Your work day today might be the traditional eight hours, or stretch to 10 hours or more. But imagine if only 96 minutes really counted.
What would you do in those 96 minutes, and how would you protect that precious time from external foes (colleagues, business partners, customers) and the foes within (procrastination, lack of focus)?
The 96-minute idea comes from corporate trainer Randy Mayeux. It's not completely original, nor are the other splendid ideas he has for increasing your productivity. All he knows is what he reads in books. Back in 1998 he created, with a partner, the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Every month since then he has offered a tight summary of a popular business book for an audience over breakfast, and spring boards off those presentations to offer corporate training.
The ideas he has brought together in his package for personal productivity are a unique amalgam from those books:
The 96-minute rule
The Pareto principle – the so-called 80/20 rule – posits that 20 per cent of your time produces 80 per cent of the results. So if there are 480 minutes in a typical eight-hour day, that means 96 minutes, or 20 per cent, can produce key results. Interestingly, Peter Drucker, the eminent management professor, said 90 minutes is the minimum time needed for meaningful knowledge work.
Mr. Mayeux, borrowing as well from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, urges you to get in an "alone zone" for 96 minutes and take a deep dive into an important issue.
"Get in your best 'place' to work, turn off all distractions, and immerse yourself into your most important task for 96 uninterrupted minutes. Ninety-six minutes a day of focused, uninterrupted, intentional work gets a whole lot done," he writes on his blog.
Know your next action
Productivity guru David Allen preaches the importance of knowing your next action so you can make the best use of your time, coming out of one task and sliding immediately into another.
Mr. Mayeux suggests you divide all your projects into a series of bite-sized chunks. Keep that list – lists, actually, since you tackle many things – in a physical folder or on your computer. Then when you have 10 minutes clear to do some work, pick the next action on one of your tasks that needs that amount of time. You will be making progress and fully using the available time.
Replenish your energy
Mr. Mayeux is a big fan of Tony Schwartz, who hammers home the importance of energy in making us successful. But you can't work flat out all the time, as that will drain you.
"If you're worn out, you have to replenish your energy, or you're in trouble," Mr. Mayeux noted in an interview. So you must be disciplined enough to put breaks into your days and weeks. He said he reads Daniel Silva's thrillers, which take him far from work. He also goes into spurts of watching TV shows – recently it was all of House of Cards via Netflix in a short period. But he's not perfect: "I need to exercise more, but I'm not doing it."
Learn when to say yes and when to say no
Bill Gates doesn't mow his own lawn. He knows the value of his time, and where he can be most effective. Similarly, Mr. Mayeux said you need to know what you're good at and what you're not good at, and focus on effective work.
In the early days of his company, he designed the handouts for his talks. "It took me a long time to come up with a mediocre format," he added. Now he hires a designer, saying no to that particular task and, as a result, saying yes to tasks at which he is more accomplished.
There is only so much you can do with your time. Learn to say yes, and no, at the right times.
Schedule for the unexpected
When was the last time you planned what you intended to get done in a day and then managed to accomplish everything? Probably a long time ago, if ever.
Distractions and last-minute requests from colleagues and customers are inevitable. So why not be prepared? Schedule time every day for the unexpected. Mr. Mayeux calls them "surprise" tasks, and once laced into your schedule you can fit in those unexpected, required next actions that popped up unexpectedly during the day.
"You need the expectation that someone will take away time from your day. If you plan every minute, you will be very frustrated," he said.
Schedule interaction with others
Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs ensured that his buildings were designed to allow people to collide with each other, since that would inevitably breed helpful ideas. If, like Mr. Mayeux, you're an independent contractor, you should schedule breakfasts and lunches with others to gain the same intellectual engagement. Don't pretend it's a social interaction. Advise up front you want to have ideas collide.
Get up early – occasionally
On a morning when he has an early speaking engagement, Mr. Mayeux gets up extra early to fit in some work before that work. Figure out which days you can benefit from getting up extra early – perhaps 96 minutes early.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter