Time management is a hot topic in the business world. Books are written about it, workshops are devoted to it, efficiency experts are forever focusing on it. To be successful and increase productivity you need to be a good at time management. Right?
I’ve tried managing time, but no matter what I do or how hard I try, time refuses to respond to principles of good management. I’ve tried micro-managing, relationship managing, and just plain organizing it. Nevertheless, it remains the same. 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and so it goes. Despite my best efforts, time refuses to be managed into a schedule that would suit me better. It continues on regardless of what we do or what we don’t.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the ability to increase productivity does not lie in managing time, but managing our priorities.
When we focus on our priorities instead of focusing on time, we are freed up to accomplish the things most important to us instead of checking off items on a to-do list or feeling compelled to see how quickly we can race through projects and activities.
I am a compulsive list maker. If it isn’t on a list, it doesn’t exist in my world. I have lists for everything: a grocery list, a honey-do list, a project list, a wish list; I even have a bucket list.
Every morning I made a to-do list of everything I needed to get done that day. It was never a short list. And I would race through my day, dutifully completing tasks and checking them off and then I would get to the end of my day and feel like a failure because there were always more items left to do than were done and not only did I not have any fun, but some of those undone items were really important. And Heaven forbid an unplanned interruption occur. Of course, as a self-employed Mompreneur, unplanned interruptions were a regular occurrence.
After many years of frustration, I discovered a better way. Instead of trying to squeeze every task into every day, I learned that I needed to stop and prioritize my to-do list and figure out what was most important on both a daily and longer-term basis. I also needed to learn to estimate (more accurately) the length of time needed for any given task and assign them a time value within the realm of reality. Once I began doing that and realistically blocking out the available work hours in my day, I was able to begin planning my days without overloading them.
As I evaluated my to-do and project lists, I began including time estimates and due dates when I added things to the list. I also began evaluating items on that list in terms of how each project or task would help me to accomplish my professional or personal goals.
If a task wasn’t going to lead toward any goal I had, it didn’t belong on my to-do list. I also learned to look at whether I was the person who most needed to complete that task. It was an eye-opener for me to realize that I didn’t need to do everything myself. Some tasks I could delegate or hire out; some personal tasks I could shift to other family members. Learning and internalizing those principles has been mentally and physically freeing in my life.
Now when I make my daily to-do list (some habits die harder than others), it isn’t longer than my work day. Each task on the list receives a priority level and a time limit. I also don’t feel compelled to put every task I can think of on the list. Trello is my go-to for managing projects and to-do’s and to keep track of the bazillion or so ideas that pop into my head every day. I can use it to store ideas until I can evaluate them, track progress on projects and use it as a base for my time blocking. You can learn more about time blocking and how it’s increased my productivity in this post.
I’ve trained myself to allow time for interruptions and for scheduled breaks in my day. And, amazingly enough, I am now accomplishing more and feeling less frustrated than I did in the past. It doesn’t mean I get everything done every day, but I come a lot closer than I used to.
Are you frustrated by what you’re not accomplishing every day? Take a few minutes this morning and re-evaluate your to-do list. Choose the most important tasks today and focus on them. Put the other tasks in a “Later” list or use something like Trello to keep track of them until you’re ready to tackle them. Remember, if everything on your list is critical, something isn’t right. We’ll talk about that in another post, but for today, choose the most important tasks, give them a realistic time estimate and keep on your list only what you can realistically accomplish today. As for the other tasks? Re-assign them to a less busy day, delegate them, hire them out or ditch them completely.
And quit trying to change time to fit your schedule. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing: It only frustrates you and annoys the pig.
What are your thoughts on managing time, priorities and projects? Are you making progress or just spinning your wheels? How have you successfully learned to increase productivity? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.