The year 1664 was unfortunate for Londoners. It was the year when Plague broke out in London, killing more than 200,000 people. The epidemic was so severe that the Cambridge University had to close its doors; the students were sent home to quarantine themselves. Most of the students would have rejoiced as they could ease off on studies. However, one particular student used the available time as a rare opportunity.
The name of the student was Isaac Newton and today we remember him as the father of classical physics. Newton spent his solitary confinement conducting various experiments focused on optics and motion; those leisurely studies laid the foundation for his later scientific achievements—achievements that changed the future of mankind for good.
As I scribble these lines down, we are just half-way through 2020. The outbreak described above seems more relevant than ever; a large portion of world population is under full or partial quarantine due to Covid-19. While this scenario is certainly unpleasant, it also presents you with an opportunity: to use the available time for the causes you always wished to pursue but could never find time.
The following five lessons will help you make the best use of your time:
Lesson One: Learn to Appreciate the Value of Time
Out of our limited personal resources, time is the most precious. Time is money, they say. In fact, time is more precious than money; ask a wealthy old man if he can buy time with his money? In philosophical sense, time defines life; your life is essentially the time allotted to you to live on this planet. Just like carbon fuels, time is both finite and irreversible. Make the best use of it before it diminishes; appreciate its value while you still have it.
Lesson Two: Prioritize Your Tasks
The best way to manage your time effectively is to prioritize your activities. Start by setting a few clearly defined goals and list them down in terms of their priority. Eliminate the areas that seem to be wasteful. Give priority to the goals that are both urgent and important. While some of them might be as simple as quick fixes, you would need to break your bigger, long-term objectives into manageable tasks.
Lesson Three: Avoid Multitasking
Many professionals think multitasking can help you achieve more in less time. This could be true in some simpler scenarios e.g. you can manage cooking and laundry simultaneously. However, in most cases, multitasking is a hazard; and it is not as efficient as it is portrayed. In order to make the best use of your time, avoid multitasking; remove other distractions as well e.g. while writing an important email, close irrelevant browsers, switch off social media etc.
Instead of working on many tasks simultaneously and leaving them in the middle, focus on a single (both urgent and important from lesson two) task and finish it before moving onto next one. It is better to tick a single box everyday then leaving a few unfinished.
Lesson Four: Find Smarter Ways
They say hard work never goes unrewarded and it is certainly true. However, hard work coupled with smart work is the perfect recipe for success. Wherever possible, find smarter ways of accomplishing more with less. Use technology where it adds value in terms of time saving. Delegate and outsource tasks where it seems reasonable. While focusing on a single task is necessary, keep an eye on the plan ahead.
Lesson Five: Don’t Let Perfectionism Eat Your Time
Improvement is a continuous process; it should be balanced with practical realities. Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of your time. There is no harm in trying to do your best but over-analyzing everything and being overcautious with frivolous tasks will devour your time. This reminds me of Steve Jobs, whose obsessive perfectionism proved to be the death knell for NeXT— the company he founded after being ousted from Apple. Unlike Steve, be pragmatic with your perfectionism.