Four Keys to Time Mastery

24-7-365Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy.

That’s the word that describes the life of every business leader I know.

Busy. Crazy busy.

That’s the word that probably describes your life as well. It’s the reality of the 24/7/365 world in which we live. We can’t stop it, but we can control it. We can master it. In fact, we must master it, or it will master us.

“Concentration—that is, the courage to impose what really matters most and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of mastering time and events instead of being their whipping boy.” Those words were written over 40 years ago by Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive. Never have they been more true!

Here, then, are four keys to mastering time and events (instead of being their whipping boy):

Time Mastery Key One: Your Vision

The first key to time mastery is knowing where you’re going. It makes no difference if you land half an hour early at Atlanta International Airport when you’re supposed to be in New York. In other words, efficiency with your time is useless if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

That’s what vision does. It heads you in the right direction. It tells you, in the words of Peter Drucker, “what really matters most and comes first” in life.

The mistake most of us make with vision is that we allow it to become one dimensional. That is, we make it about work only and live a life about as satisfying as listening to a guitar with one string. No one uttered these words on their death bed, “Damn, I wish I went to more meetings!”


So capture a vision for all of your life using the questions below:


Time Mastery Key Two: Your Year

Vision, however, is not enough. While it’s good to have high ideals and noble aspirations, they are utterly useless if you don’t do anything about them. So the second key to time mastery is making sure every year you have a handful of specific, measurable, challenging goals for the four key areas of your life outlined above.

A lot of blood has been spilt devising memorable acronyms for the definition of a goal (that no one actually remembers). Goal setting is really very simple. A goal is:

X by Y

That’s it.

X is exactly what you’re going to do and Y is exactly when you’re going to do it. Pursuing a handful each year ensures that the vision you have for all of life actually gets done in real time. In other words, your goals determine “what really matters most and comes first” for the next 12 months.

MORE: How Many Goal Should You Have?

Time Mastery Key Three: Your Week

And, yes, all of us have set goals for the year that never saw the light of day after the first few weeks of that year. So the third key to time mastery is making every week count so the vision you have and the goals you’ve set actually get done.

I believe the most important personal discipline you can establish in your life is a weekly planning meeting with yourself. The half hour or so I spend every week reviewing my vision and revisiting my goals is the secret to keeping me on track with them.

Not just reviewing them, however, but taking action on them. One question drives the agenda of my weekly planning meeting, “What are the most important things I can do this week to fulfill my vision and achieve my goals?”

I determine those things and place them in my calendar and task list for the week. They are not the only things I do in my week, but they are the most important things. They are the first things. They are the things that get done no matter what.

MORE: How to Make the Most of Every Week in 60 Minutes or Less

Time Mastery Key Four: Your Day

The Prussian general, Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard Graf von Moltke (How’s that for a name?), famously said, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

And he was right.

Contact with the enemy is where your vision, your goals, and your plans for the week come face to face with the demands of your day. But it is here where we must, again, “impose what really matters most and comes first.” And that takes, as Drucker declared, courage.

Start your day with courage by quickly checking in with your calendar and task list and making sure what you have planned for the day is even reasonable to do. If not, make changes immediately.

Live your day with courage by saying yes to the things that are aligned with your vision and goals and saying no the the things that are secondary and trivial. Or as 37signals founder, Jason Fried, advises, “Dump half your projects to focus on the core of your business. Too much time and effort are wasted on second-tier objectives.”

End your day with courage by honestly reviewing what got done and what didn’t get done in your day, setting up the next day for success.

24/7/365 is not going away any time soon. The genie is out of the bottle. And for the most part, that’s okay. It’s our job, however, to respond to this new reality and live the life we want to life, not the one the genie is telling us to live.

Cast your vision. Set your goals. Make a plan for every week and check-in with that plan every day. Dream it and do it!

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