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Five Questions That Help You Make the Most of Your Time

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Questions have the power to instantly change your focus and put you into a productive frame of mind.

These five simple time management questions will immediately direct your attention, your focus, and your thinking towards your top priorities and away from distractions.

Just ask yourself these questions habitually throughout the day and you will start making better use of your time.

1. What is the most valuable use of my time right now?

This is a slight variation of a question developed by time management expert Alan Lakein.

The purpose of this question is to shift your focus to what is most important and valuable at this moment. It is a perfect question to ask whenever you are unsure about what to do next, whenever you face an unexpected interruption, or whenever you feel that you are not making good use of your time.

For example, let's say you find yourself with an extra twenty minutes of unscheduled time. Asking yourself "What is the most valuable use of my time right now?" will help you find an important task for the time you have available.

2. What am I ultimately trying to accomplish?

The purpose of this question is to focus your thinking on your real objectives and goals; the real reasons you are working on your projects and tasks.

Asking this question habitually will help you avoid getting sidetracked, drifting into trivia, or falling into perfectionism. You can use this powerful question for all your projects.

For example, while preparing a presentation, you can easily get sucked into less valuable work when you start playing with the formatting, or adding bells and whistles, instead of working on the content.

The work seems important because it is connected to your presentation project, but when you take a closer look, you realize that you are wasting your time on details that don't really matter.

Asking this question will help you refocus your efforts on your real objectives and away from trivial matters. If it turns out that the formatting details are important for this project, you'll recognize this as well and give them the attention they deserve.

This question can also help you find and eliminate useless tasks that don't contribute toward your ultimate goals.

3. What am I giving up to do this?

Whenever you choose to do something, you automatically reject everything else you could have done during that time.

The purpose of this question is to help you realize what you are giving up in order to undertake a task or project. Once you recognize the true cost of an activity, you may decide that it is not how you really want to spend your time.

Asking this question before you take on a new task or project will help you stay focused on what really matters. It will also help you recognize when you should be saying no to that new request.

You should also ask this question about activities that you are already doing on a regular basis. These could be things like volunteering to do some work for your trade association, chairing a committee, or serving on the board of a community organization.

While all of these things may be valuable undertakings, you may be sacrificing something even more important to do them. Asking "What am I giving up to do this?" may turn out to be a real eye opener.

You probably wouldn't consciously sacrifice time with your family in order to participate in a committee you don't care about, but you might be doing it by default if you don't examine your existing commitments on a regular basis.

4. What are my three most important projects or tasks today?

The purpose of this question is to help you make use of the 80/20 rule every day. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of the value is contained in only 20% of the items. The top two or three projects and tasks in any given day could account for up to 80 percent of your day's value, so give them the time and priority they deserve.

If you practice weekly planning, you can change this question to "What are the three most important projects for this week?"

5. Should I continue doing this?

This is a slight variation of the first two questions, but shifts the focus toward what to stop doing rather than what to start doing.

Deciding to stop doing something that is no longer valuable is often more important than actually deciding to start doing something else.

This is a perfect question to ask whenever you feel you may be wasting time trying to perfect something that should already be done, or when you feel stuck in a commitment that is no longer serving your long-term objectives.

Keys to Success

* Make it a habit - At first, you'll have to keep reminding yourself to ask these questions over and over again. However, if you keep asking consistently, eventually they will become a habit that will serve you for the rest of your life.

* Use these three steps whenever you have to make a time management decision: pause to think before you react, use questions to put you in the right frame of mind, and do the right thing.

* Keep asking until you get an answer - Sometimes you won't get an answer to these questions right away; just keep asking while you review your projects and task. The right answer will come.

Copyright © 2005, Rodger Constandse

Rodger Constandse is the editor of , a website providing time management and goal setting resources for personal and career success.

Take control of your time, your goals, and your life with our free course and time management eBook. Visit and get started today!

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