Have you ever wondered how some people seem to have enough time to do everything they want, whereas others always seem to rush from task to task? Well, to a large degree, it comes down to the former practising good time management skills.
Time management isn’t about squeezing as many tasks into your day as possible. It’s about exercising conscious control over how you divide your time between specific activities.
Managing time is not very difficult as a concept, but it’s surprisingly hard to do in practice. So, to simplify the process, I have highlighted four steps to help you identify how you currently use your time and how you can better manage it:
1. Assess yourself
The first step of time management is assessing how you currently spend your time. Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced a time management system that helps people identify their relationships with time. The system splits up daily activities into four quadrants based on two factors: urgency and importance.
Here is a breakdown of each quadrant (the quadrant you spend most of your time in, is where you 'live'):
- The ‘Do’ Quadrant: These activities are both urgent and important, and require our immediate attention, for instance an urgent meeting or crisis at home. Individuals who live in the ‘Do’ Quadrant are often consumed with problems all day and eventually burn out.
- The ‘Decide’ Quadrant: These activities are important but not urgent, they usually represent personal goals. Such activities include exercising, building relationships, and long-term strategizing. Ideally, everyone should strive to ‘live’ in this Quadrant because it shows that you spend most of your time on productive activities and you're not always in an urgent rush.
- The ‘Delegate’ Quadrant: Activities that fall into this Quadrant are urgent but not important, although they often get mistaken for being important. An example is someone interrupting a meeting to ask you for an urgent favour; you could delegate this responsibility by suggesting someone better suited to handle the problem. Individuals living in Quadrant spend time reacting to urgency based on the expectations and priorities of others.
- The ‘Delete’ Quadrant: Activities held in this Quadrant are neither urgent nor important. They have very little value and take time away from more urgent and important activities. This Quadrant is where YouTube spirals and watching TV for long hours lie. Individuals that live in this quadrant tend not to be very productive.
The best way to start using this system is to spend a week just tracking your normal habits. Where do you spend your time? If you spend 15 minutes making a phone call to your sister, jot it down. If you spend an hour at the bank, jot it down.
When the week is over, sort all the activities into the appropriate quadrants, then add up the time you spent in each quadrant. The result you get will show you what your priorities are based on how you live, you can then work on changing those priorities to match the lifestyle you want.
2. Divide your time into bite-sized pieces
Now that you have gotten a picture of your relationship with time, the next step is to effect any change you feel is necessary. Productive people try to manage most their tasks in the ‘Decide’ Quadrant, reducing stress by doing important tasks at a reasonable time before they become very urgent.
The best way to do this is through a “To-Do List”, where you allocate bite-sized, distraction-free, time blocks to your tasks. To build your to-do list, clearly write out a start and stop point for each task you have deemed to be a priority for the day, starting with the highest priority task.
Each time block should be small enough for you to focus on intensely without getting distracted (depending on your attention span). It is also important to leave some room for unforeseen circumstances between each time block to make it more realistic and easier to follow because sadly, distractions are inevitable.
3. Avoid as many distractions as possible
Distractions take different forms, from a funny meme on Twitter to the guy walking across the road with two different socks on. Most times, we are distracted by things that are interesting but not particularly productive, even if we think we're "learning".
This is where we identify the various triggers that make us do things that we would categorize in the ‘Delete’ Quadrant, like staying up till 3am watching videos on ‘The Lions of Sabi Sand’.
"Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator"
When we procrastinate, we're often just succumbing to the distractions around us at the expense of work we have to do. Procrastinators have a dependency on externally imposed forces to motivate work and in our careers, this usually takes the form of work deadlines that must be met.
Procrastinators face real problems in two scenarios:
- When too many external forces begin to apply serious pressure because too many tasks were left for later.
- When there are no externally imposed forces to motivate progress, like working towards personal dreams, working on relationships or taking care of one’s health.
The first step to overcoming distractions is to give yourself solid chunks of time to concentrate on the things you deem to be priorities. The second step is practising how to say NO.
Say No to menial requests, say No to the friend trying to show you a hilarious video, say No to yourself when you’re about to click on Snapchat at work.
Remember your time is limited so you can’t say yes to everything and accede to every request. You have to stick to what is a priority to you and know when to just say ‘No’.
4. Set time to rest
For the longest time, I viewed rest as a luxury that I couldn’t afford, but I recently learnt (the hard way) how immensely vital rest is to our professional lives. It is so easy to burn out from overworking, avoiding this is where working smarter and not harder is essential.
Working too hard can be detrimental to our health and ironically, burning out puts us out of action for longer than a simple rest period would have required.
It is important to work in effective time blocks then set time out to recharge and reflect. Seize the opportunity to have a moment of clarity and solitude to clear your overworked mind and get you back to your effective best.
Nothing great ever transcends from haste. Taking these conscious steps to improve how you manage time will pay off in your career and personal life. I promise you - there really are enough hours in a day for everything you’d like to do, but it may take a bit of rearranging and practice to find those hours consistently. Take care.
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