I got a great question the other day, regarding how I manage my time. They were looking for some best practices. Truth be told, each person manages their time very differently. However, I recognize that we need a starting point of a routine in order to tweak it make it our own personal best practice. So, here is how I organize & prioritize things.
- The EVERYTHING List
I’m a little old school. I need to write down ALL my to-dos. Both personal and professional. I need to see everything. It’s kind of like Marie Kondo‘s purging tips. If you don’t know Marie Kondo, then you’re missing out. She’s is the queen of household organization. She’s even on Netflix, which many people are binging! One of her tips is to take out everything to see what you have. I have the same philosophy about my action items. I write down EVERYTHING, so that I can see what it left to be done. Just a big brain dump of everything both personal and professional.
Gather your items in one place to get an accurate grasp of what you have.
It really helps to get it all out of your system and just write it all down. It’s a living list, which will continue to change. I’m traditional, so I use pen and paper. However, there are tonnes of great digital tools that are FREE… Evernote, Wunderlust, Todoist, Trello, Google Keep and many others.
2. The Art of Prioritization:
Fear not… we are going to create a simple roadmap of how to make this more manageable. Marie Kondo, may ask the question “Does it bring you joy”, that question isn’t relevant here. I always go back to an oldie but goldie.. Stephen R. Covey’s – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People : Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
One of his key matrix breaks things into 4 categories. Classifying each action item into Urgent/Not Urgent and then if it’s Important or Not Important.
Your step here is to take each of those activities and classify them in one of those 4 boxes. What I actually do, is classify each task under each of these categories. My to-do list is a written one, so I actually highlight each item in my notebook to match the category. What is interesting is that it really helps us focus and identify which are the time wasters.
There are so many value bombs in this book. Others may have renamed his matrix in order to re-brand it, but the skeleton of success that still after many decades is a powerful tool. This book should be part of everyone’s toolkit. I actually have the matrix on the wall, in front of my desk to remind me to think a little logically.
3. Eliminate the time wasters
Those time wasters, you get rid of them! Ta-da! What a great quick win. The time wasters are in the category of not urgent and not important. Some examples could be, going through responding to some emails, watching TV (or in my case.. re-binging on Game of Thrones.. can’t help it). I get so many emails asking me for meetings or coffees. If there are emails that just say that “Hi Sapna, I’d like to meetup for coffee” and there is no objective of the meeting or I can’t see any value to the meeting. I put those emails at the bottom of the correspondence list.
3. Negotiate or Eliminate
The ones that are Urgent and Not-Important – you need to re-review that list. Some of those items may be disguised as urgent. I’d ask the question for these items. What would happen if I didn’t do it. What would the impact be? If it is an activity that must be done, I’d ask this question “When is the latest that I need complete this by?” It’s a powerful question and sometimes, people’s requests seem urgent and then when you ask them.
“What is the latest date that I can get this back to you on?”,
It might turn out to be in 2-3 weeks. Sometimes, some of these activities are just to manage people’s expectations. It’s an easy question to ask and justify. You can easily explain that I want to give this activity my full attention and I’m just trying to balance and re-prioritize the work. It’s an easy negotiation and 85% of the time, the other person will say “Any chance I can get in back by the end of two weeks?”.
What a win! Plus, you are positioning it that you recognize the importance of the key activity, however you want to ensure that you have adequate time to perform your necessary due diligence. It just shows a level of professionalism and maturity.
4. Important Categories (the top left & right quadrant)
These are the most important ones.. hence the title. The urgent ones goes higher in the list than the non-urgent. But, wow.. how does that make you feel? that you basically managed to eliminate quite a few items from your list. However, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees some times. Are all these timelines intersecting and hitting at the same time? Don’t worry..
I got you!
5. Calendar Visual
Take all the urgent & important items and put them in a calendar. Something that you can visually look at, that way you can see where and when the bulk of the activities are clustering together. Now, add in the important and not urgent items on the calendar. Pro-tip: I tend to put these two in different colours. That way I can easily and visually distinguish them.
6. Break It Down
Let’s be honest.. some activities are fairly large. I tend to break them down into smaller components and even smaller components if it is an activity that I’m dreading doing.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
This is a well known-saying. We are human. There are some activities that we are happy to procrastinate and delay for as long as possible. I break those items down even into smaller sub-tasks.
7. Power of 3
This is something that I’ve learned with experience. I can only actually accomplish three (3) things per day. If I write down 10, I’ll still only accomplish 3 or maybe 4 of them. Then I feel like a failure for not accomplishing the goals for the day. So, I only write down 3 things a day. Let’s be honest, things come up and we have to deal with them. Some opportunities won’t wait.
So, we definitely want to have flexibility to be able to do that while we continue to work towards our own important activities.
Another thing is, that I try to batch like items together (in groups of 3). For example, if I have 3 blogs to write, I do it on the same day. I try to batch similar items together, so that I can keep in that head space and continue with that grove.
8. Eat Your Frogs First
This is my favorite gem of a best practices… Out of the 3 items that I wrote down for the day. I do the activity that I dread the most or don’t want to do. I just get it over and done with.. I treat myself to a great cup of coffee, put in my headphones and tackle it, like a pro!
“Eat Your Frogs First”
Next thing you know, it’s done. And, it really increases my confidence and enables me to finish the other two activities.
This is how I plan and manage my time. I hope this helps. It provides a baseline for something that you can try and then, you can tweak it based on your preferences. Then you’ll have your own best practice.
Would love to hear your thoughts and if you have any other tips. I’m always looking for ways to improve my game!