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Stop wasting time with this one simple question

(MoneyWatch) Workdays are somewhat nebulous things. We show up at certain times, tromp to whatever meetings and team problem-solving sessions our calendars dictate, dial in to scheduled conference calls and eventually call it quits. One day leads to another. Next thing you know, you're staring down your annual review, and it's time for the office Christmas party again.

When we're in the midst of them, it certainly doesn't seem like our work hours are limited. But just because they're numerous doesn't mean they're infinite. If you subtract transitions, lunch breaks, holidays, half days and the like, many of us wind up working a solid 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. That's 2,000 hours.

Lawyers who live on billing time know this, but most of us don't. We don't have to be fully accountable for those hours. But if you want to stop wasting time, this is an important figure to keep in mind. Because whatever professional goals you want to achieve this year will, more or less, have to fit into those 2,000 hours. Put another way, whatever ideas you hashed out at your last performance review, you have 2,000 hours to make them happen.

So before you add anything to your calendar, ask yourself a simple question: Is this worth that proportion of my 2,000 hours?

A two-hour weekly meeting is 100 hours. That's a full 5 percent of your working year. Is the topic of this recurring meeting important enough to justify that? Maybe it is, or not. But most of us never stop to ask this question. A daily one-hour morning conference call takes up 250 hours, or 12.5 percent of your work year, and 12.5 percent of the work year of any employee you make stay on. Is that worth it? If you cut the call to half an hour, you'd free up 6.25 percent of everyone's year for other accomplishments -- not an insignificant amount. Even an hour spent fiddling around with your inbox isn't costless. It's 0.05 percent of your work year. Not much, of course, but that's still an hour you'll never get back.

In the end, you may decide that any given activity is worth the cost. But just as you can't spend more than you earn and expect to stay solvent, you can't do more with your time than there are hours in the day, or year. Figuring out how you want to use your 2,000 work hours is the first step toward creating a professional legacy. The good news is that it's quite doable in the time you've got.

What are you doing with your 2,000 hours?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user skyseeker
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