12 Rules of Time

by Jim Estill

Maximizing the return, be that productivity, happiness, peace, or impact of time can be accomplished if you clearly understand the 12 Rules of Time.

Rule 1 - Have Goals

  1. Being more efficient with your time is irrelevant if you do not know how you want to spend it. In managing time, it is the compass, not the clock that is more important. Know where you want to go and spend your time on the things that get you there.  
  2. Many people spend energy trying to be more efficient without first doing the more important - setting goals. Like being lost driving to a city, it does not help to drive faster if you are not going in the right direction. Figure out what direction to go and go in that direction.  
  3. It is from your list of goals that you can determine what is important to you.

Rule 2 - Analyze how you spend your time

  1. It is always good to know how you spend your time now. This can be done by setting a timer every 15 minutes and writing down what you are doing. It can be done by blocking the day in 15-minute blocks and recording the activity you do. You can track it with software - Track-it software by Dovico for instance.  
  2. Once you have your time logs, examine them. How do they compare to your goals? Are you spending time where your priorities really are?

Rule 3 - Have a To Do List

  1. This sounds too simple but is the basis of all time management systems. The To Do List can be electronic, on fancy paper, bound in a notebook or loose-leaf. The key is to have everything you want to do on one list. My To Do List might have a one line item on it such as, write annual report, this refers me to a much larger file or even a file box on that item.

Rule 4 - Prioritize your To Do List

  1. Once you have the list - determine what are the important items. Mark these with a highlighter, red pen, or some other way to make them stand out.  
  2. I sometimes find my To Do List is too big. Every item on the list is calling out "do me, do me" even though they are not one of the ones I have marked as important. In these cases, I take a blank sheet of paper and cover my To Do List and write down only the 3 or 4 most important items.

Rule 5 - Control Procrastination

  1. There are a number of tricks I use to break any procrastination I might have. I happen to like having a hard copy of my To Do List. I reprint it every few days as things have been added and dropped. It is at these times that I look for items that are high priority but not getting done.  
  2. People often say I have great self-control. Some of it is self-control but a lot of it is environment control. I control my environment to eliminate things that I might use to procrastinate; for example, take games off your computer, sell your TV, get rid of the busy work jobs that you use to avoid the important tasks.  
  3. One effective habit I have formed that has broken me through more procrastination is "do the worst thing first". At the beginning of everyday, I do the one task that is causing me stress and that I am not getting done. Sometimes I just give it fifteen minutes on the theory that I can stand anything for fifteen minutes. Frequently it is this short thrust that breaks me through. 
  4. If I still find myself procrastinating, I review my reasons for a goal. I strengthen the reasons why to give myself motivation to complete a task. Some people reward themselves (or punish) for completing a job.

Rule 6 - Organize

  1. Organization and time management are linked. I find that I get important things done when I have all the tools I need to perform the job.  
  2. The opposite of organization - disorganization - generally leads to busy work. If your desk is piled high - every piece of paper says "do me, do me". You might end up doing a lot but never getting to the important work.

Rule 7 - Delegate

  1. One way to expand your time is to get others to help you with it. You might say you have no one who works for you. No problem - delegate to a peer, your superior, a supplier, or even a customer. The key in delegation is to look at what someone else can do significantly easier or faster than you.  
  2. In some cases you will need to invest upfront to train someone, but frequently the long-term savings are worth the upfront time spent.  
  3. Treat delegation like networking.  Who in your network would be best for the job?  
  4. After delegation, remember to thank appropriately. You might think people would resent being delegated to, but exactly the opposite is true. People like to be asked; especially if it is something they are good at.

Rule 8 - Master Efficiency tricks.

  1. The most powerful trick I have found is "the Power of while". What can you do while you drive? While you walk? While you clean? While you watch TV? I am a huge audiotape advocate and frequently listen to tapes while I am doing something else.  
  2. Of course being a techno person, I love all the organization software out there that allows me to keep my contacts, To Do List, and appointments. I also use many of the gadgets like wireless email, cell phones and personal Digital Assistants. Good use of technology can save you time.  
  3. A product like Doveco's Track-it allows a user to track how they use their time. This works great for billing or R and D time tracking but more importantly can be used to track how time is spent (see Rule 2)

Rule 9 - It is OK to say No

  1. Saying "No" can be the most powerful time tool you can master. Ask yourself when asked to do something - is it important? Does it help you with your goals? Is this something you would be better at than most other people? Now this does not mean that I always say no. If I say no, I am always polite and tactful and I try to suggest someone else who would do the job well.

Rule 10 - Focus

  1. One hundred percent focus and concentration on one task at a time can be very powerful; eliminate distraction, focus on the task. When properly organized and prepared and when your energy and power are high, you can frequently complete a task in twenty percent of the time it would take to do it without high focus.

Rule 11 - Build your efficiency bank

  1. High efficiency is not possible if you do not look after yourself; eat right, exercise, sleep well; drink moderately. All the things your mom told you were good for you are good for your efficiency.
  2. I believe that meditation also can be a great way of building your efficiency. It gives you the power to do more during the times you are being "productive."

Rule 12 - Take care of yourself

  1. It is not possible to be "on" 100% of the time. Taking care of yourself refers to the time you need to spend looking after yourself to allow yourself to be efficient. Have a list of things you like to do. Find out what energizes you and spend time doing them. These things give you the power and energy to be productive when you return to work.  
  2. Finally, if you read all this and feel overwhelmed by what you want to accomplish, you need to go back to Rule 1 and add peace (contentment) as one of your goals. Time management is not about adding stress; it is about giving you the time to be what you want to be.  


Jim Estill is President and CEO of EMJ Data Systems Ltd. EMJ is a company he founded from the trunk of his car when he graduated from university and has built to over $160,000,000 in sales. EMJ is a wholesaler of microcomputers, peripherals and software selling to resellers.

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