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What Einstein, Obama and Pee-wee Herman Can Teach You About Time Management

Albert Einstein was said to have had a closet full of suits that were all the same. He didn’t want to waste time thinking about what to wear every day, so the story goes. He had more important things to think about.

Some other pretty famous leaders have adopted that idea, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Pee-wee Herman. (Yes, Pee-wee Herman!)

This isn’t just about clothes, though. It’s about anything that wastes your time and prevents you from focusing on your critical duties.

Michael Lewis wrote about this about President Barack Obama in a Vanity Fair: “You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. ‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’ ”

Or, as our friend Pee-wee — forever in a gray Glen plaid suit — said: “I know you are, but what am I?”

“What am I?” is no small question, and it’s far more important than asking what to wear. Are you just someone who makes money? There will always be more money to earn. Are you someone who values time more than money? Then you understand that you can never earn more time.

Time is your ultimate nonrenewable resource (unless you agree with Einstein on this: “… for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one”).

Whether your goal is to grow your company into the next Apple or to spend every possible minute with your family, managing your time more effectively will drive your success at both. The demands on your schedule will grow exponentially as your business expands. It’s common for a small-business owner to feel crushed beneath the flood of new customers and the ever-increasing workload necessary for keeping the operation afloat.

That’s why “How can I manage my time better?” is a question we hear from small-business owners all the time at Agents of Efficiency. It’s a topic of urgent importance to the survival of your business and to your own happiness. Often, however, when we delve into the details with entrepreneurs who are struggling with time management, we discover that they’re actually asking something more along the lines of: “Assuming I continue doing everything I’m doing right now, how can I accomplish more in each day?”

Let’s talk about Einstein again for a moment. Some people say it’s not true that he wore the same thing every day — and, again, this isn’t about clothes. But it is true that Einstein said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”

Another way of saying that is: Do less, better.

Don’t make the enormous assumption that you should continue doing all the things you’re doing. What can you leave for someone else so you can be free to focus on what’s important? You must focus on solving the greatest challenges facing your company even if that means trying unravel the secrets of the universe.

Remember what the president said: “Focus your decision-making energy.”

Other than by wearing the same outfit every day, how else can you rearrange your schedule to focus that energy? And how can you make time for other priorities in your life that are worth more to you than money? By taking a hard look at time management, and how to do it better, you’ll be able to take the next step, which is answering the ever-elusive question of work-life balance.