The topic of managing time has been written about as much as anything we can think of. If you search the web you will find thousands of listings. But what it really comes down to is this.
–Knowing what you want to accomplish
–Doing the most important things first
–Sticking to what you are working on (also known as – doing one thing at a time).
The time management matrix. There is nothing new here, nothing.
But it may be new to you. These are not my ideas, these are axioms or truths, discovered over the centuries. These are not my theories or creations but simply a presentation of known principles. Principles that never change. But you have to take them in, digest them and come to see the truth in these lessons, or they will remain just more words.
In other words, having priorities and not being distracted from what you are working on is really all there is managing your time effectively. Computers and the Internet can automate things, but you still have to decide what is important.
I used to be in the software business, at some point I realized that in many cases we were simply helping customers speed up bad-processes, or even the wrong processes.
Sometimes two different departments in some big company would hire our teams to work on two competing or contrary systems!
So while this is one factor that led me from software development towards management consulting, the more important point is that while systems of time management and prioritization are well known, it is very easy for individuals and organizations to forget to do what they should be doing.
Plan your work and work your plan. –One mnemonic or catchy phrase that captures the essence
So the best time management skills for success are any skills that can help you from getting distracted. There are many tips, skills, tools, phrases, reminders and systems. We will look at a few. But If you keep the essential point of not getting distracted in mind, you will have a head start.
The time management matrix
As we begin to explore time management, what we find is that it is more than managing schedules: you also have to manage priorities, or what’s important. Dealing with priorities should come first because it really does not matter how focused you are on something if you are not working on the right thing, it is not going to move you forward most effectively to where you want to go.
One approach to time/priority management
So what is the time management matrix? In the simplest terms, the juncture between the minutes in the day, your activities and your priorities.
There are a lot of ways to “get things done”, some are better than others. Like many things, the best way probably takes longer to learn than simpler ways. What is to follow may not be the absolute best way, but it is a very good simple technique. A method that is powerful and effective and can be presented and learned in a few minutes. You can start doing it tomorrow, and it would be contributing to good habits.
- Okay, get a piece of paper or your favorite screen tool. Now think of the current major goal or outcome you want. Picture it in your mind. What it looks like, how you will feel when this goal is achieved, who you will be when you have achieved the goal.
- Now think of the steps or tasks that must be completed to reach this goal. What is standing between where you are now and where you want to be? What has to be done? As something pops into your mind, write it down. Just write it down, don’t think about how to do it, don’t analyze it, don’t prioritize it, just write it down. (don’t overthink it, just write it down! (Just trust yourself, we will come back to this).
- Now repeat step number two, re-picture your goal, what it looks like, how it will feel when you get it, who you will be. See it as completed as much as you can. Now again think of what needs to happen for you to go from where you are now, to where you want to be. Write it down.
Do this until you have about 7 items on your list. 7 is a good number, it’s not a magical number or anything, it’s just a good number of items for this process.
- Now look at your list, just look at it for half a minute. Now cross off the least important item.
Then cross off the next least important item. Do this until you have three items left.
- Now arrange these three items in the order of most importance: what you know you should do first, second and third.
- Now get started. Work on number one. Just number one. Work on just number one until it is done. If something comes up that prevents you from continuing, like you have to wait for someone to respond, or you have to wait for parts to arrive, only then move on to item number two. Just Item number two. Work on item number two until it is done. If something comes up that prevents you from continuing with item number two, then start working on item number 3. Go back to item one as soon as you are able to. As soon as you get the information you need or the part comes in, or whatever was obstructing you before. You get the idea.
- One thing at a time. As much as is possible, do one thing at a time. And be doing the most important thing you can do to accomplish your objective.
The thing is, you have to train your mind. You have to develop discipline, the discipline to stay focused. This is a good way to train yourself. Tools, software, devices and gadgets can help, but ultimately you have to develop habits that move you forward. “Good behavior” has to become a habit, habitual, automatic, second-nature, who-you-are. And it will, if you stick with it.
Now let’s take a look at four elements that operate in two dimensions that may help you refine how you use your 7 item list over time. One dimension is “Importance” and the other dimension being “Urgency“. Some things are important but not urgent or not time-critical. Some things are time-critical, but not important.
- For instance, paying your insurance premium is important, but if it is not due for 9 months, it is not urgent. You certainly don’t want to forget it, but it does not need to be a distraction today.
- On the other hand, a ringing phone or email notification has urgency, but may or may not be important.
- So we have things that are urgent and important, for instance if the insurance or mortgage payment is due today.
- We also have things that are not important, nor urgent, which we should probably not relate to at all.
You always want to be doing the most important thing at any given time. But what’s most important? This next technique will cover a few ideas, the 80/20 rule and the rule that says that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion and the rule to take action and then measure results. Many of these “rules” have names, like the Pareto principle and Parkinson’s Law and so on. In reality, people have been getting things done long before someone assigned their name to how they were doing it. Pareto did not invent or create the situation that roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. But he did notice this and started pointing it out to other people.
There are books written on deciding what’s important and how methodically measuring outcomes of actions can help us to make better decisions as to what is important. If you are advertising on billboards, but no one sees your billboard, or the people who do see your billboard are not the people interested in your product, you want to know that, don’t you?
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The best time management skills for success
But what is important?
That is going to depend on exactly what is going on in your business or life at any particular time. But somethings to keep in mind that may not seem important, mostly because they are not urgent are sometimes strategic elements. Things like:
- Relationship building
- Research and development
- Long-term marketing goals
- Strategic planning
- Yes, it is true there are a number of factors to consider:
- Prioritizing what you should do and when you should do it.
- Scheduling when you will work on which tasks
- Scheduling how long you will work on which tasks
- Not getting distracted while you work on the particular task at hand
Time management for beginners
The time management matrix is just another way of saying priorities, importance, time and activity can lead to success or failure. As already mentioned there are thousands for books about time management and scheduling. One of the simplest things that can be easily overlooked is just a calendar. While there are many sophisticated tools that will help you manger time, if you don’t have any system right now, just a simple calendar, paper or electronic is a good place to start.
This is a big topic that quickly gets mixed with both project management and strategic planning. Once we start looking at things like project management there are dozens of tools, and I have used dozens, even created some for clients long ago. But a very good one that has an amazingly full free plan is Trello. This will help with time management, and project management and we even use it for strategic planning with some clients.
To repeat what was said earlier about the best time management skills for success,
- Stick with what you are doing without being distracted,
- Do the most important/productive thing at any given time
- Do one thing at a time.
- Make it a habit.
To follow are some internal links to pages that talk more about these items:
The best time management skills for success