From time to time, I have clients ask me if I can do anything to help them with personal time management. Typically, they have put too much on their plate and they can’t figure out how to get everything done. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years as I transitioned from a poor time manager to a more effective time manager: There’s a big difference between time management and effective time management.
For many of us, time management boils down to managing our to-do lists – trying to get more done and checking it off our lists within prescribed deadlines. But doing more doesn’t mean we are achieving what we want. Many of us are caught in the hamster wheel, running as fast as we can and not really getting anywhere. Entrepreneurial leaders are faced with an endless supply of possible things to do. Every day, life will hand you a hundred more things you could add to your list.
You Must Pause to Prioritize
Effective time management is about prioritizing. It’s deciding what we want, what we will do towards that end, and even more important, what we will not do.
Most of us will never experience effective time management because we won’t stop running. We convince ourselves that the only answer is to run faster and longer. “It has to get done,” we think, “and I have to do it.” The tyranny of the urgent ensnares all of us, so the first and most effective time management step is to pause. Stop voluntarily. Don’t wait for the heart attack to stop you and force you to re-prioritize. Break from the reactive, mechanical doer mode.
Now that you have stopped “doing” – ask yourself two questions:
- What outcome do I want to achieve in the given period of time? In the day, week, quarter, and year ahead of you, choose the outcomes you want to achieve. These are the outcomes that are most important to you. Everything else is less important and a distraction to your achieving what you want most. Set aside regular times to get and stay clear on what matters, even if it feels foreign at first. This clarity is essential for effectively managing your time and activities. The clearer you are about what you want and why you want it, the more impervious you will be to distraction. With your outcomes vividly clear in your mind, answer the second question.
- What must I do in the precious time I have to produce each desired outcome? Prioritize and create your to-do list based on what will help you achieve your desired outcomes.
The process is simple – but it’s not easy, and it’s absolutely impossible without the pauses. The tough part is choosing between all the things we can do to isolate the few things we must do to achieve the outcomes that matter most. Follow the process regularly – pause and answer the two questions – and I promise it will get easier and you will become an effective time manager.