guessed – the condition was potentially fatal, but a stint in a decompression chamber would cure me.

I knew the chamber was barely big enough for me to fit inside, so I didn’t relish such claustrophobic treatment, but I was okay until the doctor told me how long I’d be confined:  Nine hours.  From my book:

If you have ever received frightening news, maybe you recognize my first emotion.  It was simple.  “I cannot do this.”  No more claustrophobic than the ordinary person, I still couldn’t imagine being confined to a barely see-through coffin for much longer than I could hold my breath.  Nine hours!!!  That is a whole working day, with nothing to do but think, in a situation where all thoughts are terrifying.  I would panic.  I would suffocate.  If I screamed would they hear me?  Help me?  All those thoughts raced through my mind as if it had joined my body in torturing me.

Obviously I survived, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  I survived because I drew on almost everything I had ever learned in my whole life about making my mind do what I wanted it to:  not think about my confinement and instead carry me to blissful places where panic couldn’t intrude.  Yoga, breathing techniques, mantras, psychotherapeutic techniques – I used them all.

My point is, you can exercise control of your mind.  You can prevent Mental Leakage when you must.  You just have to develop new techniques to replace your old habits, and they are all there in my book.  Different techniques work better for some people.  You have to choose the ones that suit your challenges, your personality.

But let me offer you one of the most powerful solutions here – actually a series of steps.  It is called meditative relaxation, wherein you focus on your breath, both inhalations and exhalations, keeping your eyes closed. Focus deeply on a mantra that enables you to escape to a seascape, landscape, or the cosmos, just for ten seconds. On the exhalation of your breath, to yourself, utter the word, “Calm.”

Do this three times.  As you begin to feel Calm take effect, return to the task that requires your focused attention and say to yourself, “If I can Time Lock, I can Focal Lock.”  I can bear down on the task at hand.  I can enter into my Time Lock for its full length, complete this task, and then undo the Focal Lock and focus on other matters.

Happy Focal Locking.  And if it’s a little rocky at first, don’t worry – you’re learning a new skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life – at work and in other parts of your life.  And here’s the really good news: I bet you don’t have to do it for nine hours!




Interruption-Free Mindfulness and Other Tips for Making Tax Time Go Smoothly

“I’m proud to pay my taxes,” the old saw goes. “But I could be just as proud for half the amount.” And half the time, I would add.

A recent study found that it takes the average medium-sized company 264 hours to comply with its tax requirements. Daily Finance reports that the average 1040 filer spends about 16 hours on it.

Most people are already so busy that tax time, besides being a chore, leaves them feeling positively overwhelmed. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed, your obligations feel like an avalanche, instead of separate, doable tasks.

If that describes you when it comes time to “render unto Ceasar,” here are five time management and productivity tips that will turn the avalanche into something you can dispense with efficiently and maybe even pleasantly.

  1. Avoid Interruptions. People tend to underestimate how much harm interruptions inflict.

Remember, it’s not just the interruption itself that throws you off task. There’s the time wasted to reassemble your thoughts and resources, a little staler this time. There’s loss of momentum or physiological shortcuts created to accomplish the task. There’s frustration at having to regroup, which dissipates the energy that work thrives on. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost. There’s the likelihood of errors, which take even more time to correct. “When you start to take Vienna, take Vienna,” counseled Napoleon.  When you start to do your taxes, do them.  Get in the tax zone and stay in it without interruption.

  1. Practice Mindfulness. That is, don’t let yourself be distracted by your worst Time Bandit (you).  The data it takes to file your taxes can be revelatory about your financial matters.  You see numbers aggregated for the first time and they make you think:  Maybe I should get out of those investments.  Have rental rates risen since we priced those units?  Might be time to pay off that mortgage.

Do you call up your financial planner about your investments?  Start researching rental rates?  Call your banker about the mortgage?   No.  Distracting yourself causes the same problems as being interrupted by someone else.   If today is the day you planned to do your taxes, then stick to what must be accomplished to meet that goal.  Find all the documents.  Sort and collate them.  Read all the instructions. Run your calculations.

If doing your taxes gives you ideas for your financial future, make note of the ideas but avoid allowing it to be a distraction — finish the task you started.  Otherwise you’ll find yourself sighing a dozen times, Now where WAS  I?  Leveraging mindfulness will make you more productive and let you finish the job faster.

  1. Don’t Let a Negative Attitude Eat Up Time and Energy

Tax filers can waste an incredible amount of time and energy by griping – sometimes verbally, often just mentally. Granted, taxes are a prime source if you want to gripe.  You can get worked up about unfairness, loopholes, rates, the tax code, the impenetrable language, the balky web site, sitting on hold, getting contradictory answers, and being stuck inside when the golf course or garden beckons.

But when you permit your mind to go off task like that, you reap the same time loss and emotional issues that external interruptions cause. Plus you turn an anodyne responsibility into an unpleasant burden.

Instead, practice adopting an attitude of constructive acceptance.  That means accepting gracefully the things that can’t be changed and turning your deliberate acceptance into a constructive tactic.  So it’s not accepting with a sigh, but with newfound eagerness.

A fair price for the privilege of being an American. Well, at least I’m in the black. Whatever thought works for you.

  1. Similar Tasks? Batch Them Up. Think ahead: What actions in preparing your taxes will you have to repeat multiple times? Running calculations? Sorting receipts?

Whatever they are, batch them up, and do all of those like tasks at once. Repetition builds up muscle memory. If it’s doing calculations on your computer, and you do all of them at once, you get faster and faster until your fingers are fairly flying. It will feel good. That won’t happen if you intersperse phone calls or form filling between the calculations.

Batching is also useful for the way it keeps your mind focused. Concentration stimulates the brain. Again, it feels good. Okay, not like sinking a hole in one, but so much more positive than the alternative. If you have a pile of receipts to sort through, do it all in one sitting. Don’t break it up with other activities so that you have to ask, “Now where was I?” and try to recall what your sorting system was.

  1. Separate Hard from Easy. Do hard tasks when you have energy or creativity for them. Hold the easy ones for when your energy flags.

Usually each person’s hard/easy is pretty subjective, but deciphering new tax instructions would be hard for Albert Einstein. Don’t crack that instruction manual in the evening when you’re weary. Don’t use up your energetic hours doing mindless tasks such as sorting. If you’re bad at math, doing calculations is stressful. If you’re good at it, it’s a breeze. Schedule accordingly.

I hope these tips make your tax-time a more cheerful and productive effort. But more than that, I hope you use these tips in your daily life, especially when you have duties that are low on the delight scale.  These and many other time management tips are contained in our book The Time Bandit Solution.  When you make these practices a part of your daily life you will, as the book’s subtitle promises, “recover stolen time you never knew you had.”

Are you running a business? Our company’s time management and business productivity solutions have helped corporations save billions in loss productivity for over 30 years through a methodology called structured time and workflow management (STWM). Contact us to learn more about our 45 day fee free pilot.



Guiding employees toward better time management in the New Year

With a New Year upon management staffs, many of you might be considering following through with some work-related resolutions. Getting your employees to do the same is no easy task and neither is the ability to stay on target with your resolutions.

Helene Segura, a time management strategist, explained at the beginning of every New Year, the majority of Americans choose time management as one of their New Year’s resolutions. Time management is often accompanied with resolutions such as losing weight, going to the gym, eating healthier and quitting smoking.

“As a business leader, it’s important to not only help your employees achieve improved time management strategies, but to give them as many options to get there as well.”

Helping workers achieve their goals
While you might have your own personal resolutions you want to attend to, numerous workers want to improve their work lives with better time management. As a business leader, it’s important to not only help your employees achieve improved time management strategies, but to give them as many options to get there as well.

In a recent Forbes interview with Dan Ariely, an author on human irrationality and professor of psychology and behavior economics at Duke University, the behavioral expert explained people usually choose time management for a resolution because they’re not any good at it and are obsessed with planning their time better with work and other personal things.

“[The] reality is it’s no wonder we are bad at [time management] because it’s a really, really hard thing to do,” Ariely said in the interview with Forbes. “Not only is it hard to manage multiple things, but you also have dynamic changes throughout the day in which you have some hours where you are more alert and have high cognitive capacity and some hours where you are more tired.”

Management taking action on time management
This is where management has to step up and provide employees with a time management strategy to get their New Year off on the right foot. Workplaces depend on time management strategies because in the end, having employees more effective at work will decrease downtime and money wasted due to inefficiency.

According to Self Growth, time management often fails within a business when everyone is not on the same page. As a manager or leader of a group of workers, it’s imperative to make sure every single person has the same agenda and knows the goals of their team.

When employees create their own agendas and lack serious direction from a business leader, a lot of time is wasted on trying to manage time in the first place. Instead, getting professional support for time management resolutions could get all of your workers on track and moving toward a common goal.

Time management has to be addressed immediately or problems could snowball.Time management has to be addressed immediately or problems could snowball.

Fixing time management problems immediately 
Another big issue with handling time management as a business leader is letting things get out of control to the point where it may not be fixable. According to the wellness blog Everyday Faith and Fitness, sometimes people’s biggest problem is not having enough time in the day to get things done. This can work on a personal level if for example you were trying to make it to the gym twice a week, but couldn’t find the time.

“It’s your responsibility as a coach and leader of the team to get your workers feeling like they aren’t time constrained each day.”

However, on a work-related level, your employees might not be succeeding because their management strategies have turned so sour that they don’t feel like they can get a full-day’s work completed in one day. To nip this in the bud, it’s your responsibility as a coach and leader of the team to get your workers feeling like they aren’t time constrained each day.

Biting off more than you can chew 
Several workers and managers often try to fix time management problems by taking on more than they can handle. To successfully manage your time, try to realize that taking on too much as a leader could put you even further behind.

“If you were a farmer and worked from sunrise to sunset, and farming includes very basic things to do with no real questions, life would be very simple,” Ariely added in the Forbes interview. “But we live in an incredibly wonderful age with lots of things vying for our time, more than we can handle, and on top of that we aren’t limited to sunrise to sunset.”

According to Pep Worldwide, one of the best ways to address time management is to act smarter and to not work harder to achieve better time management. When work is completed more efficiently and without additional work, employees will feel less stressed about how they manage each day. Time management is not an easy task, but with the right help, downtime could turn into a thing of the past.

– See more at: http://cohenbrown.com/guiding-employees-toward-better-time-management-in-the-new-year/#sthash.XC6hwoGd.dpuf

Are your office meetings driving down productivity?

Meetings can be a serious time waster and lower productivity.

There are many obstacles that you have to deal with each workday, but to keep your staff on the right path, you need to make sure unnecessary interruptions are severely limited or eliminated all together.

Throughout a typical workday, some of you might think you spend the majority of your time in meetings. Unplanned interruptions that come from last-minute meetings can significantly impact your productivity and the staff beneath you. You have to control your staff’s and your own time to be a successful leader, but if you don’t take a hold of this, you cannot control unplanned interruptions.

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, approximately $37 billion is wasted in the U.S. each year due to unnecessary meetings. One of the fastest ways to tell if you’re spending too much time in meetings is if you have ever used an auto-reply saying “I’m in meetings all day,” Entrepreneur reported.

To know if meetings are driving down your productivity, here are a few questions you should be asking:

Do they really need to be here?
One question you should ask is who really needs to be on the attendance list for specific meetings. According to Entrepreneur, keep the attendance list short to make sure other’s time isn’t wasted. Productivity can be significantly affected when workers are constantly going to meetings they don’t need to attend.

When workers begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of meetings each day, it can slowly manifest into lowered job satisfaction, self-esteem and confidence. Drop the meeting’s roster by as much as possible, so worker momentum is not lost with unnecessary and unimportant gatherings.

Can you move meetings to the phone or Internet?
If the meeting is a simple announcement, these interruptions should be moved to email, Time Management Ninja reported. However, if the meeting is necessary but doesn’t  require some attendees to fully participate, move the meeting to the phone or Internet by chat or webcam.

This will allow workers to attend but work on other things while in the meeting. Phone meetings are a great way for some of your workers to discreetly multitask. Again, being able to work partially is much better than getting to do nothing at all because employees’ momentum is lost when they are removed from their standard daily duties.

Do people take your meetings seriously?
If half the appropriate people show up to your meeting, you’re working within an unorganized system. If you take some of these helpful steps to clearly enforce time wasting prevention and the necessity of meetings, each gathering will be deemed essential.

According to Fast Company, you have to be prepared when you schedule a meeting because sometimes you end up with 20 people in a room talking loudly while you try to hook up your laptop to the large screen. Make sure equipment is ready to go for meetings to cut unnecessary and wasteful time.

Additionally, if you work in a smaller office, the meeting rooms are likely limited. Make sure rooms are appropriately scheduled to avoid interruptions from other employees.

Is the meeting trying to do too much?
Time limits on meetings are a good way to prevent them from going on too long. However, you should focus on whether everyone is on topic. According to USA Today, when meetings try to tackle multiple issues, original points get off subject and lost in the overall importance of the meeting.

Instead, keep meetings concise and to the point. If there are any other topics that could relate to the subject, have your workers email you their concerns to prevent wasting other employees’ time.


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Today, October 16, credit unions around the world are united behind the message of “Local Service. Global Good.™” for International Credit Union (ICU) Day. Share in this powerful credit union vision and celebrate with more than 200 million people worldwide.  Get more information (click).


CB Tips:  Batch Processing – A Quick Lesson in Productivity

Five ducklingstips, cohen brownThe term Batch Processing originated in the days when users entered programs on bunches of punch cards then handed them to a system operator who would feed them into a computer, thereby executing a series of non-interactive jobs all at one time.

Today, the term Batch Processing has slightly evolved and is used as a human time management technique whereby similar tasks such as writing reports or processing email, are performed as a group, rather than being performed randomly as they occur.

Think about your own to do list.  How many items can be completed as a group rather than wasting time switching from one task to the next to the next all day long, interrupting your focused thought and task flow?

time locking, interruptions, time bandit solution, STWM