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The Time Management Secret That Will Eliminate All Your Time Wasters

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Mental Exercise

Before I show you some sexy time management and productivity concepts, I first want you to do a simple exercise. It will only take you a couple minutes to do.

Grab a piece of paper and draw down a line in the middle of the paper. On the left, write down 5 things that are most important to you (order does not matter).


Now on the right side, write down 5 activities you spend most of your time doing (order does not matter).

No seriously, do this exercise before you continue reading this article. It will all make sense later what I’m about to show you.


Now look at that list you’ve just made and notice how far out of alignment they are. The things you spend most of the time doing are not the things most important to you in life, or not connected. It’s like they look like two different lists from two different people.

In other words, you are not using your time efficiently because you are doing things that are not important to you.

It’s like having your car wheels out of alignment. You want your wheels to be perpendicular to the ground and in parallel with other wheels to ensure maximum tire life, maximum gas mileage, smooth steering and to prevent other car parts from breaking down. When your wheels are a couple of degrees out of alignment and you keep on driving, over time you will put a lot of stress on car parts and tires up to the point where things start to break down. Not to mention you’re burning unnecessary fuel due to inefficiency.

This concept also applies to your life. When you are out of alignment and you keep staying that way, you are wasting valuable time, energy and resources. Plus you might put a lot of stress on yourself when you can’t see that you aren’t working on things that are important to you. If your big goal is to become a successful entrepreneur but your number one activity is watching youtube videos there might be something off….

A couple years ago I did this same exercise (I was introduced to it by Eben Pagan) and it really made me think about how I should spend my time. A person whose actions are not aligned with their goals is not being productive. By the definition of productivity, you should be working on things that bring you closer to your dreams, aspirations, vision and goals. Anything else in relative is a waste of time.

When I first did this exercise, I scratched my head multiple times because it made me realize how far out of alignment I was. Here’s my list when I did the exercise a couple years ago.

Time Management exercise Alignment

My outcome when I first did the alignment exercise. As you can see, I was far out of alignment.

Can you see how some of my values are not aligned with my major activities at all? Here’s the same list where you can see which ones were aligned and which ones were not.

Time Management exercise Alignment

Matches and mismatches of my values and major activities.

Even though I spent a lot of time with my friends, I never saw my family. Due to traveling and working many hours I never made it a priority to have more face time with people who are very important to me. I remember a quote from time management guru Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog on this matter that changed my mind:

The purpose of time management and getting more done in less time is to enable you to spend more face time with the people you care about and doing the things that give you the greatest amount of joy in life.

Another item where I was out of alignment was “living healthy”. None of my major activities even reflected that. In fact, they are more like the opposite of healthy living. I knew I had to remove worrying and watching TV out of that list and replace these with activities that would align with my values.

After doing this exercise and realizing how unaligned my actions with my values were, that’s when I changed my life around and things started to take off. This became my new list:

Time Management exercise Alignment

My new and improved list after reviewing my initial list. You can see now that all my values are aligned with proper activities which I made a priority to be the biggest in my life.

When you are not aligned, you are wasting your time and robbing yourself of energy that could have been channeled more useful. Whenever you catch yourself out of alignment, figure out a way to get back into it and especially pay attention to things you do repeatedly. In other words, your habits. I don’t want you beat yourself up if one of your values is “living healthy” and you one time eat a big juicy hamburger. However, if you repeatedly find yourself in the drive-thru line and ordering junk food, you might have a conflict there. So pay attention to your rituals, not your one-off events. A great and nifty trick to find your major habits is by doing the Sims 3 experiment.

Your values will also change over time depending on many factors and that is totally fine (notice my shift of “girlfriend” to “dating”). Just make sure you are staying in alignment by having your major activities reflect that. Keep the big picture in mind and make sure your actions are aligned with achieving the big picture.

While doing things smarter, faster, saving minutes here and there, using the pomodoro technique, using to do lists, etc, are all good and helpful but it is still not productive if you are using them when you are out of alignment. You are the most productive when your values and goals are aligned with your actions. So let me ask you, what can you do to get yourself in alignment?

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Did you like this post? We have some of our best productivity hacks and tips in the Asian Efficiency Primer. Check it out here.
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(Image courtesy of D’Arcy Norman under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)

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Posted by Jim  | March 22, 2011 at 12:12PM | Reply

That’s a great article guys. Nice one.

Posted by AE Thanh  | March 22, 2011 at 12:47PM

Thanks homie!

Posted by Manu  | March 31, 2011 at 3:53PM | Reply

I just completed the escercise you’ve suggested and saw the mis-alignment in my actions. Simple yet effective.

Posted by AE Thanh  | March 31, 2011 at 4:04PM

Nice! I hope you found a way to correct and fix the unaligned actions. Let me know if there’s anything I can be of help with.

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | May 6, 2011 at 4:15PM | Reply

I did the excersise. Seems like I am spending the time properly, but in different priorities from my wishes.

Posted by AE Thanh  | May 7, 2011 at 7:38AM

@011Bojan:disqus That’s great! Thanks for stopping by.

Posted by Sergio  | May 10, 2011 at 9:37PM | Reply

Awesome post!!! This Blog is insane. Keep it up!

Posted by Jessie Brar  | July 16, 2011 at 5:19PM | Reply

Hmmm I was looking for time management articles on internet since a month and by far this one has helped me tremendously !! Just read and made my list and couldn’t help writing a comment…. I just realized I am not doing a single thing that is helping me with my dreams and aspirations !!! wow m stunned at the moment and I always thought I was very organized and didn’t understand what was not working !! phew !!!!!
Thank you :) 

Posted by AE Thanh  | July 16, 2011 at 5:28PM

Hey Jessie,

Good thing you catched this! Most people never realize how far out of alignment they are. Heck, I was for a long period of time too. Doing exercises like the one I wrote about are great for keeping yourself in check.

And thanks for the kind words!

Posted by Malan Darras  | October 17, 2011 at 12:06PM | Reply

very cool. i just did the list and was pretty far out of alignment on 3 out of 5… thanks. redoing list now lol

Posted by Nhu  | March 10, 2012 at 10:36PM | Reply

Hi, just wanted to say thanks for all the great ideas you guys have. I’m not the most technological person in the world, I have a tendency towards saying “yes” when I shouldn’t, and there’s a lot of changes I’m hoping to implement over the next few months with the help of these articles.

So I’m going to go through the steps and see where I get by the end of it. =) Got my top 5 picked out.

Posted by K.  | March 20, 2012 at 12:03PM | Reply

Great post. Only now do I realize how far I am from my goals. Keep it up, Thanh! :)

Posted by John Lawal  | April 26, 2012 at 3:29AM | Reply

This is a very beautiful write up, more wisdom in Jesus name

Posted by Anil  | May 13, 2012 at 2:21AM | Reply

I’ve just made this exercise and realized that I’ve multiple personality cause none of my actions are aligned with the things that I call ‘vital’. I’m thankful for this post. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | May 13, 2012 at 10:17AM

Thanks Anil. Good luck on getting back on track!

Posted by Tony Mollengarden  | June 8, 2012 at 2:37PM | Reply

Great article! I stumbled upon this while doing some research for a time management course I am working on. I did the exercise and was surprised that I was out of alignment on a number of things. This is a great help!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | June 9, 2012 at 3:27AM

Thanks Tony!

Posted by Tung  | June 29, 2012 at 3:05PM | Reply

Thanks for all the great article guys. I often doing too many unnecessary tasks that wasted lots of valuable time. I will implement your time management tips to my projects. I am really like the pomodoro technique, though I think 50/10 would be better for me.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | June 30, 2012 at 5:56AM

No problem Tung – glad you like our stuff.

Posted by Santel  | July 15, 2012 at 8:18PM | Reply

Hi Thanh,

I should read your post earlier. I was having a serious problem to manage my time to handle different goals I want to archive.

I end up with doing nothing because there are many things to do in my head and I didn’t know which one I should start first.

Sometime I spent 2 hours doing nothing. Now I break my goals into activities and record in Google Tasks.

I like our exercises, I believe it will be useful to many people who are suffering in managing their time. Your exercises will allow them to see quickly what they miss in action.

I will follow more your posts!

Posted by MrsOgg  | August 3, 2012 at 9:30AM | Reply

Wow! This has really been a revelation for me. Throughout my life I have tried and failed to write a succinct list of priorities. I think the reason is that I was combining the lists that you have separated above which only led to confusion. Now I am able to distinguish between the two and start aligning my activities to my truest priorities. Thank you for sharing this!

Posted by J  | September 3, 2012 at 10:46AM | Reply

Really transformative. Thank-you – for this post and for the blog in general, it’s pure gold.

Posted by Andres  | September 8, 2012 at 8:59AM | Reply

This is 100% very useful technique..THANKS!

Posted by Mary Johnson  | October 17, 2012 at 11:59PM | Reply

Out of all the time management tips and tricks that I read, this is probably one of the most useful! This could go well with the current time tracking that I do (using Time Doctor – I always go for those that help keep me focused with the most important things in life and work. Big thanks for this!

Posted by Kevrell  | December 18, 2012 at 6:44PM

Everyone would benefit from reaindg this post

Posted by Dane Custance  | November 23, 2012 at 11:46AM | Reply

Thanks Thanh great article, i skipped over the finer details of this one at first but after doing the exercise i found some issues that i needed to correct. I’ve added the exercise to my google calender :), it works to do this for sure! <3

Posted by Katherine  | December 8, 2012 at 7:32AM | Reply

Brilliant, my lists are almost identical :)

Posted by Takis Athanassiou  | April 25, 2013 at 3:26AM | Reply

Excellent insights about productivity. thank you for sharing

Posted by Austin Bellantoni  | June 25, 2013 at 1:46AM | Reply

Great article guys, and thanks for posting this excellent exercise! I have definitely felt out of alignment in recent months, and completing the task above, my list confirms it. I think now that I have a physical, written analysis of my goals and activities, I can channel myself better, to remove my vices and build productive habits that meet my aspirations. I’m excited to see the changes in 6 months time!

Posted by Julie  | July 11, 2013 at 5:51PM | Reply

I love the simplicity of this exercise. What you are talking about here are your values but without bringing that word into the conversation I actually think it makes it easier to get your head wrapped around the question. What is important? 5 things. Bam. Done. I love it! Personally I also loved that it validated a lot of my recent choices. Thanks for the great article.

Posted by Nicolas Anonymous  | September 13, 2013 at 8:28AM | Reply

Absolutely outstanding article.
Let me just say that my values are completely missaligned, in fact nothing matches in both columns.

You can possibly imagine what my life is like right now.
However this exercise made me realize that.

Thank you again, and may I have the strength to change.

Posted by John Haynes  | October 19, 2013 at 7:38AM | Reply

I’m personally guilty for wasting time because it resulted in delayed tasks and lower revenues. Thanks for sharing your time-management secret. I have read a lot of books about time-management and now I can say that I’m improving day by day. I will try this exercise too!

Posted by Jason Frasca  | January 2, 2014 at 2:39PM | Reply

Eye opening exercise that ensures you are on the right path to success. Thank you!

Posted by EMEKA OGBONNA  | March 2, 2014 at 2:23PM | Reply

I find this very beneficial. Thank you very much.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | March 5, 2014 at 11:56PM

Thanks Emeka :)

Posted by MrsOgg  | March 6, 2014 at 9:10PM | Reply

Hi! I’m just returning to this post after a year and a half and did the exercise again. My life has changed enormously and I have grown so much since then. I’m happy to say that almost all my activities line up with my most important priorities. Doing the exercise made me realize however, that I focus heavily on my family and health sustaining activities like cooking, eating and working out. Not all bad but, my goal this year is to find a little more balance for my other purposes in life. Thanks for the great blog, guys!

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | March 6, 2014 at 9:18PM

You’re welcome!

Thanks for the kind words :)

Posted by Mal  | March 31, 2014 at 12:46PM | Reply

It’s so funny. I considered myself to be SOOO productive. And then I did the exercise from above. Um, wow. SO off base (and I was just gonna skip over it, too). Thanks you for posting this.

So funny how such a small thing can say something so big….

Posted by Fatos  | June 17, 2014 at 1:43AM | Reply

Thank you very much about this post.

I just did it and I immediately figured out how far I am from the things that I value most. I am a bit ashamed for that, but I am trying to empower myself to improve and grow, instead of worrying about the future.

Thanks again.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by Anders  | August 28, 2014 at 11:48AM | Reply

Great advice. I wish I was able to follow through on that way of aligning myself with my values a few years ago, when I was working in a job I didn´t like and being really unproductive as a consequence. I finally changed jobs, and suddenly I was aligned…
After reading alot of productivity blogs, I constantly wonder how people even come to the first step; knowing what our values actually are? Most of the time we are too busy to even realize that.

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | August 29, 2014 at 10:49PM

Hey Anders… I wrote about my process on how to find your values here:

Takes about 30mins to an hour… but the clarity gained is well worth the time.

I am writing a follow up post to that on this site that shows how my gf found her values using the technique described and used her values to make a difficult decision. It will be published Sept 29th.

Posted by Jeff Dobrowski  | December 2, 2014 at 9:02AM | Reply

This was a very simple, helpful and insightful exercise. It took me two minutes to realize what I need to do to walk in alignment with who I am. I was able to change my behavior immediately. It encouraged my wife that she’s walking in alignment with her true self. Often we don’t think we’re doing all we should be doing. When one realizes they are it’s a big relief. I will be sharing this post with close friends and family.
Thanks and I love your blog,

Posted by Jackie Harder  | July 1, 2015 at 1:16PM | Reply

Nicely done! Thanks for sharing the exercise.

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