Stacy’s Book Note: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life

I decided to re-read my yellowed copy of Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life after having read several newer but disappointing time-management books. While published in 1973, its advice is not only succinct and helpful, but still relevant today.

get control of your time

Consider these statements:

“I feel like I waste so much of my time doing things that are not really important to me, while my life is slipping away.”

“I have so much to do; there’s just not enough time for me to do it all.”

“I’m harassed, overworked, tired, tense. I seem to be forever pushing myself, and can’t ever relax completely.”

Don’t you find yourself hearing and saying these words, today? Yet, these are what Lakein says he often heard from his clients–three decades ago!

Of course, there are aspects of the book that feel dated. For example, he does not mention email and social media among his list of distractors. He also tends to ascribe executives as male and homemakers as female.

Yet, unlike some contemporary time-management authors, he recognizes that both career-related and family-related “work” are of value and capable of making us feel overwhelmed.

Here are some key takeaways that are still relevant and helpful today.

To Get Control of Your Time, You Need to Decide

Lakein says…

Spur of the moment decisions can be fine. Nor is there anything “wrong” with decisions that come about by default, the demand of others, escapism or habit. But if you are not satisfied with the payoff from those decisions, more conscious efforts are called for…. You can drift, dream, or drown—or you can decide.

And, to help you prioritize, he suggests spending a maximum of 15 minutes each on the following three questions:

What are your lifetime goals?
How would you like to spend the next three the next three years?
If you knew you would be struck by lightning six months from today, how would you live until then?

After coming up with as many answers to these questions as possible, Lakein suggests narrowing down your goals to three each, and refine these to create a “Lifetime Goals Statement.”

From this statement, figure out what your current goals and priorities are and then develop a list of the most effective “A-activities” to do now. Eliminate unnecessary activities and label lower-priority activities as “B” and “C.”

Two Reasons Why We Get Sidetracked With Unimportant Stuff

Lakein offers good insight into why we are easily drawn to taking care of lower-level activities instead of tackling the “A-activities” we’ve deemed to be a priority:

Many activities of top value cannot, by their very nature, be performed well…. The problems associated with them are new, untried, unknown and uncertain. Doing them means taking risks, which, whether calculated or not, will sometimes bring on unsuccessful outcome…. Is there any wonder you look around for something you can do well? One of the things you can do well is clear up all the easy C’s and you justify it by saying you are clearing them so that you will then be free to do the A–1 later.

Another reason:

There is a luxurious feeling that comes from doing whatever you want without regard to priority or time involved…. You can waste time and gain the feeling of doing something well, starting something easy and finishing it, crossing an item off your list and moving the paper from your inbox to your outbox. But don’t kid yourself: it’s because you’re doing all those C’s and not because you haven’t any time, that you don’t get to do your A’s.

Perhaps this explains why send and receive emails so emails?

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