Fourteen Skills To Improve Your Time Management

“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” ~ M. Scott Peck

The 4 Rules Of Time

From Brian Tracy, motivational speaker, author, and expert in human potential and achievement, we learn that there are 4 rules of time. [Tracy]

Time is perishable. You can’t “save” time, you can only decide how you use the time you have. Once a minute has passed, you cannot get it back.

Time is indispensable. Nothing can take it’s place. Everything we do, everything we accomplish — from eating breakfast, to crafting a sonnet, to earning a living, to building a relationship — is done in the context of time.

Time is irreplaceable. Just as you cannot save time, you cannot replace time that has past. You cannot undo that which was done, you cannot do that which was not done.

Time is essential for accomplishment. Every thing we do, every goal we accomplish, requires time.

Time is possibly the most important resource we have. “You can get more money,” Jim Rohn has said, “but you cannot get more time.” Nor do we know how much of the resource of time we have, or have left.

Think “Event Control”.

Hyrum Smith, who developed the Franklin planner, preferred the term “event control” instead of “time management”. [Smith] You can’t “manage” time, but you can control (to an extent) the events you choose to spend time on. You cannot store up time to be used in the future, but you can choose how you use the present moment. Because time is indispensable and essential for accomplishment, it just makes good sense to use it as wisely as possible.

Here are some ideas for making good use of your time. Some might make sense for you, some may not, but read through this list to see if you get a good idea or two for upgrading your event control skills.

1. Work from a list.

“The keys to productivity are to have a method of keeping track of all you have to do, and then having a way to choose the task or activity that is the best use of your time in this moment.” [Huskey] You must have a way to keep track of all the things you want to do and have to do, in order to fulfill your obligations, move toward your goals, and generally keep your life on track. If you try to keep this list in your head, you’ll forget important things. If you don’t keep a list at all, you’ll spin your wheels a good deal of the time. Make a list and use it.

2. Create detailed plans with step-by-step actions.

If a task cannot be completed in one step, it may be helpful to do some planning. A project, David Allen tells us in Getting Things Done, is “any desired result that requires more than one action step.” [Allen] I find it helpful to take a few minutes to think through and write out the specific steps I need to take, even for small projects. The time it takes to write the plan is well worth the savings in time to do the steps. Some experts estimate that for every minute spent in planning, you save 10 minutes in execution.

3. Adopt the Getting Things Done (GTD) practices.

David Allen wrote the book on one of the most widely-used time management techniques today. The book is called Getting Things Done and has sold over 1.5 million copies. The basics of GTD are divided into 5 steps. Capture everything. Decide what you will do with it. Organize to keep track of it. Review so nothing gets forgotten. And Do the work. I give a brief overview of these steps in the e-book The Zen of Productivity.  But if you want to fully understand and implement this powerful process, I strongly suggest you get the book.

4. Prioritize.

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism

It isn’t all that helpful to get things done if you aren’t doing the right things. All the productivity tools in the world won’t help you much if you aren’t doing the things that move you toward your goals. It is essential that you know the steps you must take AND know which one comes first, which one comes second, etc. Successfully completing tasks that lead you nowhere is counter-productive. In order to work on your most important task, you must know what it is. And you know that by prioritizing.

5. Set & honor deep-work time blocks.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, has stated that we are moving more and more from “deep work” to “shallow work” – checking e-mail, taking phone calls, reacting to the latest push notification from our phones or web browsers and flitting from one task to another. Deep work – focusing on meaningful and important tasks – is becoming more rare and, at the same time, more valuable. Newport uses this equation: High Quality Work Produced = Time Spent X Intensity of Focus. If you want to accomplish more of your important, priority 1 tasks, learn to establish and honor deep-work time blocks when you focus exclusively on your work.

6. Use a planner.

I confess that I no longer use a physical planner. Instead I use a calendar and documents on my computer to keep track of my appointments, obligations, and To Do list (using the GTD concepts as my guide). But for many years, when I had to travel for my job, I carried and used a Franklin planner, where I kept track of everything. There are a host of other products, as a quick perusal at any local office supply store shows. You might find this time management tool to be useful. If you haven’t used a planner, I encourage you to try one. You may find a planner especially helpful if you adopt the Getting Things Done methodology.

7. Make good use of “gifts” of time.

We all receive these gifts now and then: waiting for your spouse or child; an unexpected cancellation of an appointment; stuck in a waiting room because the doctor is behind schedule. Sometimes these can feel like frustrating interruptions to our schedules. Instead, see them as a gift – a bit of time that you now have available. In order to use these gifts effectively, have some brief tasks in the pipeline along with any materials you need. Some people carry note cards or thank you cards to write a brief note to a friend. You could have a magazine article to read or read a few pages from a book. Or return a phone call. The trick here is to plan ahead and be ready when you are gifted with a few minutes of unplanned “spare” time.

8. Know what to do next.

This is a corollary of the first two steps. When you know what to do next, you don’t waste time spinning your wheels or drifting into social media limbo. When you plan your work and work from a list, you generally know what to do next.

9. Ask “Now what needs to be done?”

If you find yourself having accomplished your current task, and you don’t know what to do next, ask yourself “Now what needs to be done?” As we learn with the Getting Things Done model, this can depend on a number of factors: how much time you have, how much energy you have, where you are (context), and priority. It’s a good idea to make asking “Now what needs to be done?” into a habit when you come to the end of a task.

10. Do 1 thing.

“We never receive more than we can handle, and there is always just one thing to do.”  ~ Byron Katie

This is a concept that I learned from Steve Chandler in his book, Time Warrior. The idea is to approach each task as if it is the only thing you have to do today. I find that this allows me to focus on the task at hand. More importantly, from my perspective, it helps me stick with a job until it’s complete, a thing I often find difficult.

11. Plan each day with specific things to accomplish.

This sounds like a rehash of several of the precepts I’ve already mentioned, but this idea is related to the important concept of small steps. Research indicates that performance goals — activities you take to reach an end result — are generally preferable to outcome goals — the end result only. Some of your daily activities should be the small steps that inevitably lead to the accomplishment of a desired result.

12. Schedule in down time for reading, napping, etc.

You cannot be at your best when you cram each minute with activity. In his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang addresses the need for rest in order to be more creative and productive. “Work and rest are not polar opposites.” Pang says. “You cannot talk about rest without also talking about work.” And vice-versa. To be your most productive, schedule in down time during the day.

13. Follow your natural flow and rhythm.
(If you don’t know, learn what it is.)

Are you an early riser or a night owl? Do you hop out of bed before the alarm and get started? Or do you need at least 3 cups of coffee before you’re fit to talk to and hit your stride in the late afternoon or evening? Circadian rhythm is a daily cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral patterns. Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. Learn when you are at your most alert and energetic and schedule in your difficult and important tasks, the ones that need your best creativity, during those times. Similarly, learn when your low points of energy are during the day and schedule in routine tasks or rest during those times. Tap into your unique rhythm and do your best work.

14. Leave space for Life.

Living productively, effectively and efficiently is good. And living by a schedule is important. As W. Somerset Maughm said: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” But as we’ve discovered, you can’t operate by a strict schedule every minute of the day and be at your best. Don’t try to schedule every minute; leave time for rest, creative play, and spontaneity. Some of your best ideas will likely come during this time. Again, from Rest: “Compared with its conscious, directed state, the wandering mind deals with problems in a looser, freer way.” [Pang]

Practice.

Do you have room in your schedule for making some improvements in your “event control”? Reading about improving your skills will not help you improve. You must practice.  Pick one or two of these ideas and decide on one small step you could take to implement them. Don’t try to perform the step perfectly — that becomes discouraging and demotivating. Think of it as practice – you don’t have to do it perfectly, you just have to do it. As with any skill, you improve as you take the step and make corrections along the way.

Remember the 4 rules of time: Time is perishable , indispensable, irreplaceable, and essential for accomplishment. Treat your limited time here as the invaluable resource it is. That is embracing the Excelerated Life!

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Excelerated productivity — improving efficiency and effectiveness — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.


Resources

“Four Rules Of Time” https://www.briantracy.com/blog/personal-success/four-rules-of-time/ 05/28/2018

Allen, David. Getting Things Done. New York: Penguin Books, 2001

Chandler, Steve. Time Warrior: How to Defeat Procrastination, People-Pleasing, Self-Doubt, over-Commitment, Broken Promises and Chaos. Anna Maria, FL: Maurice Bassett, 2011.

Huskey, Steven (2017). The Zen Of Productivity. https://theexceleratedlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/The-Zen-of-Productivity.pdf

McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2014

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World. New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. New York: Basic Books, 2016

Smith, Hyrum W. The 10 Natural Laws Of Successful Time And Live Management. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1994


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