In my last article, “Planning your week 90 minutes at a time,” I suggested that blocking off 90-minute chunks of time in your planner a week ahead to work on your priority projects is a proactive way of ensuring they get done. This is in lieu of leaving them on a “To do” list, which shows intention, but no commitment.
In this article I want to provide additional tips to increase the likelihood of you being able to do this successfully. To be successful and productive, you must be able to fill most of your planner with your own priorities before it becomes filled with other people’s priorities. But it’s easier said than done. You must persist in practising until it becomes a habit.
Most people are reactive rather than proactive. They work on the urgent items first, regardless of their importance. It’s important to realize that you can’t do everything. Trying to do so will put you under stress and keep you in a catch-up mode where you are always working on yesterday’s work today. To truly catch up, you must decide to leave some things undone. Make a “Not to do” list so to speak. You don’t have write them down, because you know instinctively which tasks would have a minimum negative impact on your job or life.
Our biggest problem is that we want to do everything that pops into our minds. We can do anything; but not everything. Take the few “anythings” – those 20% of the tasks and activities that will account for 80% of your results, achievements and well-being, and schedule them in your planner. That’s what I call putting the 80/20 Rule into action.
How many of these important items should you schedule in a week? Few enough that you still have time to do those truly urgent and important tasks that invariably only make themselves known during that week. For most people, that means that you should only schedule about 70% of your planner. That leaves 30% for unscheduled meetings, emergencies and physical and mental downtime.
If you have a smooth-running job with few surprises, you may be able to increase that to 80%. Personally, I seldom schedule more than 50% of my anticipated working hours in the week ahead. It may seem like I’m being inefficient; but these days, I seem to have a lot of rush jobs in my life that are not only urgent, but important, as well.
I find that spending only 50% of my available time on the real priorities produces far more than simply filling an unplanned week with whatever comes along. For me, the definition of time management is not doing more things in less time; it’s doing more of the important things in the time we have available.
You will probably operate differently. And that’s okay. The only time management system that will work for you is one that you develop or adapt to your own needs. We are all unique. Each of us has our own personality, work environment, job contents and life purpose. Experiment, and see you what’s best for you. You will know you are managing your time effectively when you consistently achieve your goals, maintain your energy level, and lead a happy, balanced life.
In the next article, I will provide some principles of scheduling that I have developed for myself. Use those that seem compatible with the time management system that you find works best for you.