I meet entrepreneurs regularly; I often come across a self-development question that I find really hard to answer. They ask me how do you do so many things? How do you manage time better? I have no clue, partly because I myself was unaware of what time management really meant.
‘To Do’ lists are the best way to put together the list of things that need to be done and get through all of them. Having said that, anyone who has ever done a ‘To Do’ list would tell you how difficult it is to get through the entire list and make sure that all of the items on it are checked off.
I wondered why.
Often, once we make a list of things to be done, we start by getting all the easiest things done on the list before we cut across to the harder ones. The reasoning is simple, if there are 10 things on the list and 5 are hard and 5 easy, I can check off 5 of the easiest things in just an hour and then there will only be 5 things left for the rest of the day. Instead, if we pick up the hardest thing first, we might be stuck with it for a couple of hours and at the end of it, we would still be left with 9 things to and a lot less time left.
The variable that one misses out on is mental energy.
In order to complete tasks that require hard work, the amount of mental energy required is much greater than that to complete tasks that require little effort.
In an experiment conducted in the US, they took two groups of students and put them in two separate rooms. Both rooms had an oven baking fresh cookies and the smell of cookies was allowed to waft all over the room. The first group of students were told that they were not allowed to eat any of the cookies but the second group was allowed to eat all they wanted. Both groups were kept in the room for half an hour. After this, both groups were given mathematical problems to solve. The second group performed a lot better than the first group. The reason? The first group had spent a considerable amount of mental energy willing themselves against eating the cookies; while the second group had an abundance of mental energy, having been allowed to do whatever they wished to do.
We all have a finite amount of mental energy at our disposal, and each and every activity that we perform through the day eats into it. Is it not better that we undertake the hardest activities on the list when we have the greatest amount of mental energy at our disposal, rather than when it is flagging?
There were some things that I had put on my To Do list, which I had been pushing for the last 2 weeks. This morning, I started with those tasks and finished them first. Interestingly, I was able to get through them faster and more efficiently. I was left with a lot of time on hand during the day since the easy things were completed in no time.
The simple things can be done when you are low on mental energy, but the difficult things definitely can’t. Every activity dips into a finite pool of mental energy and takes some of it away from you.
If you look at some of the most effective leaders, they are often people who take the bull by the horns, and face and resolve problems as soon as they appear. This is a very important leadership trait.
Hence, the key to managing time well is to optimise the utilisation of your mental energy, and to make sure that you can make the most of the time that is at your disposal.