Time is the one resource that remains a constant and whose value increases as you get older. They should teach a class on how to best manage time, in every high school and college. But I guess teenagers and college students don’t quite value time as much as they will do later.
I’ve been a hardcore list maker since I was 25 or so . My list making coincided with my first real job, which was at Microsoft. Since then, lists have been my preferred tool for managing my time effectively.
But managing time is also about managing one’s goals and priorities. Managing time is about what you’d like to do and what you must do in a given period of time. So unless you can figure out what’s important to you and what needs to get done, you’re going to have a hard time effectively managing your time.
So how to think about what you’d like to do – in other words, your goals, ambitions and dreams?
As I explain in my previous post, I use the 5F tool to help me think through my dreams and ambitions over multi-year periods. I use PowerPoint to do this. You can just as easily use Excel or Word or a piece of paper. I suggest something electronic since that will make it easier to track and update.
With my 5F chart, which includes a clear view of what I want to accomplish over the next year, I create rolling quarterly, monthly and weekly goals. For this set of goals, I use a notebook – one notebook per quarter. Quarterly goals are especially important for work. And its good to share your goals with your partner(s) at home and at work and get their input.
The next step is to translate your goals etc. into to do lists. Goals serve as a way to prioritize your to dos. Goals don’t change very often but to dos change as you do, learn and adjust.
I use apps to track longer term and repetitive to dos. Reminders to pay bills, get health check ups and buy stuff at regular intervals are best left to software. I’m currently using GoTasks for this.
I use my quarterly notebook to manage my daily and weekly to do lists. I prefer the analog approach because it gives me a convenient way to view up to 90 days of my to dos and goals.
If I don’t get something done today, I move it to the next time slot that makes the most sense. I try not to have more than 1 or 2 things incomplete at the end of a day, out of an average of 10-12 items at the beginning of the day.
You do need to be realistic about how much you can get done during a day. Its important that you know your capacity otherwise you’ll be under constant pressure, or worse, consistently under scheduled.
Some days, I plan to get a few things done and all hell breaks loose. A new to do pops onto my list. If its a high priority item and it’s essential to accomplish an important goal, then I have no qualms about focusing on it and getting it done . The other to dos can be moved to other days.
I set aside several hours a day where I am not scheduled for anything. That time comes in handy when unexpected to dos pop up. But more often than not, I tend to use that time to think or do something spontaneous – such as write this blog post. In high pressure, highly scheduled environments I have sometimes insisted on no more than 4 hours of meetings a day.
Email can be a time sink. Email, if not managed properly, is a drag on the entire day. I find that my day is more productive if I get through my email first thing in the morning. I strongly believe in the time amplification power of InboxZero.
I have some principles with which I approach time management:
- Managing my time is important to me, my company and my family. Really important. So I take it very seriously.
- If something needs to get done, it must be on my list of to dos.
- If something makes it on to my to do list, then I will do everything in my power to get it done. Especially if I have committed to another person that I will get it done.
- If I can’t get something done the day it was on my list, I will get it done as soon as possible.
- I will set aside a few hours every day to think or be available as a buffer. Remember, if its on my list, I will do it.
- Every once in a while, throw caution to the wind, and enjoy a day or two without a list.
On occasion I’m going to have to work a little bit longer in order to get everything done but that should be few and far between.
Sound complex? Probably. But as you use these tools regularly you’ll get into a rhythm. It’s a case of invest a little effort to get a big return of time.