that’s the stuff life is made of. – Benjamin Franklin
We all have the same 24 hours each day, yet how we spend this time makes all the difference in the world. Time management is the art of increasing your efficiency and productivity to achieve your goals faster. It is not about filling every moment with productive work, but rather its purpose is to organize your life so you will have more time to do what is truly important to you.
Make a decision right now that you will become a master of time management by practicing the principles and techniques of this chapter until they become habitual. Few other skills will improve the quality of your life as much as the skills of time management. In short, time management revolves around spending more of your time focused on things of higher value.
Time is the most precious resource we have in our lives. Almost everything you have today is the result of how you have spent your time in the past. Treat time as a valuable resource – do not spend it, give it away or use it thoughtlessly. People who are successful all value their time highly. They continually work at becoming more organized in order to use their time more efficiently.
The only way you can get enough time for everything you want to do is by saving time that you would ordinarily spend somewhere else. Therefore, you should stop or dramatically reduce all those activities that do not contribute anything to your life, including major timewasters such as television, newspapers and people who take up your time thoughtlessly. The word “no” can sometimes be the greatest time saver of all. If someone asks you to do things that are not important to you in any way, just say no. You have the right to be selfish when it comes to large commitments of your time, for that time is your life.
Always plan your work time in writing. A written plan enables you to work far more efficiently than working from your mind, and it leads you into action. To do your planning you need a planner. It can be a paper based planner, a mobile phone application or a web based system – whatever you feel is most convenient. Either way, it needs to contain a calendar where you can write down your tasks, appointments and notes for each day. This calendar will not only make you more efficient and organized, but it will also serve as a scorecard that gives you an ongoing sense of achievement.
Your appointments are to be placed under their specific date and time in your calendar while your tasks are listed by priority on the day they are scheduled to be done. Your planner should also contain your goal action plans as well as a master task list. The master task list contains everything you want to do in the long-term future that does not fit into your immediate goal action plans.
It is important to keep a piece of your planner with you throughout the day so that you always have access to your daily tasks and appointments, and also so that you can record new ones as soon as they appear. Whenever an appointment shows up you can schedule it in your calendar and whenever you find a task without a deadline you can write it down on your master task list.
Take 20 minutes at the beginning of each week to allocate tasks from your master task list and goal action plans to the days of that week. Then schedule them into your planner’s calendar. This weekly planning allows you to schedule important activities from a long-term perspective before getting caught up in the day to day urgencies. Be sure to schedule tasks for all five areas of success during the week to ensure that you keep your life in balance. A good question to ask yourself is: What is the most important thing I can do in this area this week? These 20 minutes are also a great time to do a weekly goal setting session where you set new goals, adjust your plans and review your progress.
Spend 5-10 minutes of your mornings or evenings for daily planning. This is the time to fill in the details of the coming day in your planner. You list every major task you want to get done that day so you continually have something important to do while you are working. When you start working from your daily list you tick off each item after you have finished it. If you cannot get a task done on the day you planned it, you move it over to your next daily list. Whenever a new task comes up for today you write it down on your daily list before doing it. A task that seems urgent or important will show its actual significance when it is written down next to your other tasks. Once you are done creating your daily list of tasks the next step is to organize it in terms by priority.
The master skill of time management is the ability to set priorities among your goals and tasks. There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the important things. A quick way to determine your highest priority for the moment is to ask yourself: What is the most important thing I could possibly be doing? This is a great time management question to keep you on track and maximize your productivity and efficiency.
A simple yet powerful way to prioritize your tasks is by using the ABCDE system. First, categorize the tasks by putting an A, B, C, D or E next to each task. A is a must do – reserve it for very important tasks with serious consequences. B is a should do – less important tasks with only mild consequences. C is a could do – tasks that are optional and could be nice to do, but have no significant consequences. You should never do a C task when there is a B task left, or a B task when there is an A task left.
D stands for delegate. You should delegate everything you can to free up more time for your A activities. You can write the name or initials of the person you want to delegate it to next to the task. E stands for eliminate. These are items of low priority that make little or no difference at all. Simply remove them from your list. To set meaningful priorities you must also eliminate activities that are no longer important.
Once you have applied this method to your list you can go back over it and organize each category by priority. Put an A1 next to the most important task, A2 on the second and so on, and then start working on your A1 task until it is finished. Or, if you want more flexibility, do not number the tasks at all. Instead, just ask yourself the question “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?” whenever you are picking a task.
Time is your scarcest resource. For this reason you should buy other people’s time whenever you can. Hire people and delegate whatever you can so that you have more time to do the valuable things that only you can do. Focus your efforts on high-value tasks that will pay you what you want to earn, and give less important tasks to others. Train subordinates to handle new tasks, so that you can delegate even more. Teaching others how to help you do your work is a very good use of your time.
Single handling means that you always work on one task at a time until it is completely finished. It is one of the most important principles of time management ever discovered. Sustained, concentrated effort on a single thing is essential for high productivity. To help maintain your focus you should have a clean and organized workspace and begin with only what you need to complete the task in front of you. This is a powerful motivation for staying with the task until it is done. Then, when you are finished with it, put it away so that you also end with a clean work area.
The momentum principle says that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to get started, but once started it takes much less energy to keep on going. To build momentum you should resolve to be intensely action oriented whenever you are working on your goals. Action orientation means that you are constantly taking action and moving quickly towards what you want without hesitation.
You should also develop a sense of urgency to get the job done quickly. One powerful way to do this is to add a short-term deadline to each task on your daily list with the number of hours or minutes that you allocate for the task. Then, whenever you start a major task you measure how long it actually takes you to accomplish the task as you attempt the beat the deadline. In general, if you limit the time allowed for an activity you will work much faster. This kind of urgency will not cause you any stress because you are internally motivated by your own choice.
As you build momentum you will start to experience flow. This is an enhanced feeling of happiness, confidence and ability where excellence becomes effortless, which comes from step-by-step success at an important task that challenges you to the fullest.
Between you and your goal there is almost always a few limiting steps or bottlenecks that determine the speed at which you move forward. Most of these constraints are inside of you and have to do with your own lack of skills, abilities or personality traits. Find out what they are and focus on eliminating them. Ask yourself: What are your limiting steps? What is it in you that is holding you back? What sets the speed at which you accomplish your goal? Why are you not at your goal already?
Evaluate everything you are doing based on your current goals. Ask yourself if there is anything in your life today that you would not get involved in again if you had to do it over. Is there any commitment of time, energy or money in your life that is conflicting with your goals, or causing you stress or worry? If so, your next question is how to get rid of it.
One of the biggest timewasters of all is the unwillingness to admit that you have made a bad choice. This can keep a person trapped in an unhappy and stressful situation year after year. Working at the wrong job, for example, is one of the greatest wastes of time that you could possibly engage in, and yet most people working today would rather be doing something else. By applying this thinking to every part of your life, your ability to make decisions will improve and you will free up more time for higher valued activities.
The more attention you pay to how you are using your time, the more efficient you will become. A great exercise to bring your time management into your conscious awareness is to create a time log. Simply make a note every 60 minutes or so of the activities you have been doing. Continue this for a week. Activities may include for example: travels, hobbies, sports, family, work, exercise, sleep, learning and socializing. The time log can then be compiled into a spreadsheet, with different colors representing different activities, so you can more easily grasp how you are using your time.
This single act can increase your productivity enormously, because you can objectively see where your time goes and make deliberate changes. It is also a great way to see if you have your life in balance. If you find that one area of success is almost completely missing, then set a new goal for that area. If you are unsure about what kind of goal to set, ask yourself: What is the most important thing I can do to improve this area?
Once you have done a time log for a week, use that information to create a spreadsheet for how you would want your average week to look. How many hours per week do you want to use for individual activities? Try to balance your time between each of the five areas of success: health, fun, relations, work and learning. Keep this ideal time management sheet with you throughout the week or put it in a place where you can see it every day. Do your best to follow it, but at the same time make another log of the actual activities you perform. Then, at the end of the week compare your ideal week to your actual week. See which activities did not get the time they deserved and which took more time than you wanted. Look for ways to optimize your time management based on this information and repeat this exercise over time.
- Begin each week by scheduling tasks from your goal action plans and master task list.
- Create, prioritize and work from a daily list of tasks that you carry with you.
- Focus single-mindedly on your highest valued task until it is complete.
- Develop forward momentum through action orientation and a sense of urgency.
- Abandon tasks and activities that are no longer valuable to your current goals.
Brian Tracy - Eat That Frog (book/audio)
Brian Tracy - How to Master your Time (audio)
Handbook of Success