“You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.”  – Charles Buxto –

We kill time.  We save time.  We rob and get robbed of time, we lose time, and we have all the time in the world.  

The only thing we cannot do with time is slow it down or stop it…so is it completely out of our control?  NO. 

Even though we cannot influence the flow of time, we can get the most out of it, by striving to master how we manage our time.  No easy task, but the results are worth the effort.

Every day we hear someone say that they “have too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done”.  We are so used to those words and to add further complexity to this challenge, the boundaries of our responsibilities are becoming increasingly blurred and professional and personal lives are getting more and more unbalanced, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic started.  Our world is constantly changing, we need to adapt to it, so that we can rise above the chaos and do what needs to be done every day.

We need to realize that time is a very valuable resource and that, to be efficient, we must use it optimally, seeking maximum benefit with minimum effort. 

So, what skills do we need so that we can use our time optimally?

Self-management is “our ability to manage our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a conscious and productive way.  You understand your personal responsibility in different aspects of your life, and you do what you need to fulfill that responsibility.” (What Is self-management, and how can you improve it? | BetterUp, 2021).

Time management is “the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. It involves a juggling act of various demands upon a person relating to work, social life, family, hobbies, personal interests, and commitments with the finiteness of time.” (Time management – Wikipedia, 2021).

But, are the above two concepts separate skills that we need to grasp?

According to David Allen, productivity consultant and the inventor of the “Getting Things Done” method, time management is a misleading term and says that “You can’t manage time anyway. Time just is”, he further states that “You can however manage yourself during time, so what you manage is your attention, your focus. Time management is a game of choices, or in other words, knowing how to manage ourselves during the time that we have. (Time Management Really Is About Self-Management | Ye Chen, 2021)

Managing yourself and thus your time is a skill which once mastered can have a big impact on your overall performance and effectiveness, it is essential if you want to be successful and reach your goals.  If you can identify and focus on the activities that give you the greatest returns you will dramatically increase your chances of becoming a high achiever, in both your personal and professional life.

It is important to work on this skill continuously because, the negative ramifications of not being able to manage your time properly can influence your work and home life in a major way.  Those who are not adept at prioritizing tasks and fail to get to grips with managing their time effectively may suffer a lack of self-esteem, relationship strain, and an overall unhappiness with life that stems from having poor focus.  It can even end up affecting your health, if left “untreated”.  

When we feel that we are not in control of things, and everything is in disarray around us, we become confused, anxious, and depressed.  It is that typical scenario of “I don’t know where to start” or “what do I leave now and what must I do?”, we feel overwhelmed, and often end up not doing anything at all.

We already experience a lot of pressure everyday and you can stop yourself from going into “panic mode”, by putting in the effort to improve your self-management skills and using your time wisely.

There are many techniques and exercises that can be used to improve how you manage your time, but everyone is different, and you must find what works for you and apply that.

How to get more organized:

  1. Know the difference between urgent and important

A lot of people get confused between what is urgent and what is important.  Understanding the difference between an urgent and an important task can make a huge impact on the quality and productivity of both your personal and professional life.

Urgent tasks are mostly tasks that have an immediate deadline or a deadline that has passed.  It is not necessary that these urgent tasks should be time consuming or effort intensive.  It is also not necessary that these tasks will have a significant impact on your life, in fact they may be very trivial or silly.  Most often things become urgent, or an urgent situation is created when something should have been finished but isn’t yet.  For instance, acknowledging the receipt of an email or submitting a not so important report “something small” can become an urgent task if it was ignored.

Important tasks, on the other hand, need not have a deadline looming over a person.  They are important because of the impact that they can have on the person’s life.  Again, these need not be time consuming or effort intensive and may not require you to do it immediately.  For example, planning how the baby’s room is going to look like, it is not something that you need to execute right now but it steers you in the right direction to get it done by the time the baby arrives.

Urgency of tasks is based on deadlines.  Deciding which task is important is relative to each person’s thoughts and circumstances.  In other words, urgency is driven by external factors and external pressure, deciding the importance of tasks is an introspective exercise.

The added dimension to this difference is that some tasks can be urgent and important.  For instance, while you know that you may be having problems related to cholesterol, you may defer paying a visit to the doctor or get a full body health check which is very important for both your family and you.  Then you get a stroke or heart attack which makes a consultation with a doctor urgent.  If you had done these health check-ups regularly and beforehand, it would have been just one of those other things in your to-do list that was important, but now it is urgent.

Using an urgent-important matrix can help people decide which tasks require their focus and effort.

The Urgent vs. Important Matrix is a powerful productivity tool that can increase your effectiveness.  It consists of 4 quadrants that classify your daily activities according to two parameters: level of urgency and level of importance.

If you have trouble classifying your activities according to urgency and importance, here is some more indicators for each quadrant:

Quadrant I: You feel you are constantly putting out fires and operating in emergency mode.  Most of what you are doing demands your immediate attention due to a pressing deadline.

Quadrant II: You feel like you are on top of things because of careful planning, preparation and prevention.  Apart from planning and preparation, you focus your time on high-leverage projects, new opportunities, learning and relationship building.

Quadrant III: Most of your time is spent with activities that require your immediate attention but are not necessarily related to your top priorities.  You spend a lot of time in un-important meetings, being interrupted and dealing with non-critical phone calls and emails.  You feel as if you are constantly dealing with issues that are important to others but not related to your own priorities.

Quadrant IV: You often feel like you are wasting your time. You spend a lot of time on things that are not directly related to your goals, like social media, videos, games and pointless web surfing.

The most effective people spend 80% of their time in quadrant II of the Urgent-vs.-Important Matrix.  This allows them to pro-actively work on new opportunities and high-leverage projects instead of spending all their time reacting to pressing issues and other people’s needs.  As a result, they can make significant progress towards their goals, actively prevent crises from happening and lead a more balanced, calm, and focused life.

  1. Identify your Most Important Task (MIT)

Set goals that are S.M.A.R.T. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. 

What are your goals for the day or week and what tasks do you need to complete to reach those goals? 

Identify your most important task (MIT) for the day and get it done first thing in the morning, if you can do that, you’ve already won the day, no matter what comes later.  Completing it will give you momentum and a sense of accomplishment, which will set the tone for the rest of your day. 

  1. Give yourself deadlines

Learn to set deadlines, because you become more productive when you allocate a specific amount of time to complete a specific task.  In the book “Parkinson’s Law”, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. (Parkinson’s law – Wikipedia, 2021)

Set deadlines even when you don’t need to.  What happens is that you force your brain to focus on a specific task, thus you create a sense of urgency that pushes you to be more efficient and complete that task before moving on to the next one.

  1. Eliminate distractions around you

Get rid of all potential distractions because they will hurt your productivity and focus. According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after getting distracted. (González and Mark, 2004).

In addition, let’s say that you have found your focus, but you got interrupted, it can take you twice as long to get back into the rhythm.  Half an hour completely focused on a task is more productive than two hours switching between tasks. 

Emails, phone calls, and social media messages are some of the common and biggest distractions, whenever you are working on high-priority tasks, put your phone on silent mode if possible.  You will end up saving a lot of time and take your efficiency levels a notch higher.

There are, however, data that suggests that people can compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price as they experience more stress, higher frustration and usually do not complete the task as well as they would have liked.

  1. Get a calendar

Try to work from a calendar instead of a to-do list.  Basically, a to-do list is where you list and define “what” your activities are, while a calendar is where you identify “when” you’re going to do those things and how much time is needed to complete them.

It is a small change, but it increases the chance of getting things done.

It works because the more you plan and schedule your time with purpose, the less time there is for others to take over your schedule.  Do this mindfully and leave enough room for unexpected tasks that require immediate attention, move things around and reschedule when needed as you progress.

  1. Take small breaks frequently

This might sound counterintuitive, but breaks are part of effective time management strategies. 

You need to refresh and regroup occasionally. 

Smart time management isn’t always about doing something or the other, little breaks after an hour or so can take your productivity to another level.

  1. Do less but impactful

It’s never a good idea to take up more than you can handle. High achievers and great performers all over the world do less but better.  Set boundaries and say no to people when they give you tasks that are not your responsibility or when you don’t have the time to help at that moment.

When you prioritize tasks, it gives you clarity and direction so that you can start working on things, save time, and be more productive. 

  1. Plan around your energy level

You may not realise this, but productivity is directly related to your energy level.  Get to know yourself and find your most productive hours.  When you know that, plan your work around those periods if possible.  Schedule it in such a way that you first do the high-value and high-energy tasks, and then focus on the low-value and low-energy tasks.

  1. Sleep

Sleep is a detrimental factor that could affect many things negatively.  A lack of sleep not only increase disease risks such as diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity and more, it also makes us more emotional and our minds hazy.  When you sleep for six to eight hours, not only will you feel fresh and rejuvenated but it also contributes to a healthy lifestyle.  

We make better decisions and perform more efficiently when our minds and bodies are well-rested, making it easier to decide quickly what to do when and how.

Develop a schedule for your sleep and try stick to it, it makes a difference going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.  There are many applications such as Calm, Sleep Cycle that track your sleeping patterns, help you get a sound sleep, and wakes you up more focused.

  1. Stay Positive

Finally, try to keep a positive attitude.  Managing your time is tricky, but it isn’t impossible.  Busy times will pass, try to be flexible and adapt to what you are required to do for the day or the week.

We are continuously squeezing as many tasks as we can into our days, when in fact, it’s about simplifying how we work, getting things done faster, and doing things better.  

Working on managing yourself and your time will give you more time to play, rest and do all the things you love to do and isn’t that what we all want. 😊

The key is in not spending time, but in investing it. – Stephen R. Covey. –