As I’ve explained in my two bucket theory, time is one of the most important, if not the most important, commodity you have. To a large extent, your life represents how you’ve invested your time thus far. Whether you are rich or poor, in shape or overweight, successful or a failure, well put together or a slob, respected or reviled, are able to play a musical instrument or sculpt, can speak French, know how to bake a perfect dinner … to the extent you can control circumstances, your present life is a reflection of your past choices.
[mainbodyad]How do you best manage your time? I have made no secret of being a huge fan of one of Gene Bedell’s techniques, which he discusses in a book called The Millionaire In the Mirror. (Proving that first conclusion bias can be wrong, I almost didn’t pick up the book years ago because of the gimmicky title; it turned out to be the best career strategy book I ever read for high performing individuals.)
Bedell talks about the most intelligent invest your time, arguing that in order to become a major success in your career, you need to focus on only high impact performance activities. The remaining time, he posits, should be spent on whatever activities are necessary to avoid wipeout risk or catastrophic failure.
It is great advice. It also requires you to know what you are trying to achieve. I find that a vast majority of people I encounter in the real world don’t have a clue what they are trying to do. Maybe they did a long time ago, when they first set out on their career path, but today, they simply react. They spend their whole day reacting – answering emails, returning phone calls, and putting out fires that erupt around them. They spend very little time thinking about the end-game and taking action to get there.
Implementing a High Impact Activity Approach In Your Own Life
How do you get started?
- Step 1: Identify What You Want – Be honest with yourself. As the saying goes, if your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough.
- Step 2: Identify the Actions That Can Get You There Fastest – Every day, you should make significant progress by taking action. As Peter Drucker points out, there is no past and there is no future, you only have the “right now”; what action will you take now? Don’t just talk about “someday” all the time. Only a small percentage of your goals should be thrown in the “someday” category.
- Step 3: Avoid low impact activities, only doing what is absolutely necessary to avoid catastrophic failure.
Here is an example: A friend of mine is a teacher. Her big goal is to be financially independent, which for her desires and lifestyle, requires a passive income of $10,000 per month from dividends, interest, and rents without working. She still plans on continuing working but she doesn’t want to need to work.
[mainbodyad]In her situation, grading papers is not a high performance activity. It is something she needs to do to as a basic job requirement if she wants to avoid getting fired. You should not confuse something that is hard with something that is valuable. Decorating your classroom, watching students, attending workshops, dealing with parents not interested in their child’s education … all of that is great, but none of them are high impact activities based on what this friend has determined is her goal.
Based on her personal goal, a high impact activity would be launching something like the Khan Academy, reaching hundreds of millions of people and radically transforming how topics are taught and finding a way to monetize the content. A high impact activity would be creating a company like Rosetta Stone to help people learn other languages, while generating sales and profits for your own pocket. A high impact activity would be running a tutoring agency that generates constant streams of cash to reinvest until she hits her income goal.
This approach is not limited to your pocketbook or career. Every spare moment you have should be allocated to high impact activities. As the old, somewhat crude Midwestern saw goes from a few generations ago, “stop dicking around” with things that don’t matter. Go for the big wins. Figure out the primary mission of your life and then go out and get it.