Effective Time Management Skills
What is time management? Can you really manage time? or do you manage yourself?
Time Management, should be called activity management, since you’re allocating your actions with the intention to be most productive within a given day. Think of it more as managing your priorities because you will always have more things you want to do than time to do them. I want you to develop a time management system so you can look back three years from now and have achieved your top priorities instead of having felt busy all the time, but really achieved nothing. So I want you to think differently before I give you a simple system to manage your activities.
How to manage your time is a mental game
In the groundbreaking book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Dr. Stephen R. Covey really opened my eyes as to why most people fail to reach their goals.
He makes the critical distinction between urgent activities and important activities.
Something urgent could be answering the phone.
Something important could be regularly hitting the gym.
What’s urgent requires your attention immediately, but is often insignificant, especially over the long term. What’s important is usually easily procrastinated, but pays dividends when focused on regularly.
Covey created a quadrant to sort these activities:
|Important||– Major Deadlines
– Health Emergency
– Call from world leader
|– Regular exercise
– Building relationships
– Following an investment plan
– Creating a time management plan
|Not Important||– Text messages
– Phone calls
– Other people’s small problems
– Funny cat videos
– Social Media
- Not Important / Not Urgent: In this category we find all those wonderful pleasures that most people love! Watching TV, playing video games, checking Facebook. Activities in the category feel good, but they will destroy your life. If you spend too much of your precious time in this category, it means you are not in control of your life somebody else is. Focus on minimizing and cutting these activities out of your life.
- Not Important / Urgent: This category contains the interruptions, unimportant phone calls, e-mails and things that are pressing but don’t really matter. This is the category of other people vying for your attention. Get these things out of the way as quickly as possible and be ready to say no.
- Important / Not Urgent: This is the category where the true treasures of life are discovered. You will need foresight and planning so that you can maximize your time spent on activities of this category while minimizing time spent in others. Examples include: Taking care of your health, Investing, Looking out for business opportunities, Making the extra sales calls, creating a time management plan, reading 10 pages of a good book per day… These are the things that if you spend most of your time on, will lead to the greatest success.
- Important / Urgent: Activities in this category are usually a result of having putting off activities in the important / not urgent category for too long. Instead of working on prevention and planning, you are now reacting. This category can be minimized by acting to prevent crises with proper planning and organizing, though you will always have deadlines and the like. For example: You fall sick and need to go to the hospital because you never exercise and eat fast food too often.
I only skimmed the surface of this principle, but the key take away in the form of that you should prioritize your time around the Important / Not urgent category and get things done BEFORE they become urgent. Here’s the tough love:
Drop your excuses. Stop procrastinating. Live in this category.
You’re going to find time to watch your favorite show anyway. You definitely don’t want the ugly life you’d get if you just watched Netflix on your free time so take yourself by the horns and start doing what’s actually important!
I know this is easier said than done, but with this shift in mindset, you need:
An Effective Time Management System
First, you need clearly defined, ideally written down goals. You need to know what’s most important to you before you plan your activities. For a simple guide, read this article on proper goal setting.
Other useful items include:
– An agenda or calendar to track upcoming events
– A notebook dedicated to planning
– An easily updated To-Do list such as Google Keep
– A highlighter
I like to block off a solid hour every Sunday to create a plan for the upcoming week. Consider it a planning date with yourself. You might be wondering why I recommend using pen and paper to create your plan. Neuroscience has shown that the pen is mightier than the laptop. You understand better and remember more when you take written notes vs. computer typed notes[₁].
On the blank piece of paper, brainstorm absolutely every action you can think that is urgent and/or important. The best way to approach this process is to use your goals as guidelines. Write down everything you can think of doing that will advance your career, then everything related to your health and so forth. Make sure to look at your agenda so you don’t forget anything what you are already committed to! Do not censure yourself. It is normal that you don’t do everything you brainstormed, the idea is simply to get everything out of your head and onto paper. This process helps to eliminate overwhelm by clearing the thoughts looping in your mind.
Now that everything is written down, highlight the actions that are most important. Schedule these actions immediately and block off the time so you know they will get done. Afterwards, pepper in the other lesser important actions. You may be surprised to find that you can do more than you thought you could and that you have way more time than you imagined. However, as life actually happens, be flexible and be ready to say NO when other people start tugging at your time! You know your priorities now.
You can use a daily to-do list like Google Keep to manage your day-to-day activities along with your agenda. Don’t forget those daily activities like reading 10 pages!
You should come out of this time management system with a list of brainstormed actions for each important area of your life (with the most important actions highlighted), an agenda or calendar with said activities scheduled and a daily to-do list prioritizing actions within the day.
When the next Sunday planning date rolls along, evaluate what you did and didn’t do during the week then restart the process.
No more excuses! Get to work developing those time management skills!
P.S. I definitely recommend Stephen Covey’s book!