When it comes to time management, the easiest question is to ask: What time is it? You can go up to most any stranger on the street and ask that question and he or she will have some idea at a good answer.
The harder question is this: What will I do with my time? In response to that people show their knowledge in three different types of responses:
reactive – I do whatever comes my way throughout the day
inactive – I don’t do anything with my time
proactive – I use my time intentionally and wisely
In order to move toward a more proactive response to our use of time, consider the following:
1. Stop at different moments during the day and ask, “Is what I am working on right now the best use of my time?”
As you answer that question (and not relying on others to answer it for you, you’ll discover the best use of your time means:
• doing the things that bring you closer to achieving your goals (you do have goals, right?).
• accomplishing work that has a high priority of importance attached to it (have you prioritized your work?).
• working in your area of strength and giftedness (otherwise you would have delegated this).
2. Rather than focusing on when you need to finish something, focus on when you should be starting.
Then start when you need to. One reason projects and tasks don’t get finished on time is that we think we have plenty of time, so we put off the important work in favor of the urgent items. Until they become urgent.
3. Do your most important work during those periods of time when your energy is highest.
The earlier in the day the better. Take control of the day before it takes control of you. Don’t procrastinate with those things you don’t like doing but which are necessary.
4. Make a plan for what you will work on and then work your plan.
If we don’t have a plan we tend to allow ourselves to be interrupted, distracted and delayed from accomplishing what is most important to us. We make plans for the weekend or for a vacation. Why does our work deserve any less?
• I recommend making a weekly plan. List out your objectives that you want to accomplish and then prioritize those objectives. I even created a tool to assist you. Download The Weekly Schedule Task Planner (pdf).
• Try to work ahead by planning your week the day before it starts.
• Don’t overbook. Give yourself enough time to complete the objectives you want to accomplish.
5. Recognize that you will need to make adjustments.
Time may be a fixed entity, but managing it is not an exact science. There will be some interruptions. Changes will happen. Achieving balance always takes constant correction. Give yourself some breathing room for interruptions and new or unexpected work. When you have a “margin of safety” it helps you maintain control.
6. When possible, insert breaks, open time slots, and transition moments in each day.
A simple rule of thumb is that most things will take more time than you think. Don’t create additional stress that you don’t need by cramming activities together. Allow some extra minutes in between so that you won’t be as rushed.
7. Keep your desk or work area free of clutter.
Clutter distracts you from your primary task. It creates additional stress. As I recently tweeted: Clutter confuses. Keeping things in order promotes a feeling of control.
Do you have some other ways to tweak your time? How do you plan to be proactive with your time?