How to Know Where to Invest More Time - or Less

11/18/2014 01:55 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2015
Many of you are "idea" people who:
  • often think of different ways to approach a problem.
  • like to do things "ideally."
  • care about quality.
  • feel a bit dissatisfied with most results.

Your pursuit of excellence is a huge asset when pursuing your most important time investments as Cal Newport so eloquently describes in his post about remarkability.

But when you take a high-quality, idealistic approach to everything from selecting toothpaste to composing a masterpiece, it's almost impossible to achieve your ideal overall life and schedule.

To help you work through this dilemma, I recently devised the INO System to assist you in thinking about how you approach each item on your to do list.

This is not an "ABC" or "123" method of deciding what to do in a day. Instead this is a way of deciding on the benefit of applying more time and energy to an activity that is already in your schedule.

Here are definitions of the three types of activities and potential examples (you get to decide how your daily activities fit into each category):

Investment: Spending more time on these activities could lead to a significant increase in the benefits you receive.
-Professional example: a significant career enhancing project
-Personal example: quality time on important relationships

Neutral: These activities give back as much as you put into them.
-Professional example: hourly work
-Personal example: pleasure reading

Optimize: More time spent on these activities decreases benefits.
-Professional example: routine e-mail or paperwork
-Personal example: cleaning the kitchen

At the start of each day, you can label each item with an "I," "N," or "O" to help you remember whether it's worth putting more time and energy into that activity.

In order to maintain balance, even the "investment" activities will need to have some time boundaries. But in general, you want to:

-Complete the "Optimize" activities as quickly as possible. (they charge an interest rate)

-Limit the amount of time you spend on "Neutral" activities. (they have a zero percent interest rate)

-Maximize the time you spend moving forward on "Investment" activities. (they pay you back with interest)

About Real Life E
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover™ process. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs.

McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals. She was selected as one of the Top 25 Amazing Women of the Year by Stiletto Woman.