In their best-selling book Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the cofounders of 37 signals, complain about workaholics, explaining that they are people who “try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them…
Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.” They say that the real heroes are at home, even though the workaholics would like them to feel guilty for “merely working reasonable hours.”
You probably already have a definition in mind of what time management means to you, but it comes with many different meanings.
Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “What does it matter how much we do if what we’re doing isn’t what matters most?” Time management
is about doing what matters most first. It doesn’t mean doing more things in less time. In fact, time management is creating systems or systematic practices for doing what is of greater importance, even if that means doing fewer things.
Another way to talk about time management is as choice management. We can’t manage time. Time happens. We all have the same amount of time. We can, however, manage our choices in relation to the time that we have, what we choose to do with our time.
Just as with organizing, time management is a skill. It requires practice, and it, too, takes time, like learning a new sport or how to play an instrument. The good news is that we are capable of excelling at time management.
You just have to think long-term. You have to be committed to fixing systems and tweaking behaviors and routines, and just like with any other skills, the more you practice, the more you are aware of it, the better you’ll become at managing your time.
Three Ps of Time Management
No one-time management or organization system alone is good for even one person. Even if you find a system that resonates with you, you might need to mix and match techniques and get pieces of different systems until you find what works best for any given moment.
To achieve successful performance, any plan should include the following three fundamentals:
1. Plan. Identify what you should work on, everything in your realms of need to do and want to do.
2. Prioritize. Identify what you should do first, second or never.
3. Perform. It is one thing to know what you should do and another to do it. Performing means committing to your plan.
You’ve probably heard the cliché that failing to plan is planning to fail. You can always change your plan, but you have to start somewhere. You start by taking everything that is swirling in your mind and putting it all on paper or in your electronic system. Do a brain dump. Write down everything you can think of that is weighing you down and causing you stress. Your brain should be freed to think strategically and execute your plan, not to try to remember everything you need to do.
Once you have cleared your mind of the swirling to-dos, it is time to look at your list and decide what you are going to do, when and how. Start by quickly estimating how long you think it will take you to perform each task, project or activity on your list.
Four Decision Categories
Remember, time management is choice management. We all have much more to do than time to do it, so you need to look at all your activities and decide which ones to allocate time to. There are four key ways to decide whether you will do something:
1. Choose. Identify what is important and essential for you to do.
2. Remove. You can take things off your list by saying “no.” You can decide not to do some things.
3. Wait. You can push back doing tasks or activities until next month or a few months from now.
4. Delegate. You can delegate and have somebody else do something for you.
You choose to do a task when you enter it on your calendar with time allocated to accomplishing it. Once you have made your plan and you have added it up and decided what you are going to do, then you do it. As the saying goes, “Plan your work and work your plan.”
Prioritizing with Urgent and Important
By prioritizing your tasks and all your to-dos, you get a clear sense of which activities in your life are moving you forward, toward your goals and toward important things, so that important things don’t suddenly become urgent.
To prioritize your tasks every day and into the future, it helps to answer the simple question, “What is most important for me to work on first?” Let’s start by understanding what is meant by important and urgent:
• Important activities are of greatest significance or value. They are likely to have a profound effect on your success and will lead you to achieving your goals.
• Urgent activities demand immediate action or attention, but they are often not associated with your goals.
Using this simple classification, you can then further categorize your activities into four different boxes:
1. Important/Urgent –– Activities you need to do:
• Crises and other deadline-driven emergencies
• Critical meetings
• Project deadlines
2. Important/Not Urgent –– Where success happens:
• Preparation and strategic planning
• Working on projects
• Training and professional development
• Exercise, relaxation and self-care
3. Not Important/Urgent –– Activities that cause unnecessary stress:
• Opportunities with a deadline
• Requests for information or help
• Self-imposed deadlines
4. Not Important/Not Urgent –– Big time-wasters:
• Telephone calls
• Trivial busy work that occupies or wastes your time
The more you learn about time management and understand the value of your time, the more you will protect it and not let others “steal” your time with interruptions, unnecessary chatter and meaningless activities.
Once you have planned and prioritized, you have to perform. There are, however, several things that keep us from performing at the optimal level. Whether you call them distractions, challenges, or time-wasters, they stand between you and optimal performance. Examples include perfectionism, procrastination and multitasking:
Perfectionism. Among highly successful people, there is often a tendency to pursue perfection, which frequently leads to successful but suboptimal outcomes. Focusing on doing things right is fine but can lead to perfection paralysis, which means that if you’re not completely sure how to do something or don’t believe you are capable of doing it to perfection, you don’t do it at all.
Focus on doing things adequately rather than right. Your perfectionism should be focused on things that really matter or your biggest priorities. Think about doing the right things adequately as striving for excellence, not perfection. Or think about adopting this slogan: Done is better than perfect.
Procrastination. Procrastination is delaying to start or finish a task (or several tasks) that should be a priority. The ability to overcome procrastination and tackle important actions can have the biggest positive impact on your life.
There are 10 different ways to overcome procrastination. These strategies are not new, and you will likely find them in other places, but they are worth repeating:
1. Delete. Is what you’re working on something that really needs to be done? Perhaps you should delete the activity so that you can move on to what is important.
2. Be positive. Procrastination is usually tied to negative self-talk or when you say things such as, “I have to,” “I should,” “I must finish.”
3. Take the first step. If you start the task right now, you remove all the anxiety and feelings of stress.
4. Ask for help. When lack of clarity causes procrastination, sometimes asking for help is all you need to do.
5. Break it down. Break down large projects into actionable steps. Huge assignments don’t look as big broken down into the smallest steps possible.
6. Follow the 25-minute rule. To reduce the temptation of procrastination, each actionable step on a project should take no more than 25 minutes to complete.
7. Give yourself a reward. Celebrate the completion of project milestones, and reward yourself for getting projects done on time.
8. Set and respect deadlines. If you haven’t been given a deadline for a project, ask for one or assign yourself a deadline, and write it down in your calendar.
9. Remove distractions. You need to establish a positive work environment that is conducive to productivity. Remove any distractions.
10.Be accountable. Having an accountability partner is one of the best ways to stay on track with tasks and projects.
Multitasking. Brain scan studies reveal that if we perform two tasks at the same time, we only have half of our usual brainpower devoted to each task. So when we multitask, we’re only half there for each activity. The truth is, we can’t do two jobs simultaneously. Our brains aren’t capable of focusing on two separate things at the same time.
Instead, the brain switches rapidly between one task and another, which causes us stress and to lose concentration, as it takes time for the brain to refocus and concentrate on one task and then the other. Multitasking becomes ineffective and ultimately counterproductive