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Your most important time management tool.

In my last blog article I suggested that the Pareto Principle applied to time management seminars, books and training programs as well. And that 20% of the suggestions actually provide 80% of the value. In this article I will venture to provide one of those high-value suggestions – planning and scheduling.

Scheduling is the part of planning that actually initiates the action, which in turn produces the results. “To do” lists are simply reminders of what you think should be done. Scheduling involves actually blocking off the time to do the high priority items from your “to do” list.

A planning calendar, whether it is paper or electronic, is not simply a tool for scheduling appointments with others. It is also for scheduling appointments with yourself to get those important, goal–related tasks accomplished. It is also for scheduling your personal and family activities as well. What gets into your planner usually gets done. What stays on a “to do” list is usually abandoned.

The “secret” of a successful, happy and productive life is to transform your personal and business goals into accomplishments. You will never write a book by simply putting it on a “to do” list. And you will never spend enough time with your family or take that cruise by doing likewise.

Scheduling is the launching pad for action. “To do” lists are intentions; activities scheduled in your planner are commitments.

Why do most of the priority tasks on a “to do” list remain undone? Because, when given a choice, people have natural tendencies such as those listed below.

  • They tend to do what’s easy before they do what’s difficult.
  • They tend to do what they like to do before they do what is even moderately unpleasant.
  • They tend to work on other people’s priorities before they work on their own priorities.
  • They tend to work on those things that offer an immediate reward rather than those with a more significant but later reward.

When you schedule something in your planner, you have already made your choice. And hopefully you have chosen to do those things that will have the greatest impact on your life.

Fancy electronic gadgets and Smart phones may help keep you busy; but it’s unlikely they will make you effective.

When choosing a planner, select one that is broken into at least half hour segments so you can physically block off time to work on those priority tasks, projects and activities. Preferably it will extend into the evenings and weekends as well so those personal commitments to attend a son or daughter’s sports event or an evening outing with your spouse or best friend do not get overlooked. I prefer a week at a glance planner so you can see how your week is shaping up.

Plan at least a week ahead. It’s much easier to say no to others if you already have a commitment scheduled at that time. Resist the urge to change anything unless the request is even more important or a real crisis.

Schedule blocks of time for any major projects such as writing a book. Overwhelming tasks are no longer overwhelming when you work on them for an hour or so at a time.

And remember that “to do” lists display your intentions while planners display your commitments.

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The 80/20 Rule applies to time management books as well.

Most time management books and training programs explain the 80-20 Rule, at least superficially, emphasizing that 80 percent of your results are obtained from 20 percent of the things you do. Authors and workshop leaders give example after example of this principle. For example,

  • 80% of your advertising results come from 20% of the ads you place.
  • 80% of customer complaints are concerning the same 20% of your products or services.
  • 20% of your networking gives you 80% of your referrals.
  • 20% of the things you do produce 80% of your results.

And so on. One of the points made is that – theoretically at least – you could eliminate 80 percent of the things you do and only sacrifice 20 percent of the results.  If you could to do that, 80 percent of your precious time would be freed up to devote to more results-oriented pursuits.

But what the workshop leaders fail to mention, is that their own books or training programs are not exempt from this principle. 20% of the ideas suggested in time management books or training programs represent 80 percent of the books’ or programs’ value.

Those are the ideas that would make a significant impact on your effectiveness. The other 80 percent are relatively unimportant, impractical, unworkable or undesirable.

They all sound good and most of them make sense. For example, remove the chairs from your office because meetings get over faster when everyone is standing up. Handle each piece of paper only once. Don’t procrastinate. Keep a clean desk and work environment at all times. Use hands-free technology to respond to telephone calls while driving. Ad infinitum. The positive impact of these and hundreds of other suggestions is questionable. Some, like multitasking are downright dangerous.

I have been presenting time management workshops for over thirty-five years. At the end of most workshops I asked people to record three of the best ideas. Then I asked them to return the form to me in four weeks, indicating the results obtained by putting those ideas into practice. Although less than 10 percent of the people returned the forms, it become obvious over the years that many of the ideas that are attractive to them are unworkable in practice. The ideas that actually improved productivity were generally those that addressed how they spent their time as opposed to how to be more efficient at what they were already doing. They are what I consider to be the macro time management ideas as opposed to the micro time management ones.

People who have changed careers, started their own business, turned around a failing company, changed their lifestyle, resolved relationships, balanced their lives or developed life-changing habits are those who have been able to apply the macro time management suggestions.

When reading books or taking courses on the topic of time management, we should focus on those suggestions that will improve our effectiveness rather than our efficiency. Efficiency is doing things in the best possible way, which is important; but not as important as doing the best possible things. Doing the best possible things – those macro time management actions – are the ones that will really make a difference.

In the next blog article I will give a few examples of those ideas. You can probably guess what they are. Most of them are obvious. But although they are easy to recognize they can be difficult to execute since they require behavioral changes rather than just quick fixes.