"I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves." Nothing in human nature -- or the nature of minutes and hours -- has changed since the Earl of Chesterfield offered that advice three centuries ago, and we're all well served to follow it today. 

"Taking care of the minutes" is like avoiding being "nickel-and-dimed." In both cases, it's about keeping life's little things from piling up and turning into big things. This is a savvy way to act, because most of us don't hemorrhage money or time in huge chunks. Problems like that would be obvious -- like pouring out a whole bucket of water onto the ground. Instead, we dribble out our resources here, there, and yonder through the little leaks in the bucket that escape our attention. 

At any stage in life, you can steward your time and money better if you're attentive to those leaks. Sure, maybe later on you'll have a bigger bucket, too -- a higher income, more free time with the kids out of the house, et cetera. But let me promise you this: if you don't get good at finding and preventing the little leaks now, a bigger bucket won't help. It will just leak at greater volume. 

The other blogs on this site can help you a ton with finding and repairing the leaks in your financial bucket. Here, though, I'm going to offer you five straightforward tactics that will help you repair the leaks in your bucket of time. 

  • Work in longer stretches. If you want to get the most out of your time, avoid interruptions like the plague. The guideline is that you want to work long enough at a given task that you can lose track of time doing it. It doesn't matter if the work is nuclear physics or folding laundry -- you'll be happier and more productive when you work in this mode.
  • Don't switch tasks. Multitasking is a poisonous myth, because the human brain cannot do two things of any complexity at one time. Attempting to reverse the tide of that neurological truth costs us all untold time and energy. Pick one task and hammer it out, then repeat as necessary.
  • Make yourself unavailable. We all feel the tug of the inbox, the telephone, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. And it is great to talk with friends . . . but not when it's time to make hay. Turn off your e-mail for a little while. Hole up in an empty conference room. Mute the ringer on your phone. The world will still be waiting for you an hour from now -- and you'll be much better prepared to face it with an extra hour of great work under your belt.
  • Track your time. Unless you've ever done this, you'll probably be shocked at how many "fifteen-minute" activities (reading the day's headlines, checking e-mail, running to the store) actually take much longer, either in one sitting ("I can't believe I spent the past hour on Facebook!") or spread across the day ("My inbox is still overflowing!"). Find out where your time is going so you can learn to budget accordingly.
  • Emphasize completion. Even if it's just completion of one part of the bigger whole, get out of the habit of stopping mid-stream. Find at least one thing you can finish in this batch, in this sitting, in the next hour, or by the end of the day. Things that are DONE can't waste any more of your time.

Now that you're armed with these tactics, come join me on the Bucket Repair Brigade!