Are you or do you know someone who is chronically late? Doesn’t finish assignments on time? Always stressed because there is too much to do? Mastering some very basic principles will help you manage your time better and will also help you when dealing with others. These five principles are not dependent on you using any particular kind of time management tool. They are meant to be independent of technology, paper planners, and other devices. They are universal principles that apply to anyone in any situation.
The 5 Basic Principles of Time Management
If you can master these five (5) basic principles of time management, you will have what it takes to plan and execute effectively.
Take time to plan
Tie your priorities to your values and goals
Know what is truly important and stick to it
You can’t do more things than you have time available
Only a system can be improved
Let’s look at each of these individually.
Principle 1: Take time to plan
Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast. Keep the following in mind:
▪ Start of day:
Lay out everything that will comprise your day by listening to voicemail, briefly checking email, and reviewing your task list
Think about your day, estimate time for each thing you would like to accomplish
Review long-range objectives
Monitor progress and adjust your plan if necessary
▪ End of day:
File loose papers
Finish any client or case related notes
Review anything new for tomorrow
Check tomorrow’s task list
Leave your desk organized
Do you do each of these things every day?
If not, how will you incorporate them into your routine and make them a habit?
Principle 2: Tie your priorities to your values and goals
You have to do more than say something is important, It must make it onto your “to do” list.
Unless you attach value to your tasks, they easily fall off the radar and won’t support reaching your goals. Once they make it onto your “to do” list, then you can assess their importance in both short and long terms, and in comparison to other things you need to do.
The picture above illustrates the importance values have on what we do each day. Our values and principles are our foundation and drive our behavior. They are at the root of understanding what is important to us. In order to get things done each day, we must be clear about what is important to us, hence the tie back to values, the highest priorities in our personal lives.
Principle 3: Know what is truly important and stick to it
You really define what is most important when you see the universe of what you need to accomplish.
▪ Start by creating a master list – put everything on it that you must accomplish
▪ Break down larger projects into smaller tasks
(e.g. Initial intake interview could have the smaller tasks of make appointment, talk to attending physician, gather all necessary forms, etc.)
▪ Estimate how long each task will take and determine priorities
▪ Decide what you need to do today based on priority and how much time you have available.
Try using the following easy system to set priorities:
A (or high): must be done today
B (or medium): should be done today
C (or low): might do today
Remember, planning is really about juggling, and you can only keep so many balls in the air at one time. Be realistic about how long things will take and how urgent things are. It is not helpful if everything on your list is a top priority and must get done today – that defeats the purpose of planning!
Principle 4: You can’t do more things than you have time available
Figuring out how much you can accomplish in a day is simply about doing the math. If you have 8 hours to spend at work, you can’t get 11 hours of work done. There are two kinds of time that comprise your day:
▪ Discretionary time: Time within your control
▪ Non-discretionary time: Time outside your control or time you have committed to such things as scheduled events (include travel time to and from these events)
You have to plan around things that are outside of your control. Sometimes you will be forced to make choices; sometimes you will need to tell someone who is asking too much of your time to make a choice about what is most important. Being able to set expectations is important, and you can only do that if you are clear about what you have on your plate and corresponding priorities. Letting others (probably your boss and co-workers) know that something they are asking you to do competes with another priority will allow you to have a discussion and agree together which priority takes precedence. You may also need to agree on new deadlines when items shift. Keep in mind if you have thought through all of the items on your “to do” list, understand each item’s priority, and have estimated how long it will take to complete each item, you are then equipped to negotiate if people ask you to make changes.
*Special Note: Handling Procrastination
Whether apathy, boredom, anxiety, or something else keeps you from getting to the task at hand, try the following:
Combat apathy ▪ Make it meaningful ▪ Just DO it (and get it over with) ▪ Do the least rewarding activity first ▪ Give yourself rewards along the way ▪ Team up with someone else ▪ Start in the middle ▪ Delegate it ▪ Be okay about not doing it ▪ Make it fun
Handle anxiety ▪ Decide on the next action, and do it (the next one will be easier) ▪ Focus on a successful outcome ▪ Don’t get overwhelmed, get clarification ▪ Break tasks into manageable pieces ▪ Start in the middle ▪ Make it fun
Principle 5: Only a system can be improved
Any system is better than no system. What a system does for you:
▪ Gives you permission to forget (it’s in the system)
▪ Helps work to get done on time
▪ Prevents things from falling through the cracks
▪ Gives you control
▪ Allows you to track delegated tasks
▪ Leaves more time to do what you really want to be doing
Managing time is a very personal thing. Unlike other skills, making a change in any area will produce results provided that you commit to making that change a habit. Use the five principles to either confirm what you already do well, take from them to augment what you currently do, or completely overhaul how you manage your time with new and productive habits.
(Time Management 101-KAS)