There are two keys to managing your time well.
The first is to do the right things.
Sure, you may get things done effectively and efficiently. But are you getting the things done that matter to you most?
The first half of this article is a selection of the best ways to help you to decide what to do at any given moment during your day.
Once you know what to do, you've got to do it right. In other words, how well should you actually do something?
These time management activities enable you to focus on how to actually get the right things done well... but not to the point of 'pointless perfectionism' -- in other words, doing more than is necessary to get things done to the degree that they need doing.
1. Know what matters to you.
Who or what is important to you? Making space to reflect on what really matters in your life is the first step towards doing more of what matters and less of what doesn’t as the time matrix explains.
2. Know your roles.
Make a list of all your roles, responsibilities and commitments, both at work and in your personal life. Organize, adjust, even prune them to create time to do what you want.
3. Know your goals.
We constantly set goals, whether we’re aware of it or not. Conscious personal goal setting is one of several time management activities that will help you reach the level of achievement you want to experience in your various roles -- you have something clear to aim for.
4. Track your time.
Essentially, everything we ever do has a degree of urgency and importance. Keep a time log for a day to help you highlight how you spend your hours, then use the findings to eliminate your worst time wasting activities.
5. Set length limits on lists.
To-do lists are great, if you actually do them. Unfortunately, many people make a list and then add more and more items to it without having crossed off everything else they decided to do. They ‘cherry pick’ easy or urgent tasks without doing what really matters. The list grows, but they don’t.
The solution? Set limits. Draw a line under a chosen number of tasks and don’t move on with anything else until you have taken some action on each one.
6. Set time limits on actions.
As with lists, so with actions. What happens if you’ve got an ongoing role, goal or project that you won’t get done in one go. You have to be disciplined enough to know when to stop for now. This is one of the hardest but most effective time management activities to master.
7. Plan you time.
Do you plan your evening meals? In our house, we spend so much less on grocery shopping when we do. Because we know what we want, we’re less likely to buy things we didn’t actually need. It’s the same with your days, hours and minutes.
Plan what you want to do, according to what matters -- use a weekly planner, but keep it simple -- leave some open time for managing interruptions and other inevitable unforeseen activities.
8. What’s the next action?
Identify and take the very next physical action you will take to move on one more step.
9. Apply the 80-20 rule.
What's the likely return on your time investment? Whatever it is, are you sure it’s worth it? Typically 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. What tasks and activities give you the most bang for your buck?
10. Do what matters.
The Pickle Jar theory is one of the best time management activities to help you clarify how much time you have for what needs doing and what wants to be done.
11. Do less.
How many things are you committed to? Everything you take on reduces your availability for other things. Imagine your life and work as a garden -- are these commitments going to make your garden more beautiful or leave too many weeds to tackle?
One of the most effective time management activities to learn is how to be assertive and say ‘no’ to requests.
12. Fill the gaps.
Are you ready for the spare five minutes when you're waiting? Can you use it or will you waste it?
Plan ahead so you know waiting time isn’t wasting time. A book or pen and paper are always handy to have when you have a window in your schedule.
13. Time box it.
If a task seems too big or overwhelming, try time boxing to get the ball rolling. Commit to something for a small block of time to get you started. This works particularly well for making progress with roles, goals or projects that are important but not urgent.
14. Ask others.
Develop this habit and you'll save hundreds, if not thousands of hours. It's easy to struggle on by yourself, but it so often leads to wasted time and effort. Ask others -– they may or may not help, but you'll benefit one way or another.
15. Make the most of your most productive points in the day.
Some people can maximize their minutes late at night, whereas others, once they know how to wake up early, get to it first thing.
Another time management activity that helps as a habit. Do you really need to do it, or is there someone more suitable that could take it on? Delegate work tasks and the minutes spent will reward you with hours saved.
17. Do one task at a time.
Multi tasking is usually counter productive, particularly at work. Give what you do nearer 100% of your attention -- you’ll do it quicker and better. You may also be surprised at how much more you enjoy it.
Stress seems to melt away when you live and work like this. By the way, 100% attention doesn’t necessarily mean apply 100% effort.
18. Fit the task to the time.
Have you got five minutes? 20 minutes? An hour? What happens if you take on too much? Estimate how long it will take and fit it in. As with all time management activities, this improves with awareness.
19. Do the hardest task first.
Genuinely effective time management activities free up thought as well as time, and this one really works for doing that. If you absolutely have to do it, get it done so you’re not thinking about it all day and then doing it anyway when you’re more tired.
Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from getting it done and out of the way.
Do you trust your memory to store it so you can recall it all? No, neither do I! Get it out of your head by using the simplest and most portable 'capture tool' you can to record and recall what you want to do.
21. Keep a clean desk.
Does the state of your desk reflect the state of your mind? In terms of productivity, cleaning up a messy desk makes it easier to process pretty much everything.
As I'm writing this, my son is bowling. He's got a chance to knock the pins down when he's ready and 'fires'. He's got a chance when he aims and fires. He's got no chance if he's ready and just aims. Whatever it is, get ready then fire -- you can always re-adjust your aim.
23. Aim for ‘good enough’.
Going back to the 80-20 rule mentioned earlier, time spent on most tasks has an optimum point of effectiveness -- the last 20% is usually a time trap. The trick, of course, is to know when quit and when to keep going.
One of the most effective time management activities you can do is to do stuff appropriately well.
24. Know what the end actually is...
How do you actually know when a task is finished? The more specific and measurable you make it, the easier it is to know when it’s done...
25. ... for the moment.
Many tasks and most projects don't get done in one go. Once you know how to stop procrastination and get started, it can be tempting to keep going.
Know when it's time to stop for today and progress another ongoing project. A 'little and often' approach will keep everything active and prevent projects stalling.
26. Justify the end.
When you decide to finish something, it’s always for an underlying reason -- you just need to know what it is. Ask yourself why you finished it when you did. Don’t worry or feel overly guilty about it. Remind yourself that you made what you thought was the best decision at the time.
Reading about effective time management activities is a start. It raises awareness of what works. But to really get the most out of them works, practice them throughout the day.
People are encouraged to invest money, but recognizing the importance of time management and investing in improving that is even more worthwhile. Money can always be created, but time is finite.
Make learning and using some effective time management activities a priority and turn them into daily habits -- you’ll be amazed at the results in your personal and professional lives.
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Last week's TMS question results (Feb 20-26):
"When is it hardest to manage your time?"