There are an infinite number of demands on your time and attention. Many problems and tasks are new and can’t be planned. Many are thrown at you urgently by co-workers. The opportunity to use your time effectively or ineffectively is huge.
Time management is a habit that begins with goal setting. Without setting goals, you are merely putting together lists of “stuff” on your plate at that point in time.
Your goals should be SMART:
Before the start of each week, month, or quarter, write down all of the goals you want to achieve during that period of time.
• Thirty minutes of focusing will allow you to really plan what goals you want to hit and how to hit them.
• Always think in advance but be focused on NOW.
Years ago I heard a story about filling a jar with Rocks, Sand & Water.
If you took a large jar and filled it with LARGE ROCKS all the way to the top would it be full?
NO, you could then take a bunch of pebbles and pour them into the jar filling up all the space – then it would be full – right?
NO, you could then fill the entire jar with sand, filling all the spaces between the rocks and even the pebbles – then it would be full – wouldn’t it?
NOPE, only after you poured some water into the jar – filling all the spaces between the sand, pebbles, and rocks would the jar be full.
BUT- even then you could pour a bit more water into the jar allowing the meniscus to build and the water level would actually rise above the top.
This is the type of planning your need to do:
· Put the Rocks – important items, or A’s into your schedule in advance.
· Then add the next list of B’s.
· All the C’s and extra stuff that come along will get done, like they always do, but at least by starting with the largest priority items, you know they will get done.
Planning allows you to work on the high priority items BEFORE they get urgent and begin causing you stress. If you tried to put all the water, sand, pebbles and rocks into a jar in the reverse order it wouldn’t work – same with managing your time.
The hardest part of time management is sticking to your plan. The second hardest part is to know when to change part of the plan so that you can hit your goals.
Getting started with time management does require some planning, but once you familiarize yourself with the process, it will become second nature to you.
1. List activities
To get started, list everything that you have to do in the time frame for which you’re planning. Do a full brain dump. Don’t miss a thing.
After you’ve listed your activities, put a number beside each of the items (e.g., 1, 2, 3, and so on) on the page. You must number every single item!
Having a hard time figuring out priority? You may find Steven Covey’s Principle of Impact and Urgency helpful. Both are linked in deciding what needs to be done first. Impact is assessed by asking yourself, “What will help the most towards my end goals?” For example, if you’ve got a deadline looming, organizing your files isn’t going to take top priority.
Next, separate the activities into A’s & B’s. A’s are considered to be those items which must get done today. A’s are also usually reserved for items that will help you hit your goals. B’s are for those items that should get done if possible. Once you’ve done this, order each ‘A’ by importance, like this: A1, A2, and so on. Then repeat this process with the B’s.
Once you are done, start putting each of the activities into your calendar with specific times you’ll do them, for example:
10:00-11:00: Interview Customer Support Rep – (A1)
Remember, when you’re putting the A’s & then B’s into your calendar, be specific with times and leave time open for interruptions like emails and phone calls, because you will get them! You’ll need the buffer time to allow you to stay on track.
It’s hard to stick to the plan. As humans, we’ve all caught ourselves working on low priority tasks such as cleaning out our desk drawers or checking email instead of working on critical projects. The hardest part is sticking to the plan.
The second hardest part is knowing when to modify your plan. For example, maybe it’s more important to continue a call you’re doing that is an ‘A’ priority and run over time than to end on time to start a ‘B’ priority item you’ve already scheduled. A’s have priorities over B’s. And lower numbers have priority over higher ones.
Remember: Plan your work and work your plan. I find telling at least one other person what you are going to get done in a day will help you stay focused on doing it.
Review your progress often, typically daily and weekly. Are you hitting your goals? Have all A priorities been complete? This is also the best time to transfer uncompleted B’s to a new day.
Finally, a bit of self-analysis: Did you take too long to do any tasks? Why? Were they worth doing? Is there anything you can do to better manage your time tomorrow?