Recently, I was talking to a friend who described his excavation business as a ‘time-hungry beast’. It sits by his side all day, every day, at night and on weekends with its gaping mouth drooling for time and attention. But I realised “That’s life.”

Wherever you turn there’s family, friends, customers, television, kids, telemarketers, books, chores, telephones, advertisements, daydreams, meetings, Gordon Ramsay and exercise all wailing at you for a piece of your time.

Some of these distractions are welcome, while others are life-sucking. But they’re all hungry and determined to chew up your time. No matter how hard you work or how productive you are, you cannot satisfy them all.

I’m a sucker for those smash-hit business books that seem to be multiplying every day. Two that I’ve really enjoyed are Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (see Have you eaten your frog today?) and The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

Both books are full of interesting ideas, but the main thing I took from them was the importance of being ruthless about how you spend your precious time.

They stress the importance of knowing your top priorities and making sure you focus on them. This is not about being a selfish, driven workaholic. It’s about consciously deciding who and what gets your attention, rather than just tending to the squeakiest wheel on your to-do list.

By all means, be generous with your time, but be clear that no matter what you’re doing and how beneficial it is, this time could be spent doing something else. Helping one person means you can’t help someone else.

I think the really hard part is accepting that it’s okay to say no and that some things on your list will not get done. Inevitably, people will be disappointed because you cannot please everyone.

Perhaps the question needs to be “Who will I disappoint today?” or “What can I add to my not-to-do list?” Otherwise, it’ll end up being high priority tasks and people that miss out.

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