What? There’s only 24 hours in a day? Yes. We’re all in the same boat, and one of the biggest differences between top performers and low performers is developing techniques that make the most of the limited resource of time. “Time management” is actually a very silly term because no one can actually manage time. Time just ticks away unabated regardless of how hard you try to wrangle it in, but here are some things you CAN and should manage:
- Your Focus
- Your Activities
- Your Information
- Your Attitude
No matter how fast or hard you work, unless you learn to manage these areas of your life, you will get nowhere fast. No matter whom you work for or how well their business is run, these four things are within your control and it’s up to you to manage them for success.
Step 1 – Set Aside a Little Time to Think Big
This may seem counterintuitive, but make a regular habit to stop moving, take a deep breath and clear your mind of all the anxiety of busyness. Set aside 10-20 minutes (mornings work best for me); Turn off the radio, the TV or any other source of stimulus. Try not to think of anything at all for a minute or two. Just breathe deep a while and be thankful that you can. Now think deeply about who you are, where you are happy, what’s really important to you. Realize that you have many choices to make today. Those decisions will be made much more cogently in a clean and focused mind rather than a harried panicky one. What are your ultimate goals? How do you want to be perceived and remembered? Take time to reaffirm what you’re all about and what you really stand for.
Step 2 – Break Down Your Day Into Smaller Tasks
I like Stephen R Covey’s suggestion that there are four quadrants that all tasks fall into: 1. Important & Urgent, 2. Important & Not Urgent, 3. Not Important & Urgent, 4. Not Important & Not Urgent. Unless we take the time to think about tasks this way, a lot of time can get spent on things that are neither important nor urgent. That time could be reclaimed and re-appropriated toward tasks that will get you where you want to be. Try this experiment: Give no thought to the four quadrants for now, but list out your daily tasks as you do them for a week, with approximate time spent on each. At the end of one week, try to fit each of these tasks into the appropriate quadrant.
Step 3 – Reflect, Redirect, Deflect
Chances are real good you will find you spend at least some time on things that do not get you any closer to your goals. You’ll find other things that you should spend more time on and still others that deserve some time, but less than what is now given. Take time every month to reflect on daily tasks and how they contribute to your goals. Think about how you can stop doing things that don’t get you anywhere and how you can redirect your focus toward the activities that truly serve to get you closer to your goals.
You might also like to read David Brock’s post: Strategic Thinking – Getting the Big Picture