Whether you're working, in school, or just trying to organize your life, time management is a critical skill to master that can help you reach your personal and professional goals. Unfortunately, there tend to be many obstacles to overcome when it comes to managing one's time effectively.
Whether it's last minute requests, a chaotic schedule, long meetings, or even procrastination, everyone has to deal with things that can take time out of their day. Luckily, there's hope for us all. Here are four skills to manage your time more effectively and accomplish not only what you need to get done, but what you want to get done.
1. Set Goals
The whole point of managing your time should be to make sure you put yourself in a position to meet your goals. So logically, the first step in time management is to make sure you know what your goals actually are. When setting goals, think about what matters to you both professional and personally. On the professional side you might want to ask yourself:
- Where do you want to take your career in the next 3 - 5 years?
- What do you need to accomplish in your current role to get there?
- Could you benefit from training to become more productive or efficient in your current role?
On the personal side, some common questions to consider are:
- How much time do you want to spend with friends and family?
- What interests or hobbies do you want to pursue further?
- Do you want to devote time to focusing on your health?
These are just starting points, but once you decide what your goals are, it's important to order them in terms of which are most important to you. This will help you decide where you should be investing the majority of your time and how to make a schedule. Which brings me to the next step...
2. Plan for the Long-Term
Now that you know what your goals are, it's time to start making a schedule and planning ahead. One of the most common frameworks for planning is the "Big Rocks" illustration popularized by Steven Covey. In this illustration, our limited amount of time is represented by a glass jar, and all of things that we want to accomplish are broken up into the following categories:
- Sand - which represents the tasks that take a small amount of time but can be easily distracting (phone calls, emails, social media, etc.)
- Pebbles - which represent the tasks which are meaningful but only have slight consequences if they are not completed (i.e. some of your lesser responsibilities at work will fall into this category)
- Big Rocks - which represent the most important things in our lives that will have significant consequences if they are not completed. (i.e. everything from step 1)
The idea is that if you start by filling the jar with the sand and the pebbles first, then you wont leave any room for the big rocks. So how does this relate to planning ahead? Well, when making a schedule or plan of what you want to accomplish, you should start by making time for the things that matter to you most - the "Big Rocks" - and then fill in the gaps with the pebbles and sand. This framework can help you focus on the long-term and even the medium-term, but what about the short-term?
3. Prioritize For the Short-Term
With a long list of things that need to get done in a short amount of time (think within the next one to two weeks), it can be difficult to figure out what to start with. Luckily, there's a simple framework that you can use to sort it out.
- Important and urgent — Tasks that must be done. Do them right away.
- Important but not urgent — Tasks that appear important, but upon closer examination aren’t. Decide when to do them.
- Urgent but not important — Tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. Delegate these if possible.
- Not urgent and not important — Low-priority stuff that offer the illusion of “being busy.” Do them later.
4. Understand Time-to-Value (TTV)
Ok, so you've made it through the most important steps. You know your goals, you have a plan to reach them and a method to account for the short-term, but what about the actual work itself? How much time should you spend on a given task? Until it's good enough? Until it's perfect? And how long is too long? Figure it out by keeping track of three essential elements of productivity:
- Output (how much work is being completed)
- Input (how much time or money did it take to be completed)
- Quality (how well is the work being completed)
All three of these elements are important for various reasons. It would be meaningless for someone to complete a high amount of work in a short amount of time if the quality was poor. At the same time, it wouldn't matter if someone produced work of the highest quality but at huge expense and low output. A graph I like to use the find balance between all three is represented below:
Phase 1 involves the time it takes to plan before you begin actually working on a project. During this phase, very little quality is added directly to the finished piece. Phase 2 involves the actual work itself, where the bulk of the quality is added to the finished product. Phase 3 involves perfecting the work to make sure it meets certain quality standards before it's deemed complete. To increase productivity, you should focus on shortening the time it takes to get to this point. At the same time, as you add more inputs in Phase 3 you begin to receive diminishing returns -this should be avoided.
Bonus Tips: Distractions and Delegation
Even though these are bonus tips, they are just as important as everything else you've read so far. The only reason they're listed as tips is because if you've truly mastered the four skills in this post, then avoiding distractions and proper delegation should occur naturally. That being said, they warrant mentioning nonetheless.
Distractions can be dangerous when they present the illusion of urgency. These types of distractions fall into one or both of these categories: 'sand' from the second section, or 'noise' from the third section above. It's important to identify when and where these distractions occur and to avoid those situations from arising through proper planning and prioritization.
As you achieve your goals, especially in work environment, you will need to begin to delegate certain tasks. This can be difficult when you have to delegate tasks that you've come to enjoy or that you've become proficient doing. However, any task with a low impact, that do not align with your goals, or that require a large input of time or money should all be considered for delegation. When you do not delegate tasks like these, they can act as an anchor - keeping you stuck where you are and preventing you from spending time on the things that matter most to you.
Once you set your goals, check out New Breed's Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing to discover how you can optimize your marketing strategy to help you meet your goals.
Guido is Head of Product and Growth Strategy for New Breed. He specializes in running in-depth demand generation programs internally while assisting account managers in running them for our clients.