How Dwight Eisenhower Can Save Your Life (and Other Ass-Kicking Time Management Tips)

I walk a thin line in trying to give advice about time management. Most people think of time management as: stop doing fun things and work all the time. That is not what I propose. I think time management is important so you can get out of the library (or office), stop pulling your hair out, and enjoy a beer with your friends before your four years pass you by.

So, what qualifies me to write an article about time management? During my senior year, I managed to balance 3 jobs, a freelance business, and being a full time student with an honor roll GPA (all said, totaling 70+ hours/week), and I still found time to write this article. While I’m not superhuman, I think I’ve mastered the ability to spend my time the way I want to spend it.

And I don’t want to single out college students. The ideas I am proposing can be applied just as easily to those already in their careers.

So here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1) Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Matrix

First and foremost, you need to decide which tasks are most important. A quote commonly attributed to Eisenhower sums it up: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” Eisenhower’s decision matrix went like this: divide your tasks into four categories. Important & Urgent, Important but not Urgent, Urgent but not Important, and neither Important nor Urgent. refers to these respectively as “critical activities”, “important goals”, “interruptions”, and “distractions.” At the very least, this matrix is a tool for clarifying your priorities. You can also easily tick off the distractions (twitter) and the busywork.

2) Pareto Principle

Tim Ferriss has made this one famous in recent years. The law came about when Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 20% of the Italian population owned 80% of the land. The Pareto Principle has since been studied across a variety of fields: business, economics, mathematics, science. The idea of the 4-Hour Workweek is that is can be applied to work as well, making your time much more efficient. The implication is simple: find out which 20% of action will produce 80% of results. This is a blessing really. Think about all of that busy work you can ignore.

3) Avoid “Busy” Work at all Costs

As Seth Godin said, “Busy does not equal important. Measured doesn’t mean mattered.” Or perhaps a Fight Club quote would suit you better: “No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.” Give it up. Stop checking your e-mail so often. Say no to things you don’t want to do that contribute to your goal. We only get one life and you could die tomorrow: stick to the important stuff. By avoiding shitty, boring work, not only do you benefit from the lack of shitty, boring work in your life (an outstanding benefit in itself), but it frees up your mind to think at a higher level for what actually matters. In general, we humans over prepare. It’s a form of procrastination. Why write the paper when there is so much more research to gather? It’s true, there’s always more that you can cite, so start writing and return to your research when you need to.

4) Cross-Train Your Brain

Laura Vanderkam writes about the value of cross-training in training for a marathon. It shakes up your boredom and trains different groups of muscles in different ways, thus avoiding burnout. How do you cross train in academics? Read books outside those chosen for your class. They don’t even have to be related. I read a history book on John F. Kennedy that contributed a lot of research for a public relations class. Who knew? It happens to me all the time. I’ve quote House of Cards, Ludacris, Alain de Botton, and Mad Men for papers on history and journalism. I use anecdotes and metaphors all the time from personal traveling adventures. Just because it didn’t come from a textbook doesn’t mean you can’t use it in academia. Likewise with business. Reading history has given me surprising incites on business. Running has proven to be a keen metaphor for Ryan Holiday, and Malcolm Gladwell is a noted running enthusiast. The secret of cross-training is that it gives you a perspective that other people don’t have. Because they are staring down the narrow path of the subject at hand, they cannot make the connections necessary for a unique perspective. I’ve said it before: Look where others won’t, and you’ll gain what others won’t.

These are the basics. They are not glamorous. I could probably tell you to wake up early, drink coffee, stay off of Facebook, or to do any number of “productivity hacks.” However, unless you shift your perspective on what defines “work” and which tasks are more important, you’ll simply be doing pointless things faster. So, unless this blog is of utmost importance to your well-being, go do something important: like reading more of my articles 😉