Do you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with? That question always gets a big laugh in my career strategy workshops where improving time management is a top priority for participants. Despite that desire, taking control of how they spend their time remains an elusive goal for even highly accomplished professionals. Escaping the tyranny of the to-do list once and for all requires a fresh, vision-driven, strategic, and organized approach.
Managing your time effectively begins with the realization that you are unlikely to ever complete every task on your list. Once you accept that fact, you will see how critical it is to set priorities.
First Things First
Many people find a visual representation of what’s on their list very helpful in determining what they should tackle first. The Importance/Urgency Matrix is a simple tool that works well for this purpose. Try plotting each item on the grid below. The closer to the upper left corner of the grid you place an item, the sooner you will likely want to complete it as it is both urgent and important. Items on the bottom right – neither important nor urgent – belong on your not-to-do list. You will want to be sure you address all important items, urgent or not. Consider putting important items that are not time-sensitive on your calendar if they will take significant time to complete. This will help ensure you get to them in a reasonable timeframe. In the context of everything else you have to do in a given period of time, evaluate whether it is prudent to address the tasks that are less important but time-sensitive.
Getting the Work Done and Off the List
Now that you’ve limited your list to the essentials, set yourself up to be efficient to complete the work. I keep my list tucked in the clear cover of a durable folder and put color-coded files in it that hold everything I need to complete each task so it is at my fingertips when I’m ready to work on it. Make a regular practice of reviewing your to-do list to keep it current and items ranked according to priority. Make sure you put appointments on your calendar to be sure you’ve left enough time to accomplish any time-sensitive task on schedule.
Don’t Forget to Celebrate
Doesn’t it feel great to complete a project and cross it off your list? Don’t forget to celebrate and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. If all you do to mark the occasion is get up and walk around the block or pour yourself a cup of tea, take a moment to appreciate yourself for a job well done.