Have you ever noticed that some people always seem to have enough time to do everything that they want to, while others are always rushing from task to task, and never seem to finish anything? Have you ever wondered how the former manage it, especially when YOU are the one rushing from task to task? Are you just positive, in your heart-of-hearts, that the other guys have less to do? Every day? Well, no, actually. It’s much more likely that they are using their time much more effectively and they are practicing good time management skills.
It is interesting that while time management is not a very difficult concept, it’s surprisingly hard to do in practice. In order to put it into practice, it requires the investment of a little time upfront. It really is necessary to prioritize and organize yourself. Unfortunately, time management is not something that is successful in the long term when it is done without forethought. But once done correctly, you will find that with only minor tweaks, your day, and even your week and month, fall into place in such an orderly fashion that there is suddenly time for everything you need to do.
While it may indeed seem counter-intuitive to devote precious time to learning about how to make time work for you instead of against you, rather than using that time to get on with your work right now, the benefits are enormous and very much worth that comparatively little amount of time you must spend. You will be rewarded with:
- Greater productivity and efficiency.
- A better professional reputation.
- Less stress.
- Greater opportunities to achieve important life and career goals.
Perhaps one of the most important keys to good time management lies in understanding the difference between urgent and important. You may be saying to yourself that ‘urgent’ tasks demand your immediate attention, but whether you actually give them that attention may or may not actually matter. 'Important' tasks do matter, and not doing them may in fact have serious consequences for you or others.
For example, answering the phone is urgent. Right? The caller will hang up if you don’t answer, and you won’t know why they called. However, it might be an automated voice telling you that you may be eligible for compensation for having been sold insurance you didn’t really need and now you’re eligible to be part of a class action lawsuit. That’s not important.
We’ve been told that getting our teeth cleaned and checked annually is important. It will prevent us from getting gum disease and make sure we don’t have any cavities. It’s important. But it’s not urgent. Unless we wait too long and get a toothache.
What about the days it’s your turn to pick your children up from school? That is both urgent and important. If you are late, they will be worrying about where you are.
Checking your Twitter account or reading personal email is neither urgent nor important. Is it the first thing that you do each day when you get to the office?
So, the key to prioritizing your time and your workload, whether at work or at home, is this distinction between urgent and important. You may find using a grid, like the one below, to organize your tasks into their appropriate categories is helpful:
You may find it easier to make lists, use file folders, or perhaps even a bulletin board divided into sections. There is no right or wrong way, as long as it works for you. Keep in mind that urgency and/or importance is not a fixed status. You should review your task list regularly to see if anything needs to be moved up because it has become more urgent and/or important. Very occasionally something needs to be moved down.
If you find that an important task keeps getting bumped down the list by more urgent but still important items, there are a couple of things you can do. You need to first consider, of course, whether it is genuinely important. Decide if it actually needs to be done at all, or if you have just been telling yourself that you should to do it. If it really is important, then consider delegating it. You have a staff for a reason. Use them.
Remember that being busy is not the same thing as being effective. In fact, if you spend your day in a frenzy of activity you will often achieve even less, because you will be dividing your attention between too many different tasks.