Time management 101: image of antique pocket watch

Time Management 101: Because Time Is (Not) on Your Side

According to my recent reader survey (You can take the survey here.), a lot of people are struggling with time management.

As I began looking for time management best practices, I came across this great quote by  Susan Ward:

“The focus of time management is actually changing your behaviors, not changing time.” 

She’s right, you know. No one can create time. Or increase how much we have. We can only learn to be better stewards of the 24 hours we’re given each day.

So if we can’t change time, how do experts suggest we manage it? 

This week I spent time researching, pondering, and asking friends for their time-management tips. Several solutions kept popping up so let’s take a look.

  • Plan your day in advance. You can do this the night before (at the office or before you go to bed) or first thing in the morning.
  • Delegate. Don’t believe the lie, “I’m the only person who can do things right.” Assign things to employees, interns, fellow volunteers/board members, etc..
  • Hire. If you can afford it, pay someone to tackle tasks such as: cleaning your house, buying your groceries (Tons of my gal pals are using grocery delivery services like Kroger ClickList), detailing your car, handling your data entry. I recently did this. In the interest of a friend’s divorce-attorney-fund, I hired her to input recipes for my some-day cookbook. It was a win for both of us.
  • Work in 90-minute stretches. I read lots of articles recommending working for  90 minutes–the brain’s natural time limit for focused thought–then taking a break. Once your brain hits overload, the work will seem harder and take longer. Set a timer for 90 minutes and when it beeps, change laundry, empty the dishwasher, or walk the dog.

You know the next time management technique. Surely you do.

  • Just say “no.” When people ask for your time (ie. Coffee or lunch date, serve on a committee, look over their resume, etc.), don’t knee-jerk-people-please and immediately say “yes.” Create and memorize a go-to phrase to buy yourself time. “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you.”
  • Set a time limit. For each task, give yourself a finite amount of time to complete it. This creates a sense of urgency and keeps you from believing you can take all day.
  • Stop pursuing perfection. My blogger-writer friend Cole Smith and I, Karen Haring too, love the Seth Godin quote: “Done is better than perfect.” Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to get a project perfect, aim for excellent. 

This next one’s important. Pay attention!

  • Avoid “half-work.” This term was new to me. Half-work is another phrase for multi-tasking. It’s when you check Facebook or Instagram while writing a report. It’s looking at your email while talking on the phone. When you half-work, the quality of your real work is not 100%. And it often takes twice as long. The same Cole Smith I mentioned above prescribes “time-blocking” as a way to avoid half-work. Read more about how to time-block here. By the way, it’s how I wrote this blog post.

Beyond the above best practices, what can we do on a daily basis to be better time-managers?

On your daily to-do list, identify your 3 W.I.G.s. Or H.I.T.s.

A W.I.G. is a Wildly Important Goal

A H.I.T. is a Highly Important Task

Whichever acronym you use, determining what’s a W.I.G. and what’s a H.I.T. is how you prioritize your work. Be ruthless.

Try this trick on Monday morning when you’re selecting your top three tasks to focus on. Pretend you’re flying to Hawaii with your family on Tuesday. What three things MUST you accomplish to make sure your imminent exodus to paradise happens? Highlight those three to-do items with a chubby neon marker. They are your W.I.G.s.

Did you know Mark Twain was a time-management genius? He’s the person who said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Which means:

Tackle your 3 most important tasks early in the morning. 

Once you accomplish those three things, you already will have been hugely productive. This is probably where the Pareto Principle came from which has been paraphrased like this: “80% of results come from 20% of the action.” For more information on this idea, click here.

The added bonus to getting your 3 H.I.T.s out of the way early is that everything will be easy after they’re crossed off your to-do list.

Another reason for doing these things early is that for many people, the first hour of work is the most productive. This is a great article on that idea.

Eat your “biggest frog first.”

What is the hardest task on your list? For me, “hardest” usually means scary, uncomfortable. Maybe it’s emailing an entry to a writing contest, querying an agent, or submitting a manuscript. Perhaps it’s calling your doctor to discuss test results.

Getting the “biggest frog” out of the way early in the day is liberating! You will feel empowered and energized and go at your two remaining W.I.G.s with increased confidence. 

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

According to theartofmanliness.com, the above statement was the principle that guided Dwight D. Eisenhower through his entire, hugely successful career as general and president. 

The excellent article goes on to differentiate between the two words:

  • Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout “Now!” Urgent tasks put us in a reactive mode, one marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.
  • Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. When we focus on important activities we operate in a responsive mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.

Here’s a great chart that helps solidify this idea:

Time Management 101: Image of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

When you work from home (which is my situation), 

Procrastination happens when urgent tasks leapfrog over important tasks.

Thankfully, I’ve figured out a way to fix this particular problem. I try to schedule all my “urgent” activities for the weekend: grocery-shopping, banking, getting gas, mailing packages, etc.. This leaves my 9-5 Monday-Friday blocks of time free to focus on work. 

And this is where I’m going to end today’s post. Because it’s now urgent I fix supper. But,

We’re not done here. Because we haven’t discussed our society’s #1 distraction. Any guess what it is?

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