One of the most important concepts in personal productivity is time management. Time management is a core skill that once mastered enables you to get more done in a week than most people do in a month while still having time to rest. Despite its importance in personal productivity, time management is a concept that is often misunderstood by many people. This is because the term time management, despite its popularity, is a misnomer. You can own a wristwatch but you can’t manage time. Even if you do nothing, the second hand of your watch will keep moving. Nobody can stop time.
Time management is so much more than being aware the seconds are passing and trying to get as much done as you can each day. Instead, time management is a number of related skills that properly understood can help you build a framework for monitoring your daily productivity. Time management is:
Beyond identifying what you need to do today, you also need to figure out where and when you need to do those tasks. One thing I always tell young people I mentor is “There is no day of the week called some day. If you plan to do it on Thursday, put it in your to-do list for Thursday.”
It is not enough to do everything. Nobody can do that. We all have finite resources of time, energy and attention. The most productive people do not try to do it all. Instead, they spend as much focused time as possible on the critical tasks essential to their goal. These tasks, also known as A-tasks are those tasks contribute the highest return to their goals and are best done personally. They are the tasks that best fit the criteria “You can delegate authority but not responsibility.”
If you work with a team, you also need to develop the ability to say “No” when you get a request from a colleague in the middle of the week. This can only be done if you have identified what you need to focus on for the day. It does not mean you are rude. It simply means you are acknowledging the limitations of what you can get done in a day and are not allowing other people (who have their own A-tasks that might not be the same as yours) to dictate your priorities.
Above all else, most people want to be able to spend time with their families at the end of the day and rest on weekends. Nobody ever said at the end of their lives that they wish they had spent a lot more time at the office. Time management is about creating a system that enables you to clock in and out at reasonable hours. It stops you from bringing work home every day.
Beyond owning a wristwatch and filling the day with as many tasks as possible, time management is also about creating systems that don’t send you to an early grave. Stress, exhaustion and burnout are all real. Avoiding them is only possible if you change the way you think about time management. Next week’s post will be about three principles you need to internalise to be an effective time manager. Until then, be sure to follow my blog if you aren’t already.