Have you fallen into the “Time Management” trap? Are you always trying to maximize your time, working on different systems to manage it, control it, and try and make more of it?
Time doesn’t need managing. Time is the one constant in our lives. We each get 24 hours every day, seven days every week and 365 days each year, plus that extra Leap Day every four years. It never changes, it never varies. Tuesday is not longer than Wednesday or shorter than Thursday. Time management should really be called Priority Management.
That’s right. It’s not about managing your time. It’s about managing your priorities so you have time for the people and activities that are most important to you, and time to enjoy your life. When you focus on managing priorities instead of squeezing out more hours, you can boost your success while lowering your stress.
I’ve read countless articles and books on time management over the years and I have tried many systems. But it wasn’t until I figured out I wasn’t managing time at all that I began to get a handle on managing my priorities. Once I learned that, things finally began falling into place. I could get done the things most important to me. I felt like a success. And I could have time for my life.
Priority Management is the Key
Priority Management means figuring out what is most important to us at any given time and assigning it the priority it deserves. My top priority is my family. On an overall basis, being a wife, mother, daughter and sister comes ahead of everything else, except for taking care of me. (Though that really fits into family, as well, because I can’t take care of my family if I don’t take of me—but that’s another post,) Even though my family is important, their needs do not always hit the top of my list all day every day. My work is a high priority, but it, too, doesn’t hit the top of the list all day every day.
So, to manage my priorities, I need to know first what those priorities are and then decide which are most important at any given time. Sometimes it is my family, sometimes it’s a creative project, other times a business client, and other times a friend, a household task, self-care, education, relaxation or even sleep.
Like many entrepreneurs, my day is full of varied tasks. The key for me is recognizing which are priorities, which are distractions and which can be dumped or delegated. I am a compulsive list maker. If it isn’t written down somewhere, it doesn’t exist in my world. I use a calendar—and I’ve taught my family to use calendars, I used to make daily to-do lists and I am a champion of the sticky note. I LOVE sticky notes. They’re everywhere—on my refrigerator, on the wall next to my phone (best system ever for phone messages and frequently called numbers), they frame my computer monitors, they’re on the bathroom mirrors. I am a walking ad for the sticky note.
Back to the to-do list. I rarely make daily to-do lists anymore. After researching and trying many time-management systems with various types of lists and experiencing varying degrees of frustration and stress over unfinished to-do lists that only get longer, I finally found something that works for me, keeps me focused and actually gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. And it’s NOT a time management system.
Create a Master Project List
I have a master project list. I use Trello (it’s free!) to keep track of all my projects: home maintenance and repairs, client work, creative projects, church assignments, travel, etc. Everything that isn’t a specific calendar event goes on this list. Some of my recent projects include designing photo albums, creating a client website, planning a trip, executing a marketing campaign. Some projects have deadlines, others are open-ended . This is not a short list, but in some ways it’s a wish list. I make no restrictions about what goes on this master list.
Each week I review my calendar and my project list and determine which projects are most important that week. After looking at appointments and events on my calendar, I can see how much time I have and appropriately schedule each day with my top priorities One of the keys to the success of my system is that, in order to get on my priority list, I must have a time estimate for each project. Some projects need to be broken down into multiple steps with a time estimate for each step. Others are shorter.
Since I only have a finite amount of time each day, I can easily see when I am overscheduling myself. I can certainly schedule 22 hours’ worth of tasks into a workday, but since my days only have 24 hours and MUST include time for eating, sleeping, household responsibilities and self-care, I can see I’m not going to accomplish 22 hours of tasks each day.
Using this system, my scheduling has become more realistic and I have lowered my stress level dramatically (most days), while my level of accomplishment and satisfaction has risen. I don’t always get everything done, but when things come up, I can estimate time needed, decide whether it’s really a priority and adjust my schedule accordingly.
I do periodically review the list, at least once each quarter. Some things get deleted, some things get changed, and some things get a higher priority. But having a list where I can put all of my potential projects means I don’t waste brain space trying to remember all the ideas I come up with. That would be a lot of brain work for my sometimes-overactive brain flow.
Make Your System Work the Way You Do
There is more to my system. I’m still working on implementing some of it, and other parts I am adapting to meet my own needs. A priority management system needs to work for you. You decide which parts to adopt and which parts to ditch. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You are unique and individual and your priority management system needs to reflect that.
I have to confess, this system is not entirely mine. I discovered it in my reading. One day at the library (I’m a huge library fan—you can read about it here) I found a book called Aligned Thinking by Jim Steffen. I liked this book so much I immediately bought my own copy and shared it with my husband. This is just one part of a priority-management system to reduce stress and increase both productivity and free time.
And isn’t that what we all want out of life?
Looking for some help creating a system that works for you? Message me here for a free consultation to learn about how I can help you create a priority management system that works the way you do.