08/20/2013 08:14 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

Time Revolution

Everyone needs a time revolution. It is not that we are short of time or have too much of it. It is the way we treat time - even the way we think about it - that is both the problem and the opportunity. Time revolution is the fastest way for anyone to take a giant leap in happiness and value to other people.

The 80/20 principle suggests the following hypotheses:

➢ Most of the value we add in personal, professional, intellectual, athletic or artistic terms is achieved in a minority of our time. There is a profound imbalance between what is created and the time necessary to create it. Crudely put, 80% of achievement happens in less than 20% of our time.

➢ Most of our happiness occurs in quite bounded periods of time. Crudely, 80% of happiness is experienced in less than 20% of time.

Remember, these are hypotheses to be tested against your experience - they are not self-evident truths or the result of extensive research.

But when the hypotheses are true - as they nearly always are for achievement, and quite often for happiness - they have four startling implications:

• Most of what we do is of low value.

• Some small fragments of our time are much more valuable than all the rest.

• If we can do anything about this, we should do something radical - tinkering at the edges is pointless.

• If we make good use of less than 20 percent of our time, there is no shortage of it!

Time should not be thought of as a sequence, running left to right, and running out fast. It is better to think of time as a synchronizing and cyclical device, as the inventors of the round clock intended. Time keeps coming round, bringing with it the opportunity to learn, to deepen a few valued relationships, to produce a better product or outcome, to add more value to life, and to become deeper and more generous people. We are told to live in the moment, and in one sense this is great advice; but we don't just exist in the present, like goldfish with no memory and no hopes and expectations. We spring from the past and have a treasure trove of past memories and associations, and a valuable sense of self that derives from past successes and failures; and our future, like our past, is already immanent in the present. We have alternative futures, but they are all rooted in the past and the present. We live in a series of interlocking triangles, with the past at the centre, surrounded by another triangle that is the present, and a bigger one still that is the future.

If we think in this way, we highlight the need to carry with us, throughout our lives, the most precious and valued 20 percent of what we have - of our personalities, our abilities, our friendships and deep relationships, our physical assets, and our abilities to think and imagine - and to ensure that they are nurtured, developed, extended, and deepened, to increase our value to ourselves and to the people and ideals we care about. The future is a dimension of the present, giving us the chance to create something better - our better selves, our circumstances, our sense of calm, and our lasting value to the people around us and perhaps to society at large. All we have to do is give rein and better direction to our most positive 20 percent.

Here are seven steps to detonate your time revolution:

1. Make the difficult mental leap of dissociating effort and reward

Be lazy. If you have limited time, you make better use of it. If you are hyper-active, you can't be reflective. Being lazy and thoughtful are two sides of the same coin.

2. Give up guilt

There is no value to doing the things you don't enjoy, unless they are highly valued by people you care about - and in a sense you therefore enjoy them. Do the things you most like doing. Make them your job. Make your job them. Most people who have become rich or contributed hugely to the world did it through doing things they enjoy, that express the essence of their personalities and insights. Creativity requires rhythm and relaxation in your life.

3. Free yourself from obligations imposed by others

It is a fair bet that when 80 percent of time yields 20 percent of results, that 80 percent is undertaken at the behest of others. The 80/20 principle shows time and time again that the 20 percent of people who achieve the most either work for themselves or behave as if they do. It is right to have some obligations, but select them with great care and with a light heart.

4. Be unconventional and eccentric in your use of time

You are unlikely to spend the most valuable 20 percent of your time in being a good soldier, in doing what is expected of you, in attending the meetings everyone assumes you will, and in following the norms of your group. The tyranny of low-value uses of time stems from being conventional and predictable.

Work out the most unconventional or eccentric things you could do that will be fun and add value, deviating as far from the norm, without being ejected from your world.

Who do you know who is both effective and eccentric? Find out how they spend their time and where it differs from what is typical. You may want to copy a few of the things that they do and don't do.

5. Identify the 20 percent that gives you the 80 percent

Identify your happiness islands: the small amounts of time, or the few years, that have contributed a quite disproportionate amount of your happiness. Then try to deduce what is common between all or some of the happiness islands.

Repeat the procedure for achievement. Classify your achievement islands - the short periods when you have achieved a much higher ratio of value to time than during the rest of your week, month, year, or life.

List separately your achievement desert islands - the periods of greatest sterility and under-achievement. What do they have in common?
Now act accordingly.

6. Eliminate or reduce your low-value activities

For the 80 percent of activities that give you only 20 percent of results, eliminate them if you can. If this requires a radical change in circumstances - a new job, new career, new friends, even a new lifestyle or partner - make a plan for the desired changes. Otherwise, your potential for achievement and happiness will never be attained.

7. Multiply the 20 percent of your time that gives you 80 percent

The point of examining the common characteristics of your happiness and achievement islands is to isolate something far more fundamental than what has happened in your life - it is to isolate what you are uniquely endowed and qualified to do best.

In the short term, take the 20 percent of time spent on high value activities up to 40 percent within a year. This one act will raise your productivity by between 60 and 80 percent. The ideal, of course, is to move the time spent on high-value activities to 100 percent, but this may take several years. As long as you are moving in the right direction, that is fine.

Time revolution is not easy. You need to have the courage of your convictions, to be iconoclastic, and to experiment. But what else do we have on this earth that is as important and valuable as time? If we are not serious about how we spend our time, and how we view time, then we are not serious about life. Drifting through life with most time taken up by trivial or uncongenial tasks is no way to live, and no way to become the person you really are.