Control Your Time Like a Chess Grand Master

4 ways to dodge problems that can kill your progress

The grand masters of chess aren’t obsessing about their next move and the exact problem it presents. They’re thinking 5, 10 and sometimes 20 moves ahead. They keep their eye out for potential danger on the horizon and constantly maneuver to avoid it.

You can dramatically increase your chances of success by doing the same thing in your life. You can minimize the impact of potential surprises that throw your schedule into chaos and keep you from spending your time on the most important things. We’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous quip, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Serial winners—the most successful people—live by it.

What’s the source of most of the problems and obstacles we face in life? A lot of the people who’ve taken the Serial Winner assessment—53%—believe it’s time, at least some of the time. But it’s not time, really. It’s lack of control over our time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and some people accomplish extraordinary things in those hours. How?

People who are deadly serious about their goals prevent disruptions in their schedule. Click To Tweet

Part of doing great things is going on the offense in your life—being proactive, aggressively pursuing your goals. But the other equally important part is making sure you’ve got your defenses up against the small problems and big disasters that can totally disrupt your schedule.

“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”—Bear Bryant

You can’t predict or prevent every problem in life, but here are 4 strategies for preventing those that stem from lack of control over your time.

1. Set and Keep Boundaries

So few people do this. They let other people dictate how they use their precious time. Successful people don’t!

In his book Activate Your Brain, Scott Halford tells a story of “Jason” who is leading a committee for a nonprofit. The board president starts to bombard him with requests for a phone call to talk about what needs to be done. Jason, who is an entrepreneur, tells him he’s with clients and traveling until next Wednesday. The board president pressures him to talk in the evenings or on the weekend. What did Jason do? He explained that he doesn’t handle volunteer board business past six in the evening or on the weekends.

They talked the next week and everything was just fine.

Would you have done that? How many times this week did you let somebody else dictate how you spent your precious hours?

2. Communicate to Set Expectations

Whatever it is you need, in terms of time, to achieve your weekly or monthly goals, make sure you’re clear with the people in your life about those needs.

Most of us are afraid to say no. But if you set boundaries and expectations in advance, you don’t have to!

Let’s say you’re working toward your MBA in the evenings. You can’t miss a class. Make sure your boss knows that there’s simply no way you can work past 6 o’clock on Thursdays. It’s too easy to gradually let other things, less important things, take over our schedule. When we set expectations with the people in our lives, that’s less likely to happen.

3. Create a Plan B

Okay, we can’t stick to our boundaries 100% of the time, right? Things do come up, and we have to adjust. But how do you maintain the time you need in your schedule for the things that are equally important?

You should have a Plan B for your schedule for when you get knocked off course, and you should make sure that everybody is on board with that Plan B.

If you need time every week for a big project outside of work, talk to your boss about getting some extra time off whenever you need to work extra hours. Most companies won’t do a one to one for comp time, but they may give you one to two (an extra hour off for every two hours of overtime). Whatever your plan is, make sure everybody agrees so you can put it into play as soon as you need to.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Think About Possible Problems

None of us really like to think about the bad things that could happen. When we set our schedule or develop our game plan, we’re very optimistic. As I wrote in Serial Winner, we’re masters of underestimating.

Don’t let yourself become a victim. Keep your eyes up. Take the time to think about the problems that could crop up and consume your time. What are you not thinking about, or not letting yourself think about, that could likely happen at work, with your family, with your kids, with your health? What can you do to stay in control if those things do happen?

I’m not telling you to worry about things that are never going to happen. I’m saying don’t stick your head in the sand. Think ahead, be pragmatic and proactive, figure out how you’ll respond, and then stop thinking about it until or unless it happens.

If you’re going to get done what you really want to get done, you have to stay in control of your schedule—and you can.

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