Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment, and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
Thomas A. Edison
You’ve probably heard the cliché that failing to plan is planning to fail. You can always change your plan, but you have to start somewhere. Having a plan allows you to better manage the choices you have. Do you know that the average office worker only spends 35% of an 8-hour workday on productive work? The rest of the time, or about five hours a day, is spent on any number of self-sabotaging things we do that keep us from being productive, such as looking for something needed, handling interruptions, searching the Internet, and reading email.
The first of the three P’s of time management stands for planning (the other two are prioritize and perform). That’s the first step in becoming better at managing your time. You need to identify what you have to do in a day, a month, a year, or more. Think about it. You wouldn’t start a big project at work without some planning. You wouldn’t start a business without a well-thought-out business plan. Why, then, would you go through life without thinking about and organizing your activities and tasks?
Your calendar is the primary time management tool to use for planning. As Harold Taylor states in Making Time Work for You, “When you schedule your activities and tasks, you go from intending to do them to committing to execute.” Only once you’ve added a task or activity to your calendar, and carved out enough time to complete it, have you committed to doing it. Where do you start on your path to commitment?
Write Down Everything
Any time management book will tell you that the first step in planning is to get everything out of your head. You start by taking everything that is swirling in your mind and putting it all on paper or in your electronic system. Do a brain dump. Write down everything you can think of that is weighing you down and causing you stress. That includes anything you have to do: projects, tasks, little things, big things, personal things, birthdays, anniversaries, medical appointments, work things, family things, educational activities, financial things, volunteer commitments. Writing things down helps you to see the big picture and not feel stressed about forgetting something or expecting your brain to remember everything. Your brain should be freed to think strategically and execute your plan, not to try to remember everything you need to do.
Once you have cleared your mind of the swirling to-dos, it is time to look at your list and decide what you are going to do, when, and how. Start by quickly estimating how long you think it will take you to perform each task, project, or activity on your list. Be aware that we all tend to underestimate how long things really take. How often have you said, “I’ll be there in two seconds,” when in fact it took much longer? As a general rule, add about 30% to 50% more time than you think you will need. When you try to estimate or add up how long it will take to accomplish everything on your list, you’ll quickly realize that you have a lot more on your plate than time to do it all.
Four Decision Categories
Remember, time management is choice management. We all have much more to do than time to do it, so you need to look at all your activities and decide which ones to allocate time to.
There are four key ways to decide whether you will do something:
- Choose – Identify what is important and essential for you to do.
- Remove – You can take things off your list by saying, “No.” You can decide not to do some things.
- Wait – You can push back doing tasks or activities until next month or a few months from now.
- Delegate – You can also delegate and have somebody else do something for you.
You choose to do a task or activity when you enter it on your calendar with time allocated to accomplishing it. Once you have made your plan, and you have added it up and decided what you are going to do, then you do it. As the saying goes, “Plan your work, then work your plan.”