Increase Your Productivity by Using these Simple Time Management Principles

Time Management

Time is more valuable than money. You can always get more money, but you cannot get more time.

Jim Rohn

Contrary to what most people may think, time management is not an attempt at managing time. Time is in constant flow. It cannot be slowed down, stopped or managed. It will pass whether you want it to or not. It will pass whether you realise it or not. It will fly by whether you take advantage of it or not. Time cannot be controlled.

If time cannot be controlled or managed, then what exactly is time management all about? Time Management is the concept of planning and organising specific activities and tasks to fit into the time of your day.

We live in a world where there is a constant demand on our attention. Often, there are so many activities, tasks or things that we want to engage in, and in the end, we are left undecided about what needs to get done first. This constant stream of demand often ends up leaving us emotionally drained and by the end of the day, we wonder where our time has gone and what was actually accomplished that day.

Between wanting to work out, listening to your favourite podcast, watching that new TV Show, hanging out with friends, studying, working and completing projects, how on earth are you supposed to get all of that done?

The power of time management is that it develops a level of self-awareness, and improves how you utilise the time you have. In the end, people with good time management skills are able to get more done in less time. We’ve seen this before, even if we haven’t fully appreciated it when we first saw it.

Think about that student who has all their assignments done, hangs out with their friends whenever they want to, is up to date on the latest TV show. Meanwhile, they’re juggling a part-time job and caring for their family.

What about your work colleague who is always prepared at meetings, has her projects completed, doesn’t seem stressed when deadlines approach, works out regularly and still has time to engage in social and recreational activities.

Professor & The Glass Jar

The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Stephen Covey

A few years ago, I came across this story, which really stuck with me.

A professor once stood up before his class with a large jar. He filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked his students if they thought the jar was full. The students said that yes, the jar was indeed full.

The professor then added small pebbles to the jar, and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. Then he asked his students again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students once again agreed that the jar was full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up any remaining empty space. The students looking around at each other thought that, surely the jar was completely full now.

Then the professor took out a jug with water, and poured some until it levelled at the top. He then explained that the jar was now full. He continued to explain that the jar represents everything that is in a person’s life, and the content is what we fill it with.

The rocks in the above story serve as the most important priorities each person has in their life. These are different for each person, however generally, they may include family, friends, health etc. The pebbles represent the things that matter in each person’s life but are not the most important. These could be things like hobbies, your car, your house etc. The sand is everything else that is left.

The main point of the story is that often we fill our lives with the pebbles and sand first, and as a result, there is no space in our lives to do the things that matter and are important to us. This is the basic tenet of time management. Organising and planning your activities in a way that will allow you to do the things that matter most, meaning filling the jar with rocks first.

Pareto’s Principle (80/20)

One person gets only a week’s value out of a year, while another person gets a full year’s value out of a week.

Charles Richards

To help explain this a little better, we’ll introduce the principle that Vilfredo Pareto made popular. We don’t need to dive into a history lesson right now, so the main thing that you need to know about him is his 80/20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Principle.

This principle states that 80% of the consequences generally come from 20% of the causes. This principle can be observed in a range of different things, such as:

  • 20% of the population usually own 80% of the land
  • 20% of a company’s staff usually derive 80% of its profits
  • 20% of your wardrobe probably accounts for what you wear 80% of the time
  • 20% of a meeting’s time allocation account for 80% of the decisions and next actions

This list can go on and on. You’ll probably start to observe it within various contexts now that you’ve been introduced to it. What does this have to do with anything?

Similar to the Professor and his jar, it could be surmised that 80% of our personal satisfaction and well-being comes from the things that we do 20% of the time. We could also observe that we only spend 20% of our time on the things that are 80% of what is important to us. By developing an awareness of this, it can allow us to tip the scales a little. The great thing about Pareto’s Principle is that unlike other principles, this is not a law. This means that it is not absolute and does not apply in every context. Therefore, if we do observe it in our lives, we can influence change.

If 80% of your retention and learning comes from 20% of the things that you do, well simply knowing what that 20% is can allow you to dedicate time to that, which will give you time elsewhere to do something else.

Self-Awareness

The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.

Michael Altshuler

Now that we know about the Professor and Vilfredo Pareto, let’s talk about how these guys can help you. In order to be able to solve a problem, we must first realise that there is a problem, and then secondly, we must know what the problem is.

The same concept applies in other areas. For example:

  • If you want to lose weight or track your eating habits, it is recommended that you keep a food diary.
  • If you want to gain muscle and strength, it is recommended that you keep a workout log and exercise diary.
  • If you want to manage your finances and save money, it is recommended that you track your spending.

The idea of keeping a record and tracking data is that it provides visual results of the outcomes that you are experiencing. Once you have this in front of you, you can start manipulating variables to make the necessary changes. Seeing that you’re eating cake three times a week makes you realise that maybe you need to cut down. Seeing that you are spending €18.00 every week on coffee makes you realise that you might just be a coffee addict.

Either way, it follows that if you want to be more efficient and effective at managing your time, you should probably develop an awareness of where you spend you time. In the current digitalised world that we live in, there are a number of tools that can help you do this.

The most basic comes with your android or iPhone and can be found in the settings. You don’t even need to download or install an app. However, if you decide to, there are a number of apps that you can use on your phones and laptops that will track where you spend your time and give you a weekly report. This process is not meant to be a scary one. Rather, it is to establish a baseline for you.

Seeing that you are spending an extraordinary amount of time watching YouTube or scrolling through Twitter may help give you that nudge to want to reduce that time by a small increment for next week. Now, you can use that time to read that book that’s been sitting on your shelf for the last few years.

Identifying the Rocks

There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.

Brian Tracy

Okay, so far that makes sense (well, kinda), but how do anyone know what their priorities are?

For the sake of this blog and to keep things simple, the easiest way to identify your priorities is to write down what is important to you. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write down ten things that you consider to be the most important to you.

This could be anything such as, getting my Bachelors Degree or Achieving 6 A’s in my leaving cert, getting a pay rise or buying that dream car, or it could be Spending more time with my family and friends. These things could be something that you could achieve in 12 months or 6 months or even 1 month’s time. It doesn’t matter right now. Just write down the ten things that you consider the most important to you.

Now, strike off five things from that list. Re-write the five remaining things on a separate sheet of paper, look at them and then strike off another two. Rewrite the remaining three things on a new sheet of paper. Now, you are left with the three most important things to you. These are the rocks that should go in first in your glass jar.

One of my most important things is Growth. I want to constantly grow as a person, a friend, a colleague, a coach, a father, a husband and as a leader. This means that I need to constantly devote myself to learning and development. That is a huge priority for me.

Therefore, I do the best I can to devote myself to constantly learning, setting aside time to listen to lectures, read books, attend conferences, speak to others, learn from their experiences and so much more. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it. It just allows me to prioritise my activities in a way that makes sense to me and helps me get closer to what is most important to me.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent, and not enough time on what is important.

Stephen Covey

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States of America. Before he became president, he was a general in the US Army and as part of his role, he had to make tough decisions daily on the vast amount of tasks that he needed to complete. This process gave birth to the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Four Quadrants or the Urgent-Important Matrix.

Swipe Across to see more

As indicated above, each quadrant signifies the type of tasks that will fall into that quadrant.

What’s important here is to understand the difference between urgency and importance.

Urgency signifies that something requires our immediate attention. It must happen by a certain point. For example, your project which is due by tomorrow or answering your phone when it rings. Both can be considered urgent as there is a time condition on them. Importance signifies that something has meaning and contributes to a long-term goal, value or mission. In the above example, the project would be important and the phone call may or may not be important depending on who might be calling.

This simple quadrant has helped me prioritise my tasks and actions for the last number of years. At the start of every week, I usually print a blank template and fill in each quadrant. Anything that is due that week and is highly important goes in the first quadrant. An example would be that project that is due on Wednesday evening, or it could be that you have a presentation that needs to be completed this week. These are examples of things that are highly urgent and highly important.

Then there are things that are important, but not necessarily urgent. This is where the bulk of your work may actually end up being. Things like going to the gym to work out, or going grocery shopping may end up falling in this quadrant. The third quadrant contains things that are urgent (are due to be completed this week) but not necessarily important (according to you). The final quadrant contains things that are not important and not urgent, so you shouldn’t even do that. Perhaps it is a survey that you received that just isn’t important to you, or it could be browsing YouTube endlessly. Whatever, it might be, this becomes your DON’T DO LIST!!

By writing down the things that are most important to you for the coming week, it frees up your mind, and allows you to de-stress. Identifying the important tasks and scheduling them for during the week allows you to relax a little knowing that you have made time to complete it this week.

What if there are eight highly important and highly urgent tasks that need to be completed?

The Power of Priorities

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day!

Mark Twain

One of the best ways of deciding what task to tackle first is simply to refer to your list and identify the most difficult of the tasks. Do that one first.

People naturally have a lot more energy at the start than we do at any other moment. Most people are motivated and hyped on January 1st looking forward to the New Years and completing all their resolutions. People are energised at the start of a New Month, the start of a new week (well, maybe not start of the new week), and at the start of the day. That is generally when we have the most energy and will power.

By attacking the most complex task first, you are setting yourself up so that the week or the day can only go uphill from there. It also prevents you from putting it off at the end. If you left the task until the end of the day when you are exhausted and mentally drained, you are more likely to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow!”.

Schedule it for early in your day or week and you’ll feel so much better knowing that you have it done. In addition, this is great for starting a snowball effect, meaning you feel energised to tackle some more of your tasks from the list.

So, EAT THE FROG FIRST!!

Scheduling

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Parkinson’s Law

Put another way, the above quote means that without a hard limit (a deadline), the task will take you forever to complete it.

This is evident in school projects and assignments. If you have three months to complete a project, then it takes three months (it usually takes the night before to complete it and the rest of the time spent procrastinating about completing it).

This phenomenon can also be seen in unplanned and dis-organised company meetings. If there is no clear agenda and no hard time limit set for the meeting, then the meeting just tends to go on and on, until such a time that someone has to leave to go to another meeting. The length of the meeting doesn’t imply that it was an effective meeting (refer to Pareto’s Principle).

If you want to get more done within the time you have, then planning and scheduling your week ahead of time will assist you here. If you say that you are going to go to the gym, then add that to your calendar. Are you going to go out for a walk? Add that to your calendar.

Saying that you will get a task done on Tuesday means that it’ll take the entire Tuesday. Saying that you’ll complete the task on Tuesday between 10:00 – 11:00 means that you’ll complete it or come real close to completing the task at that time.

If you have scheduled an hour to work on a particular project or task, then stop working on it when that hour is up. Get up, grab a glass of water before moving on to the next task on your calendar.

Break Down Your Projects

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step

Lao Tzu

What about if I have a really tedious and complex project?

Most projects are probably going to be tedious and complex. If we refer back to your list of the most important things to you, you will probably notice that most of them are not something that can be done one time and that’s it. They will have multiple steps to it so that it can be completed.

By breaking down your projects and tasks into smaller bite-size actions, they become easier to visualise and complete. Often, when I have a huge project on my plate, the sheer complexity of the project is daunting, so I put it off, because I don’t want to be uncomfortable right now. However, that starts a snowball effect of me continuously putting it off until the day before it is due. Then, I go into panic mode and put it together last minute. It is not the most efficient or effective use of my time or my energy. It definitely doesn’t do my emotional and mental state any good.

Instead of viewing it as a monstrous project, break the project down into weekly action items, or even daily action items. That way, you can tick off a couple of tasks each day and visualise your progress!

The Power of a Tomato

Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.

Lord Chesterfield

The Pomodoro technique is a method used by successful people to help them focus on task completion. If you find yourself losing focus or constantly procrastinating, then you may want to try out this technique.

Set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus on a single task for the entirety of those 25 minutes. When the timer runs out, take a five minute break. Then reset the timer and repeat. After 4 cycles, take a 20 minute break. 25 – 5 – 25 – 5 – 25 – 5 – 25 – 20.

The five minute break allows you a brief reset, a toilet break, a coffee break, a smoke break or whatever else you need to step away for a minute. Otherwise, you focus on a task and that single task for the entirety of those 25 minutes. By focusing in such a method, you can get into a deep state of flow and work almost in a trance on your important tasks.

The Power of Multitasking

To do two things at once is to do neither.

Publius Syrus

There is no power in multitasking. It is inefficient. It slows you down. It distracts you. Don’t multitask.

Instead, re-read the previous section on the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for yourself. Ten Minutes, 5 Minutes, 20 Minutes. I doesn’t matter. Set that time for yourself and complete one of your tasks within that time. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t check your email. Don’t browse another website. Complete the task within the time frame for yourself, and then take a break. During your break, check your email, messages, social media and what not.

Multitasking isn’t efficient.

Silent Hour

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.

Abraham Lincoln

I don’t know about most people, but I have been there multiple times. I sit down and am ready to get started working, yet it takes me a couple of minutes. I need to tidy up my desk and complete some menial tasks just to get me into a rhythm and a good headspace. Now, I’m ready to attack my day and then, I’m interrupted.

This single interruption sets me back twenty minutes, as I have to address it, and then sit back down and go through that weird phase of getting comfortable and back into a decent headspace to work.

The idea of the silent hour is that you make an appointment with yourself. You schedule an hour or two during the day where you ensure that you cannot be interrupted. This way you have the time and can really focus to get into a state of flow and dive into some deep work. For me, it is early in the morning when everyone in the house is asleep. Those are my silent hours.

Not all Hours have 60 Minutes

I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.

Golda Meir

A couple of years ago, I was living in a small town called Stafford, Virginia. At that time, I was coaching at Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, Virginia. Depending on the time you left to commute from Stafford to Arlington, the commute could take you any where from a three hour drive to an hour drive due to traffic.

My coaching duties started at 15:00 every day when the school day was over. However, if I was to leave Stafford anytime after 07:30AM, it would take me approximately three hours to get to the school. So, I made a commitment to myself to get up early each morning and make the trip to Arlington before 07:00, which took me an hour saving me two hours of each way on my daily commute. Those are hours that I was then able to dedicate to anything else that I wished to do.

Look at your day and schedule. If you have some empty hours such as above, assess and see what you can do during those times. Can you leave the house earlier, skip the traffic and get a workout in before school or work each day? Can you stay back after work for an hour, skip the traffic and catch up on some reading or start diving into an assignment?

Time Management

The great thing about people who can successfully manage their time is that they begin to get more done in less time. This allows more time that they can dedicate to a range of other things that enhance mental and emotional well-being. Going out for walks, working out regularly, meeting with your friends and relaxing with the family. Time management is a powerful skill that helps you improve one aspect of your life right after the other.

For those of you who have been here since the beginning, you might be wondering what the water represents from the Professor and his Glass Jar. The water represents that regardless of how busy and hectic your life is, there is always time to hydrate, so go ahead and grab a glass of water.

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