7 Principles of Time Management

- How to make the most of each day

Do a quick search for the 'principles of time management' online, and you’ll get a variety of suggestions.

So, who’s right? Who knows best?

Of course, there’s no definitive answer to that question. There are many time management principles that could be said to make a difference to way you manage each day.

But having read ‘Do It Tomorrow’' by Mark Forster, I was introduced to ground breaking ideas and systems that helped me improve my organization and time management enormously.

Here’s an overview of the seven principles of time management, as outlined by Mark in the book:

1. Have a clear vision

  • Ask yourself "What am I actually trying to achieve?"
  • The clearer you are about your vision, the more likely you are to achieve it.
  • It’s as much about what you’re not going to to do as it is about what you are –- you are establishing limits. For example, "I will process my emails for no more than 20 minutes."

2. Do one thing at a time

  • Successful people don’t take on too much. They concentrate on doing and finishing one thing at a time as far as possible.
  • Little and often -- the human mind works best when we apply this principle.

3. Define your limits

  • The best way to be creative is not to try to think without limits, but to carefully define what those limits should be. Limitations actually encourage creativity.
  • If you feel you can’t get going or you're getting nowhere, it’s probably due to poorly defined limits. For instance, if you have a limited amount of time you will be able to concentrate your efforts better than if you have unlimited time.

4. Use closed lists

  • Any list that has a line drawn at the end of it can’t be added to. This enables you to deal with all the items on it without the distraction of new work being added. 
  • Once defined, it can only stay the same or get smaller. 
  • It doesn’t matter which order you do things, provided you are going to clear the whole list.  
  • If you have a backlog of work to deal with, use the closed list principle.

5. Isolate your backlog – don’t add to it

  • Get the system for new stuff right. You need to be able to process a day’s work.
  • Get rid of the backlog –- if you’ve got steps 1 and 2 right you can chip away at the backlog. It will only get smaller, until it disappears altogether.

6. Reduced random factors

  • These are things that stop us from completing our planned actions and can never be eliminated. Your day starts to run you rather than you running it. We tend to react to random elements; that is, we use the reactive part of our brain to react to who or whatever makes the most ‘noise’. We tend to prioritize by noise.

7. Commitment v Interest

  • Compare ‘I’m interested in writing’ to ‘I’m committed to getting a regular column into the local newspaper’. Nothing is likely to come of it unless interest is turned into commitment.
  • What are you prepared to commit to? Commitments are limited. Knowing your commitments is an essential part of making decisions. They are what make the real difference in your life and work.
  • Often, our rational and reactive minds pull in opposite directions. For example, "I want to be slim, but I also want some cake". The question to ask is "How will you feel when you’ve done it?" This is where commitment counts.
  • If you’re considering a commitment, ask yourself three questions: (1) What would I need to start doing in order to commit myself fully to this? (2) What would I need to stop doing in order to commit myself fully to this? (3) Would I be prepared to pay the price for full commitment to this?

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These principles of time management work if you apply them.

If you haven't already done so, I'd recommend you read the book to get the most from Mark's ideas.

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