Remember college? You would get an assignment for a 3,000-word paper due in two weeks, and, without fail, you would say to yourself, “I am going to start TODAY.” But, ‘today’ would happen, and something more exciting would come up. A week would roll by, and pretty soon, you are sitting with a paper deadline in 24 hours thinking, “I should have scheduled my time better.” Many of us still experience this in one way or another throughout our careers, and that is where time management can come in handy.
What Is Time Management?
We are all well aware of the common thoughts on time management. Whether you work on time blocking your schedule to accomplish all that you can in the day or abide by the time management matrix, all of us have learned the tips and tricks to be productive. What few resources fail to mention, though, is that there are deeper drives to time management as a whole.
The scheduling of our day occurs at the behavioral or external level, which is important but certainly not the root of why you can’t seem to get tasks done. There are deeper drives at play. Beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and values motivate our behavior—as they should. So, how do you align your actions and structures with your thoughts, core values, and deep commitments?
1 | Focus On What Is Important
Your schedule should not just be a reflection of tasks that drop a dime into your bank account every few minutes. Instead, it should reflect what is important to you. There is a popular process created by Stephen Covey that puts tasks and commitments into 4 quadrants of time management: Urgent + Important, Not Urgent + Important, Urgent + Not Important, Not Urgent + Not Important. This works well, but it is not all that you need to have successful and holistic time management values. Instead, this can be step 1 of 6 needed for wholeness in time management. We would urge you as you work through this, though, to not just only think through your workday, think through personal tasks as well, and allow your schedule to reflect you as a whole person.
2 | Prioritize Your Day
Now that you have your most important (and least important) duties laid out in front of you, it is time to prioritize. This is separate from the quadrants because something could be urgent + important, and easily delegated. You know the saying, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as [insert accomplished person’s name].” And it is true. But that sentiment doesn’t cover the fact that whoever you thought of would more than likely delegate one or many tasks a day. Everything from getting ready in the morning, picking out clothes, accounting, and the like can be delegated for some of the world’s most successful people. While we all don’t have that privilege, we can consider what is a priority for ourselves: jumping on a client call, going to your toddler’s baseball game, launching that new project you’ve been working on for months, etc., and then move down the list from there.
3 | Align Your Core Values
We could write a whole book on values, but we don’t want to get too deep into that here. Values aren’t just something you have painted onto your office wall and think of passively. They should ease their way into the fiber of everything you do. Just as your personality comes to light in every one of your interactions, your values should be clear even in time management. As you think through how your time is being used up each day, ask yourself it is aligning with the values you hold true? If the answer is no, it might be time to drop the task or delegate to someone who would find alignment.
4 | Keep Your Overall Vision In Mind
In this context, vision is synonymous with goals. But, vision encapsulates not just the endpoint where you can check off a box and say “done,” but how do your tasks feed into your overall vision for you.
Imagine you are just starting your business, and your vision is to someday expand your one-person accounting firm to an office full of accountants, investors, and financial representatives. Something like a marketing task might not align with the image you have for yourself, but without being able to delegate in this phase, it is good—if not helpful—to think of your overall vision. “If I work hard on marketing now, some day I can fulfill the dream of owning a full-service financial firm.”
Aligning tasks with your vision is an excellent way to restructure your feelings about some things that simply have to get done but don’t necessarily feed your fire.
5 | Leave Time For Renewal
Often overlooked in time management is renewal. For those of us who were or are athletes, we know how essential rest is to ultimate performance. Working out every single day may seem like it would set you on the fast-track to ultimate strength and agility, but, on the contrary, your muscles are actually building and repairing on your rest days. So, the rest is where your power comes from.
Similarly, when you schedule a time for rest and renewal in your workday, you will be a stronger executive or team member when you return. There are science-backed ways to rest at the beginning, middle, and end of your day. The thing is, you must be intentional about it. Scheduling out a 20-minute walk when you typically experience your mid-day slump or being intentional about your sleep will not only make you feel better, it will also ensure that the time you spend on tasks is meant with the vibrancy and energy you so wonderfully have within you.
6 | Practice Essentialism
All of these steps may feel like an arduous task in itself, but they are leading us to a fundamental process: essentialism. What is essential today in your life? By going through these five previous steps, you are more equipped to say “no” when an un-essential task raises its hand and “yes” when something essential comes up by aligning your day with your values, vision, etc—which is one of the main benefits of time management in this form.
Yeses and nos start to become more comfortable. Think about how good it would feel to be able to confidently say, “No, I do not want to take on this project because it does not align with my overall vision.” It can happen with practice. What you do not do in a day is just as important as what you do. If you are putting more effort into the things that don’t get you any results in your work and personal life than the things that do, it is time to reevaluate. As you work on effective time management, we hope that you view it as not just management of work time, but your time as a whole. That you use positive stress to fuel you and avoid negative stress.