One of the frustrations I often hear is that there isn’t enough time to do everything. If you’re someone who feels there aren’t enough minutes in the day, there’s help for you. I can’t give you more minutes in the day, but I can share some strategies that will help you use those minutes better.
If you haven’t set any goals, make a quick list of what you want to accomplish in the next six months to a year. Then break these goals down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. If thinking six months to a year ahead overwhelms you, start with monthly or daily goals. When you master them, you can start setting goals for longer periods of time. Avoid setting too many goals or choosing goals that are not possible for you. You should also be careful not to set your goals too low. If you read six books a year, aim for more. Your next goal might be to read eight or even ten books a year. Some successful people suggest that you not only read new books, but also reread three or four books that have been important to you in the past. As we grow older, we can learn even more by re-reading the books that have influenced us in the past.
Make a list of all the tasks you want to accomplish today or this week. Identify which of these tasks will yield the most benefit. If you have ten tasks, you will find that two or three of them are the most important. The Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) states that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. The challenge of time management is that the most critical 20% can feel overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, we find ourselves spending precious time on tasks that will make little difference to our goals. Distinguish important tasks from urgent tasks. Stephen Covey teaches that when we don’t take care of important things, they become urgent. Problems and crises are the results. The result is that we have too much to do.
Send mail to the correct address. Someone else’s urgent priority may not be on your to-do list. If you enjoy helping people or pleasing people to your detriment, learn to say no. Learn to say no. Our overcoming is often linked to saying yes when someone asks us to help them. While helping someone else can be satisfying, it can also eat up the time you need to complete your tasks. When others stop delegating their tasks to you, you will have more time to do what you need most. If you have children, also teach them to plan and set priorities. If you don’t deliver crampons, homework, or forgotten lunches, your kids will live and be less likely to forget what they need in the future. Sometimes it’s good to be the meanest mother or father in the world. It can be character building for them and freedom for you.
Create a task filing system. I like to use an ABC system, 123. I make a list of my tasks for the day or week and rank them in order of importance. Level A tasks are essential. These are tasks that must be done, otherwise serious consequences will occur. Things like important medical appointments, submitting a proposal, or critical meetings. Level B tasks are valuable, but the consequences of not doing them are less severe. They are important but not vital. C-level tasks are things you would like to do, but they are less important and you should only do them when you have the time. Canceled C-tasks have minimal consequences. Once you have prioritized your tasks in order of importance, put them in order and you can complete them. The A tasks should come first, unless there is a B task that logistically makes sense to do first. If you need to drop off dry cleaning and you’re walking past the cleaners, it makes sense to take the time to do so since you’re nearby anyway. If your first A task is in a nearby town and your gas tank is empty, filling your gas tank will be B-1. Imagine you have six tasks to complete today. You have to submit a proposal, fill up your car, meet a new client, date your spouse, give a presentation, unsubscribe from emails, and get a haircut. Determining which tasks are A, B and C is up to you and your priorities. In my life, A-Tasks consist of going on a date, submitting a proposal, and meeting a new client. Describing a presentation can be an A or B task, depending on the audience or the expense. I can sketch out a presentation for a career day in about 10 minutes, but sketching out an executive retreat is bigger and will take a lot longer. Plan ahead to complete tasks before they become urgent. Refueling the car is a B-task you can do after work on the way home, so you don’t clutter up your schedule the next day.
After prioritizing the level of importance, identify the order in which you will perform the tasks. If you have to do a B-level task first thing in the morning, it’s B-1. An A task you have to do at 9 am would be A-2. Even though the second task is more important, you don’t rank it A-1 because you can’t do it first. Due to their low importance, do C-level tasks when you have the time. C tasks can distract us from more important A and B tasks.
Remember that it is essential to take care of yourself. If you skip lunch every day or reschedule a doctor or dentist appointment because you’re busy, you’re asking for a breakdown. If you neglect your health, your body will eventually pay attention to you. The longer you put it off; the more serious (and expensive) the intervention will be. If you tend to make self-care a C-level priority, reconsider your own importance.
Create strategies for accomplishing repeated tasks. I once had a mentor whose goal was to never run errands. If you have repetitive tasks, find ways to schedule, delegate, or automate them. The result can be adding more time to your days. Bill paying automation is the number of people removing these tasks from their to-do lists. Hiring someone to do jobs you don’t like gets those things done and can make your life more joyful. You can improve your life by hiring someone to clean your house, do yard work, groom the dog, or fix your car. I have spoken to many people who work all week and spend all Saturday cleaning the house. When asked how much they would pay for an extra day in their week, it’s always more than a good housekeeper would charge. Delegating tasks is also a great strategy for tasks that you want to do but can’t seem to force yourself to do. Examples of these tasks could be spring cleaning, sorting out a closet, or organizing an office.
After a few weeks of working on your priority tasks to achieve your goals, reassess your goals and tasks. You will see ways to refine your goals and tasks. Many notice several tasks on their to-do lists that they never manage to complete. Review these tasks and decide if you should remove them from your to-do list. If they need to be done and you know you probably won’t, develop a strategy to do them. If you have a spouse or partner who expects you to do things on their to-do list, have a conversation. It’s hard to do your chores, let alone yours and someone else’s. It might be possible to divide the tasks so that you can each remove certain tasks from the other’s to-do list. Sometimes doing someone else’s chores can be more enjoyable than doing your own.
If you think you’re good at multitasking, stop fooling yourself. Myth of multitasking, it’s always about switching tasks. Your brain doesn’t do two things at once. It comes and goes, dividing your attention means tasks take longer to complete than if you focus on each one. Scheduling tasks can help you make better use of your time. For example, if you’re cleaning the house, you can start the laundry and vacuum, stopping to fold the laundry between rooms. You are still switching tasks, but you can switch to another task because the machine is doing the laundry.
Time management should include self-care. It is essential to be efficient and to remember to schedule time for rest and fun. When you make time on the weekends to cool off, you’ll be more productive when you get back to work. If you’re taking a vacation, create a plan and do things you enjoy, but don’t overload your time doing too many things. Give yourself time for a walk or hike, a long swim or a hot bath, especially the things you love but don’t have time for when you’re working.
The average human being spends about 692,040 hours on earth. It seems like a long time, but when we get to the end, we’ll wish we had more. It makes me happy to know that we can take steps that add more time to our lives by managing our time.
Cami Miller is a business coach and works with executives, entrepreneurs and family businesses to develop strategies for success. She can be reached at [email protected]