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Perspectives - 5 min read

“The war on dud” Tips on how to avoid wasting your time

Peter Nowlan, self-employed business coach shares his tips on how to make small changes in your approach to managing your time to see a big difference.
Peter Nowlan on time management
Peter Nowlan, self-employed business coach

How much of your time is wasted? Over 20 years as a business coach working for hundreds of different businesses, large and small, I have seen again and again the power of this simple question… and the difference it makes when people start to answer it.

Try it for yourself. Think about it now.

How much of what you do at work, on average, is low-value, very low-value, or no value at all?

Take a moment to write down as many things you can think of that are more or less a waste of time.

(I’m going to pause while you do that…)

How many did you get? Most people write down five immediately, and quickly get to ten.

Whatever you have written down, have a look at your list, and think about it, and ask yourself:

  • What percentage of my time does this represent?
  • What am I going to do about it?

I have asked these questions thousands of times to people at all levels of seniority in all kinds of business, all round the world; people who run some of the world’s largest corporations, or who run their own small business, or who work on their own. I keep getting a remarkably consistent answer, regardless of the kind of business or the role of the individual. Here it is.

30%

That’s the median score. 30% of their time is low-value or wasted. Many say 40%. Very few (hardly any at all) say less than 20%.

And it doesn’t seem to change much over time.  Five years after admitting that 40% of their time is wasted, most people will still say that 40% of their time is wasted.

Is this fascinating, or shocking, or both? I mean, if 30-40% of your money disappeared every year, would you do nothing about it? There are lots of books on time management, but (in my experience) they don’t seem to have much effect on how most people actually use their time.

As a coach, I find again and again that what really makes a difference to people is when they find small, easy changes that have a big result.

Here is one you can try today. Use ‘wasted’ dud time to launch constructive new habits that will have immediate effect. Particularly if you have a small, personal business (one of the great things about being small… you can change things so much faster).

"Use 'wasted' dud time to launch constructive new habits that will have immediate effect. Particularly if you have a small, personal business..."

I call it… the War on Dud.

Today, and every day, for the next three months you can declare your War on Dud and see what difference it makes. It only takes a few minutes in the morning, and a few minutes in the evening.

Here is how it works.

Get yourself a notebook, or a diary, and make notes in it every morning and evening (or most days), as you consider these points, these questions (the same every day):

Morning focus (5 mins)

Look at your Dud list (the one you started above) and ask yourself…

  • Is there anything else to add?
  • How many of them will apply today?
  • Which of them is the biggest waste of time?
  • What can you do less of, or cut out completely?
  • What could you do differently?
  • What else…?
  • And as you go through the day, NOTICE whenever you’re doing something Dud

And remember… to improve your time management you need to NOTICE, CHALLENGE, and CHANGE.

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Evening reflection (5 mins)

Look back on the day and ask yourself…

  • What Dud did you NOTICE?
  • What Dud did you CHALLENGE?
  • What Dud did you CHANGE?
  • What do you FEEL about the day?
  • Did you WIN, LOSE OR DRAW?

It’s called a War on Dud because it’s a fight, and it’s important to win it. It’s a fight you win or lose day-by-day, every day. Of course it’s completely up to you, whether you fight or not. By all means take a day off whenever you like. But every day you don’t try to win, you lose.

Guaranteed.

Even better if you choose to do this as a team and start sharing your reflections. That’s when it really takes off.

All you have to do is to learn this simple habit of looking ahead (focusing) and looking back (reflecting) for a few minutes each day. The more often you do it, the more difference it will make.

And it makes more difference to a small, personal business with a few people than to a big corporate with tens of thousands of staff.

One more question: will you start this today, or tomorrow?