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Invest your time like money to achieve your goals, says time coach — here's how

Elizabeth Grace Saunders
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Time, like money, is a valuable resource. Knowing how to manage your time well can make the difference between feeling like you've wasted your day and feeling like you've spent it wisely.

So how exactly do you invest your time to get the best return on your hours? As a time management coach, I teach people many strategies to help them do this. One of them is the INO (Investment, Neutral, Optimize) Technique. The INO Technique is about clarifying how you think about the time you put into different types of activities.

It's important to think about how much time it's worth putting into different items, because if you're not careful you can easily spend almost all your time on lower value activities, such as answering email, and never put sufficient time into the higher value tasks, like working on a business development activity such as a strategic or marketing plan that could advance your life and career.

I want you to avoid that trap. Understanding the three categories in the INO Technique is a good first step.

Investment activities

Items that fall in the "investment" category are ones where putting in more time can lead to a bigger positive return. Putting in more time on a new client proposal, for example, could lead to landing a bigger or better deal than you would have gotten if you had spent less time on it.

The financial equivalent of this type of time investment might be putting money in the financial markets or an investment property where the more money in could lead to larger returns out.

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Neutral activities

Things that fall into the "neutral" bucket with your time are tasks that need to get done but where more time doesn't necessarily lead to better results. For example, a project meeting at work can be a good use of time, but having the meeting take longer doesn't usually lead to better outcomes.

You want to get done everything in the appropriate amount of time — no more and no less.

The financial corollary could look like paying for groceries. It's good to get healthy food but spending a lot more money on food typically doesn't lead to exponentially better outcomes.

Optimize activities

Finally, we have the "optimize" grouping. This contains tasks where it's best to put as little time into them as is needed to get the job done. For example, if you can improve efficiencies with answering email or doing standard admin tasks, you should. There is no additional benefit to spending larger amounts of time on these items. These tasks just need to get done.

The financial example is expenses like insurance. If you can spend less for the exact same coverage, then you likely should.

You want to get done everything in the appropriate amount of time — no more and no less.

As you plan your day, take time to think about whether activities fall into the Investment, Neutral, or Optimize categories. And if it helps, label them with an "I," "N," or "O" to remind yourself.

Then, as you go through the day, approach each task with that intention. Look to maximize the time you can spend on the investment activities, contain the time you put into the neutral activities, and reduce the time spent on the optimize activities.

This way of using your time will lead to the strongest overall results so you can maximize your return on your time investment.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time coach, speaker, and the author of "The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress" and "How to Invest Your Time Like Money."

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