Time Management Tips: Do the Hard Things First

It’s a pretty common principle of time management. When you have a list of tasks to do, choose the one that’s hardest and do that first. That way, you tackle it with the most energy and the freshest mind.

What’s interesting is that many well-organized people use this principle quite well in the short term, but then completely discard it when looking at the long term. When they figure out today’s to-do list, they’ll choose the hard task, but when they look at plans that cover years, they avoid the hard task.

The easiest example I can think of for this phenomenon is retirement savings. Many, many people, when they’re first given the chance to save for retirement, choose not to save anything at all. They choose the easiest part first – not saving anything at all – and save the hardest part for later – socking away 10% or 15% for retirement.

As many as 40% of households near retirement age have no savings at all for retirement – and the numbers get even worse when you look at younger folks.

Your long term goals work almost exactly the same as your to-do list for today. You have more energy and more mental capacity now than you will have in the future, so you should tackle the hardest parts of your goal now, not later.

Retirement savings? Kick that rate up high now while you’re employed and have youth on your side and a strong ability to find a new job if needed.

Debt repayment? The more extra payments you throw at it right now, the less interest you’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

Insurance? A plan to get life insurance or health insurance in a few years doesn’t help you if something goes wrong in the next few months.

Yes, it’s hard, especially when you’re younger and your income level is lower.

However, youth has tremendous advantages. You have a much greater capacity to be flexible with your life. You have more energy and more career opportunities. You also have a much longer time horizon, meaning that you’ll have much more time on the other side of that hump.

What can you do to get started? Clean out your closet and sell your unused stuff. Choose the smaller apartment. Make some harder choices today like eating a cheap dinner at home.

Want a specific example? Try out the 52 week money challenge, but knock out all of the highest numbers first – or, better yet, do the entire thing backwards, starting with the $52 week. It’s pretty sweet when you’re finishing up that project and the last few weeks only require you to sock away a few bucks.

You are never younger and fuller of energy and motivation and ability to solve life’s problems than you are right now. Doesn’t it make sense to step up to the plate and knock down some of the more challenging parts of your goals?

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