How to manage your time better – Life Hacks & Career Counselling – collage of clocks

How to manage your time better

A 4 minute read • Part 1 of 3 • Alan A

Part of our life hacks and career counselling series. At times many of us feel buffeted by the headwinds and turbulence of daily life; whether it’s the pressure of unrelenting demands at work – or just trying to keep family life on track. In spite of our valiant efforts we can feel powerless and deflated. Managing our time skilfully is one of the best ways of fighting back and regaining control.

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I’ve dealt with my fair share of challenges, and time management skills have come in handy on most days. I’d like to share with you what’s worked well for me. Everyone is different of course, so feel free to cherry-pick or discard as you see fit. I’m going to start with a couple of pointers to a helpful time management mindset before going into more detail about a technique you can use.

Firstly, remember that the whole point of managing your time is to get more of what you want – and less of what you don’t – from your life.

Perhaps you’re being driven by goals at work or your own personal objectives. Or a healthy balance of both. Whichever it is, remember this:

Time management mindset – #1

  • Do the doable
  • Control the controllable
  • Don’t feel guilty about not getting it all done
  • Be kind to yourself

In other words, time management is a tool to help you but it (and you) can only do so much; don’t lose sight of that. The next points are crucial:

Time management mindset – #2

  1. “Delete” – this is the first and most important point: don’t do what you don’t need to. If they are no longer helpful, stop doing things that have become habitual or that have “always been done”. You can free up so much time by identifying what’s superfluous to your current needs
  2. Set priorities for the things that remain – I’ll talk more about this in detail below
  3. Delegate – if you’re in a supervisory or management position (this could apply in family life too!), delegate or share what you can as appropriate

To manage your time, you need to set aside a little of it to think properly about what needs doing (or not doing!) and to set your priorities. I would recommend doing this at least once a day, perhaps at the start of the day or at the end of each day in preparation for the next. Try to ensure you’re not disturbed when you do it.

One of my ex-colleagues, who will remain anonymous, used to plan his day when visiting the toilet each morning. Sorry for the image but it worked for him! I’m sure you’ll find something that works well for you.

In my experience, one minute of planning can save 10 minutes of doing

How to manage your time better: simple method to set priorities

  1. Based on your objectives, list out all the tasks you need to carry out that day (or week etc.)
  2. Add other tasks that are on your plate but may not be part of your objectives (we’ll look at these more in part 2 of the article)
  3. Write “I” next to each item that’s important (i.e. key to achieving one of your objectives)
  4. Write “U” next to each item that’s urgent (i.e. time critical)

Each of your list items can then be slotted into one of the four quadrants below:

IU – items that are both I and U – items here need dealing with first I only – items here should be given most of your time
U only – ask yourself if these really need to be done; if not: “delete” – in any case, try to keep these limited and under control Neither I nor U – these items are “trivia” and your prime candidates to “delete”!

In summary:

  • work on IU items first
  • then U items that you cannot “delete” along with your I items
  • compare the items one by one and sort them into priority order based on the benefit of doing (or cost of not doing) each of them
  • aim to spend most of your time (e.g. 60%) on I items
  • if you spend more than 5-10% of your time on IU items, ask yourself if you are in “crisis management mode” – in future, could you do your I items sooner to prevent them becoming urgent and take off the pressure?

So now you’re armed with a mindset and a method you can use to help manage your time. In practice – in the real world – how can you make this work for you?

It helps if you can be a little ruthless with your time management.

Remember, your time is the most precious thing you have!

Heard of the Pareto principle1 (also known as the 80:20 rule)? 20% of your ‘to do’ list items often get you 80% of the way to your objectives. Identify and focus on these items first – and delete as many of the other items as you can while while still meeting your goals. Question your own perfectionism as it can be a productivity killer and may make you feel stressed.

Also, remember that work expands to fill the time allotted to it2, so restrict time and you’ll probably make better choices.

How to manage your time better – Life Hacks & Career Counselling – picture of coffee and cakeFinally, reward yourself when you achieve significant steps towards your goals. We can all benefit from a break or a treat to celebrate the little successes in life.

Next steps

Check out part 2 of this article that looks at how to handle time pressures imposed by other people (e.g. a demanding boss), how to stay on track with your time management, and how to be as productive as you can.

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1Pareto Principle
1Parkinson’s Law

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