One of my favorite quotes about the human experience is ‘we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit’. It reminds me that achieving more is less about a single instance of herculean greatness, and more about creating consistent habits that allow us to achieve goals. One of the most common challenges to building good habits is time management. Here are four approaches to increasing consistency and improving time management. Some people say that preparation is half the battle, but I would argue that it is the battle. Incorporating these first two habits in order should help you win this hypothetical war.
The first step to developing strong time management skills is scheduling the time and the place where you will do an activity. Clarifying this foundational information for yourself can exponentially increase the odds that you will engage in your goal behavior.
When you are in environments set to facilitate a task, it is much easier to engage with the task itself. Think of going to the gym and why it’s much easier to exercise there than it may be just sitting in your basement. If you’re working out from home, putting together the dumb bells, the outfit you’ll wear, setting up the TV, and the exercise machine the night before will help you wake up in the morning and be many steps closer to actually doing the exercises.
It can help us decide where to start, what to schedule for later, what to delegate, and what to delete. Below is a quick overview of this method:
Try focusing on what has a deadline or severe repercussions for not being completed on time. Follow that by things that are important but not urgent. Schedule them for a definitive time and place at a later time. Next, Focus on the tasks that are urgent but not important, that is to say they need to be done but not necessarily done by you. Letting go of the little things and asking for help can greatly improve our ability to focus on what’s important. Lastly, our deleted items. These are things that aren’t important or urgent. I urge you to simply let them go. Recognizing that something can be deleted from our calendar is just as, if not more, important as recognizing that there is something that needs top priority.
Once you’ve organized yourself, you can maximize efficiency by starting with the hardest task you have. This method of task management is called ‘eating the frog’. The idea is that if you have to eat a frog at some point during your day, it’s best to do it first and then have more ’frog free’ hours. If you wait until later in the day you may end up worrying about small details related to the frog, or doing other tasks that aren’t as important. You will continue to be stuck with a large task that requires a lot of energy at the end of your day.
Always remember that time is a resource. Mastering our time management to maximize our efficiency is one step towards thriving in your personal and work life.
Written by Karl Smith, LMSW