Time is money. With today’s tight margins, it’s vital to manage your time, or rather your priorities, more effectively.
The concept of time management is really a misnomer, says Mark Faust, a growth advisor and founder of Echelon Management, and where you should really focus is on prioritization.
“Everybody has the same 86,400 seconds in a day. We all have the same size bucket, with the same size hole in the bottom and the water is dripping out, and it's going to end at the same time for everyone. We can't manage our time, we can only manage our focus on priorities,” he says.
An average to-do list has 36 hours of work on it, Faust continues. The problem becomes that you’re just looking for the fast, fun or simple items on that list, and pushing other tasks to the bottom. But in doing so, and not thinking far enough into the future, you’ll be jumping from one high-stress, urgent task to the next. Everything is urgent because you haven’t taken the time to plan your priorities for the short- and long-term.
Another trap people fall into, especially in times of change, is nostalgia for the past or a reluctance to pivot on a strategy once it has been committed to, says Mary Kelly, PhD, CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret., executive consultant, coach and founder of Productive Leaders.
“The deal with change is that a lot of people waste time thinking about things that they can't change, so regardless of how hard 2020 has been, for example, we can't change a lot of it, so you have to just embrace it. You have to be able to move forward and get past that mindset,” she says.
How do you combat these downfalls and power up your productivity? Kelly is an advocate for daily and weekly productivity sheets. These documents help you outline your main goals for the day or week, what appointments or meetings need to happen, any items to follow up on and what your accomplishments of the day are. Taking the time to plan your time keeps you from wasting time figuring out what to do next. (Download sample sheets here.)
“We all have things that we don't want to do that we procrastinate. Even the best of us have things we just were like, ‘Yeah I'll get to that.’ or ‘I'm just not feeling it.’” Kelly says. “The weekly productivity plan identifies things in minutes, and all of a sudden you look at it and go: ‘Wait a second. I know I need to get this done. I've been procrastinating this for three days on and it's going to take me 22 minutes, I’ll get it done now.”
Another strategy you can use is what Faust calls “Five-minute Priority Management.” Here’s how it works: Take your to-do list for the next day and assign each item an “A” priority or “B” priority. A’s are things that are promises or deadlines where the work must be done that day and if not completed you will work late to finish them, because they must be done. B’s are things that are important, but not so urgent that you can’t let them roll over to the next day.
“That's where the first issue is. You’ve got to be honest about what's an A, and what's a B, and don't equivocate. If you'll work late to get it done, it's an A, and I can't emphasize that enough,” he says.
The next step is the most important: Number your B items in the order of importance. All of the A items are commitments that need to be done the next day, so they don’t necessarily need to be numbered, but you should so that you maintain flow, Faust notes. After you’ve worked through all your A items, having an order assigned to the B items will help you get the most important discretionary items finished first, and you will transition quickly and smoothly by going from one number to the next.
“It's all about implementation. For all the talk about strategy, it ultimately always degenerates into work, and daily planning. And so therefore, this really is the first thing I teach in strategy off-sites—defining what the company priorities are, and then how to do daily priority management. Because if you're not going to implement effectively, what's the use of coming up with the nature and direction of the company?” he says.
“Triage your life by triaging your email,” Kelly says.
She uses a prioritization system with her email subject lines that you can implement with your team. Start the subject line with what needs to happen and include the deadline if applicable. That way you can see at a glance what’s the most important.
For example, if something needs to be ordered by Friday, the subject line would read “Action: Order storage bin by Friday, September 10” Or “Decision: Choose between bids for combine repair by Monday.”