Time management

Time management

If you want to achieve more and successfully conquer the overwhelm of modern, fast-paced life, the following steps will help you to achieve your goals, while maintaining effective work-life balance.

1. Plan

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advises us to "begin with the end in mind". This means having a plan to achieve the goals that are important to you (both work and personal), setting a timeframe for achieving goals and breaking them down into manageable steps. Satisfaction comes from achieving goals that are in line with your values (what matters to you) and that engage your strengths, so that the activity required to achieve goals is enjoyable. The SMART acronym can be helpful in setting effective goals (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, time-bound).

2. Prioritise

 If you have a clear plan, it's easier to prioritise and say “no” where appropriate. Covey recommends assessing tasks in terms of an urgent/important matrix (see below).


urgent & important

 frenetic - do it now!!

not urgent & important

 proactive - schedule

urgent & not important

 reactive - delegate / systemetise / say no

not urgent & not important

 time wasting - eliminate 

Effective time managers spend most of their time in quadrant 2 planning and executing activities that enable them to achieve their long-term goals. Proactive, non-urgent/important activities include:

  • Strategic/business planning
  • Relationship building
  • Pursuing new opportunities
  • Preventing problems
  • Upskilling
  • Recreation

Quadrant 1 represents urgent and important tasks and, inevitably, we all have to deal with unexpected crises or problems. Stress arises when people spend most of their time working on frenetic, urgent activities. Quadrant 2 activities can end up here if not actioned in a timely manner. If you work proactively, you can minimise the amount of time you have to spend in the frenetic space (and keep stress at bay).

I think everyone would agree that being drawn into activities that are not important and don't contribute to achieving goals is not a good investment of time. Effective time managers avoid unimportant activities wherever possible. Quadrant 3 activities (urgent and not important) include interruptions, and some phone calls and meetings and often have a sense of urgency driven by others. Try to delegate, systemise or say no where possible. Quadrant 4 activities (not-urgent and not important) are simply a waste of time and should be avoided. We often spend time in this space when we’re procrastinating about challenging tasks by doing something that is fun or distracting.

Think about how you spend your time and commit to prioritising non-urgent, important activities that create long term success (set a goal of achieving 80% of your time in quadrant 2). Achieve your long-term goals by scheduling and focusing on what's important.

3. Get things done

A daily to do list helps you to focus on accomplishing your priority tasks. Once you’ve created a plan and established your long-term goals, taking a disciplined approach to managing your daily activities will help you to stay on track. Break long-term goals down into monthly, weekly and daily priorities and make a to do list at the end of each day with your top priorities for the following day. If you allocate timeframes to each activity, it will be clear whether or not your planned workload for the day is achievable and this will also generate a sense of urgency to complete tasks within the allocated timeframe. Work through your daily tasks in order of priority. When interruptions occur, write them down and assess their importance against the items you already have on your list. If you can’t delegate, systemise or say no, re-prioritise your to do list. Carry forward any outstanding items at the end of the day.

4. Manage your well-being

If you put yourself first, you’ll always be able to perform at your best. Healthy nutrition, exercise, adequate breaks away from your desk, routines for decompressing at the end of the day and getting a good night’s sleep are essential. Some tips are:

  • Take a walk outside at lunch time
  • Set a recurring timer for mini breaks from your computer screen
  • Create a healthy eating plan with a nutritionist
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Avoid the use of electronic devices for 2 hours before going to bed.

Posted: Monday 1 November 2021

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