A recent Harvard Business Review blog post takes on the idea that we can be everything to everyone and produce high-level work at all times.

“The idea that we can get it all done is the biggest myth in time management,” says Peter Bregman, a strategic advisor to CEOs and their leadership teams, who wrote the blog. “There's no way any of us are going to accomplish everything we want to get done. Face it: You're a limited resource.”

Bregman tells it like it is and encourages leaders to recognize a simple fact: Each day only has 24 hours and we can't sustainably work through all of them.

“On the one hand, that's depressing,” he admits. “On the other hand, acknowledging it can be tremendously empowering. Once we admit that we aren't going to get it all done, we're in a much better position to make explicit choices about what we are going to do. Instead of letting things haphazardly fall through the cracks, we can intentionally push the unimportant things aside and focus our energy on the things that matter most.”

Of course, that means we have to both correctly identify those things that need to be done and do them, Bregman notes.

“Most of us manage our time reactively, making choices based on the needs that land on our desks,” he says. “To determine the ‘right things,’ we need to make deliberate choices that will move us toward the outcomes we most want. Which, of course, also means that we need to make deliberate choices about what not to do. The world will take what it can from us. It's never been more important to be strategic about what we choose to give it.”

To ensure good follow through, Bregman recommends using tools and rituals, including an environment that makes it more likely that we will do the things that matter most and less likely that we will waste our time with meaningless, unproductive diversions. In addition, leaders must learn how to prioritize properly, delegate deliberately, tabulate to-do lists and mitigate multitasking. He offers the following tips:

 

  1. Think for a moment about the time-management problems you face. Do you leave the office with a nagging feeling that you worked all day but didn't get your most important work done? Do you feel like you aren't taking advantage of your talents and passions? Are you distracted by little things? Avoiding big hairy projects? Do you interrupt yourself with email and other distractions? Try taking this three-minute quiz to discover where you are distracting yourself the most.
  2. Once you've identified your biggest time-management challenges, choose a single one to tackle. Maybe you're not clear on your "right things." Maybe you use the wrong rituals. Maybe you strive for perfection. Pick the challenge that most often gets in your way. Then choose one time-management tactic to solve that challenge — just one of the many good suggestions you've encountered here and elsewhere.
  3. If that tactic works, repeat the process with another challenge. If it doesn't, try a new tactic. Continue to approach things this way, one at a time, so you can be sure what works for you and what doesn't.