It’s a common refrain, there are just not enough hours in the day. I hear this a lot from people worried about adding a new activity to their list. Sometimes I even hear it in relation to turning their finances around. The thing is with good time management most people can easily handle another activity. Today I am going to explore some tips and tricks around time management.
There are definitely people out there that have more things to do then they have time in the day. Warren Buffet comes to mind. But for many of us the real issue is ensuring we maximize the time we do have. Prioritization and it’s red headed cousin analysis paralysis usually seem to be the two main culprits in time theft.
Prioritization and Time Management
The first way to install proper time management is to prioritize you work. Then execute it in priority order. Most prioritization is straight forward. For example, watching TV should come after I feed my family. That being said sometimes things get a little more complex. In that case I consider two main factors and the combination of them give me my prioritization.
Value and Time Management
The first is the value of the item to me. For example, in general writing a blog post only brings me the satisfaction of writing something. It doesn’t put food on the table or otherwise help me financially. Paying my bills meanwhile does keep my family from having bad credit. So at least on the surface paying bills is a higher value item. As we’ll see in a minute there are scenarios where a blog post is a higher priority then paying my bills.
Urgency and Time Management
Urgency is the second dimension. If my bill is not due for a month but my blog post is due tomorrow, I would prioritize the blog post ahead of bill paying. This is especially important for tie breakers. For example paying bills and investing are both high value items. If I don’t get cash invested I stand to lose out on returns, remembering based on studies time in the market is the most important investment criteria. However, if I don’t pay my bills my credit suffers. The thing is, depending on the date my bill may not be due for 30 days. Thus my urgency changes over time as does the prioritization of these two items.
A final note on urgency, It’s important to remember urgency actually has two dimensions as well. The first is the due date and the second is how long it will actually take to do it. If something is due a month from now and takes 2 weeks to do then it is much more urgent than something that is due a month from now and takes a day. On a shorter time scale if I have a day to pay a bill and write a blog post, the blog post might actually be more urgent since it takes longer to write then to pay a bill.
Prioritization but not Analysis Paralysis
So every choice I make is a quick back of the hand estimate of the urgency and value to determine what I do next. But… and I see this a lot in others… It has to be a quick back of the hand calculation. I’ve seen many people over the years be paralyzed by the number of things they need to do. So they don’t do any of it. This is the worst course of action as they dig themselves deeper. You should be spending no more than a few minutes analyzing your options, prioritizing, and choosing what to do next. If you learn proper prioritization and you don’t become paralyzed or spend hours prioritizing most people will be in good shape. That being said there is one more tactic that you can use that outweighs even prioritization.
Work Ahead on High Value Items
Many people are procrastinators. They get done their current list, see something due a month from now and say “I’ll do it then”. The problem is the more items to choose from the more likely you will have difficulty making a decision, leading to analysis paralysis. In fact making decisions before they become urgent will lead to better decisions. Procrastination makes you more likely to be hit with high priority and highly urgent items. It’s important to knock the truly high priority items out before they become urgent. The low priority items you can ultimately skip if there is a real issue. You can’t do that with the things that matter.
High Value Low Urgency Blog Post Writing
Case in point, posting 2x a week on this blog is an important goal of mine. To that end, realizing I have periods of overload, I tend to have a significant backlog of articles. This recently saved me considerably. For those that have been reading you will recall in November I mentioned doing some other non blog related activities. What I didn’t mention was the extent of those activities. Essentially almost all of the following 2 months I spent traveling either for pleasure or work. In total 5 and half weeks of November and December I was on the road. For the few weeks we were here I had to do things like spend time with my family, buy Christmas gifts, and winterize the house. Those things were clearly higher value even then the blog. And yet the posts kept coming.
This was not because I had time to write them, but because I wrote them when I did. I wrote them at a time when they were less urgent. Then when my busy time came their priority was low compared to my other priorities so writing slipped. As we entered the week after Christmas though my calendar cleared, and my writing took off again. I’m half way back to the backlog of posts I had before November. I use the blog as an example here but this applies across my life. Even when I’m sitting in front of the TV vegging out I’m churning in the back of my mind on some work problem or post idea. In fact some of my best ideas come while reading a book or watching a movie.
Don’t be Afraid to Drop the Unimportant things
Which leads me to the last point. In a truly urgent situation you can’t be afraid to let non value added tasks drop. If watching TV is not of value, then if things get dicey it goes. If it comes down to my family or writing a blog post, we all know who wins.
A Final Note
I keep picking on TV as something most of my audience probably agrees on as non value added, but your priorities are unique to you. Only you can decide what is most valuable or urgent based on your underling values. But I suspect if you take a step back and evaluate your situation you’ll find a lot of non value added time you could otherwise use to be productive.
How do you do Time Management? Any other recommendations I missed?