Eight Signs You Discount The Value Of Your Time

I have a bulletin board at the door of my office containing several items that would probably appear strange to you, but keep me focused. Some items come and go while others have a more permanent place. One is the memorial program for the recent funeral of a friend who unexpectedly died at 53. Another is an adorable "brochure" that one of my daughters created for me to use several years ago. One item that seems to always stay posted is a chart I picked up at a trade show many years ago that charts how financially valuable one's time is at work, based on 244, eight hour working days per year. Here's an example:

If you earn $40,000 per year:

  • Every hour of your work time is worth $20.49
  • Every minute is worth .3415
  • In a year, one hour a day is worth $5000

Every time I see this chart I am quickly reminded that I can not allow my day to be filled with activities that don't give me a solid "return on investment." When I do waste time, I frequently force myself to do the math on just how much that lack of intention cost me, and how I could have used those financial resources to support or grow my business, or just provide for my family. You can see the actual chart here.

Whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there is no question that there is a cost associated with not placing a high value on your time. If not financial, it might be in diminished quality of relationships, a lack of personal well-being, or just the sinking feeling (and fact) that your most important things aren't getting done.

Here are eight signs that help me recognize I am discounting the value of my time... and not making a wise investment of these critical resources:

I accept interruptions as the normal mode of work. Whether the interruption is physical (phone or email) or mental (thoughts of unfinished tasks or other things I need to do), there are steps I can often take to create an environment where my higher priority tasks actually get accomplished. I can move to another work area, shut down my email, or just take a second and write down the thoughts that keep hovering around me like pesky gnats. Unfortunately I sometimes foolishly think I can keep all those thoughts in play and still stay focused.

I am too available. Don't get me wrong. People sometimes need my attention immediately, but if I always drop everything at a moment's notice, they come to expect it. And once they are trained that way, it's hard to break the cycle.

I don't put filters in place. In our book, Getting to It, Todd Musig and I discuss the use of filters in screening out unwanted interruptions or distractions. Simply put, decide what you will allow to interrupt your work BEFORE the interruption actually occurs. What phone call, email, message, or face to face interaction are so important that you would pause work on your highest priorities to handle?

I don't create an effective task list. If I just haphazardly make a list and don't prioritize the items in light of which ones will most move my work forward, it's easy to get "check happy" and just start plowing through the list, finishing the mundane and unimportant. A more effective approach for me is to ask myself, "If I only got 3 things done today at work that are most aligned with my purpose and goals, what would they be?" With those three in mind, I build my day around them.

I don't share my current work activities with others. A favorite moment in one of my training programs is when I work with those who are so frustrated with their boss or coworkers because they keep piling on more work. When I ask them if those bosses or coworkers know exactly what they are currently working on at the moment, the answer is usually, "Well...no." If we don't communicate what we are working on that is of value to the organization, the team, or to our own personal success, why is it a problem for them to want to fill our schedules with less important tasks? Even in my office I let Belinda know what I am working on so she can make a more informed decision about when to interrupt me...or not. For a more detailed strategy for sharing your work priorities with others, check out my CARD Techinque.

I don't put limits on meetings or activities. I hear you screaming, "But Jones I am not always the one in control!" True, and for those situations you can only reflect back to the previous point and remind people that your current work is important and you need to get back to it ASAP. For those other events or meetings where you do have influence, reflect on the time needed for completion and plan with that deadline in mind. I've also found that if I tell others of my desired time limit, they will often work just as hard to meet it. Don't tell them and.... you might as well be burning money. For more about the value of limits, click here.

I let multitasking rule my day. The starting and stopping process alone is like throwing money away with all the lost mental resources trying to regain focus. When I define what "done" looks like for a task (or at least how far I can take it with the information or resources I have available), and then work to that objective, I get so much more of value accomplished.

I'm too lazy to get away from distractions. When I first started writing this blog I had multiple messages vibrate on my phone and a number of notifications light up on my tablet. I hadn't looked at any of them, but my mind was racing with the thought of, "I wonder who the message is from?" After checking the messages, I moved my phone and tablet out of eyesight, and turned my phone to silent. If I'm working on a new training concept or a keynote address, the last place I need to be is at my desk. There are just too many visual reminders that I could be doing something else. If I see my time as valuable, I'll make other arrangements to get the right work done.

A poem I read many years ago highlights the incredible value each moment has if used wisely:

I have only just a minute, Only sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon me, can't refuse it. Didn't seek it, didn't choose it.

But it's up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it. Give account if I abuse it.

Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.

-Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

As always, I'd welcome your thoughts and comments on what signs you recognize that you aren't giving your time the value it deserves. Comment below or send me an email. You can also view a brief version of this post as an infographic.