This article is the final article in a series of four articles that presents the basics of diagnosing how you tend to spend your time and how you can develop the discipline of spending your time on what really matters to you. Here is a synopsis of the preceding three articles.
- The first article established that effective time management is truly not about managing time as such; rather, it is about managing priorities. See full article here.
- The second article outlined a simple exercise to help you track how you use your hours and minutes during a suitably long period of time, ideally a whole week. See full article here.
- Yesterday’s article described three steps to tally up your time logs, analyze how you actually use your time, and recognize non-productive tasks and activities. See full article here.
Today’s closing article details a simple process to list your life’s values and priorities and create a time budget to help you center your actions on the truly important aspects of your life and career.
Define Your Values and Priorities
A great deal of anxiety and stress in your life is largely from doing things that are inconsistent with what you believe and what you know you should be doing. Your lack of control over your time stems from doing things that are incoherent with your core values and priorities in life and career.
Matching your actions to the truly important aspects of your life will help you be more focused, more disciplined and more effective. With this objective, spend about 15 minutes to reflect on your life and career, clarify your short- and long-term goals and discover your overriding priorities.
Identify Your Priorities in Life
- With the help of your spouse or significant other, catalog the core values that you hold dear — the guiding principles of your life. Include personal characteristics, traits and achievements you desire to realize in the short-term and the long-term. Your list many include family, career success, well-being and happiness, prestige, wealth, sense of community or anything else that you feel is important.
- Rank your values and goals. Sort your list in order of their importance to you. Begin with most important value or goal and end with the least important. Judge between conflicting values to help you commit to ideas and activities that are truly important. Condense your list to 7 to 10 priorities.
- Rewrite your priorities in terms of actions and achievements that would satisfy each priority or the associated value. Consider the following example.
Example 1: Top Three Priorities of Linda, a Housewife
The previous article on time analysis featured Linda, a housewife who works part-time. Consider this list of her top three priorities in life.
- Husband and daughter. “Love and care for my husband. Support his career and goals. Nurture our daughter and give her the best upbringing.”
- Family and friends. “Provide for my aging parents. Support my entrepreneur-brother. Spend more time with dear friends.”
- Part-time work. “Learn and contribute in my profession as an accountant. Supplement family income.”
Identify Your Priorities at Work
Your desire to be productive at work should begin with understanding your most important tasks in terms of what your role demands of you.
- Collect your job description, your boss’s and your employees’ job descriptions, your organization’s objectives, any metrics that you report on a regular basis, your recent performance reviews, and your documented career plan. Review these documents.
- List and rank your priorities. What does your role require of you? What goals have your boss and your organization set for you? What are your key projects and initiatives? How your organizational objectives direct impact your own work? Do not list any more than three major priorities (priorities that require 25% of your time or more) and two minor, comparatively less-significant priorities.
Example 2: Top Priorities of Kumar, a Middle-Level Manager
The previous article on time analysis featured Kumar, a middle-level manager at an aerospace company. Kumar aspires to reorganize his time, adopt productive means to get his work completed by working no more than 45-48 hours per week. Consider the following list of his projects, in order.
- Project A
- Project B
- Coaching and developing team members
- Initiative M
- Project C
Realize How Your Current Actions and Priorities are Incoherent
The root of the feeling of being under constant time pressure is the disparity between your actions and priorities. You tend to take advantage of almost every opportunity that comes your way, irrespective of the significance of these opportunities in relation to your core values.
Compare your time log and time analysis report with your list of priorities and decide objectively how much time each of your activities was worth to you in contrast to the time you actually spent on it. You may realize that, perhaps, 80% – 90% of your time is wasted in non-effective activities.
As you review your time analysis report, think about everything that you do that should not be done at all or should not be done by you and recognize all the non-productive, wasteful activities. You will realize that you have been spending time instead of investing time in what really matters.
Resolve to eliminate all activities and commitments that are not aligned to your priorities. For example, Linda — the housewife referred above — spent six hours each week volunteering on the curriculum committee at her daughter’s school “just to be involved.” She realized the lack of value in spending six hours every week on an activity she did not contribute much and decided to withdraw from the committee. Kumar, the middle-level manager, spent way too much time attending meetings. He decided to attend only the most important meetings where his presence was truly required, participated via telephone wherever possible and spared 10 hours on his weekly calendar.
Prepare a Time Budget to Schedule Your Priorities
A time budget helps you decide how your hours should be used given the priorities you have identified for yourself. This is the first step in exercising more control over your time and your life. Preparing a time budget could be as simple as deciding how many hours you would devote to each of your priorities, or could be as complex as setting up your weekly calendar to reflect your priorities.
- Beginning with your top priority, setup appointments in your calendar and block-off as many hours of the week that are necessary for your priorities. If your most important priority in life is family (it should be,) first allot time for all the activities you desire to do or share your family — set aside time to coach your kids in basketball, set aside time to help your spouse with chores around the home, etc. At work, schedule time to work on your most important projects and initiatives.
- Locate your most important tasks hours when you tend to be most efficient. For example, if you tend to work best in the mornings, schedule your most important projects for the mornings.
- Schedule time for your minor projects and lower priorities around your major projects and higher priorities. Decide on the right time to do email, run errands, conduct regular staff meetings, etc.
Your time budget should essentially serve as a guide for how you will spend your time. As with a financial budget, you may not necessarily comply with your time budget. Nevertheless, it is important to prepare a time budget to help you direct how you should spend your time.
Your time budget will help you decide how you can live your priorities. You will realize that by complying with your time budget, your use of your personal time improves dramatically; you are able to focus and reduce anxiety.
Example 1: Time Budget for Linda, the Housewife
Linda prepared the following time budget to help her comply with her stated priorities in life. She eliminated or reduced activities that did not directly contribute to her priorities or were not as productive. For example, she
- ‘found’ six hours by quitting from the curriculum committee at her daughter’s school
- saved four hours by seeking her husband’s help to clean her home and hiring a landscaping service to tend to her yard.
- reduced her time watching TV and on the internet.
- ‘discovered’ more time for her family and friends, exercise and well-being.
Example 2: Time Budget for Kumar, the Middle-Level Manager
Kumar, who previously could not “get it all done” in over 65 hours each week at work, reorganized his calendar around his most important projects and prepared the following budget for 45-48 hours of productive work per week.
Wrap-up: Managing Priorities (and Time) Effectively
This series of articles on the basics of time management described a simple and effective process of logging and analyzing how you use your time, and budgeting your time around your priorities. This process reveals time wastefulness and provides a structure to help you focus on your chosen priorities.
Your personal and professional values and priorities change often based on your progress in life and career. Plan to perform a detailed time analysis regularly — ideally once every six months, — monitor your time, review your priorities and adjust your time budget. Keep your focus on achieving the top priorities.
In sum, time management is, simply, an orderly discipline of controlling how you spend your most valuable resource. The singular purpose of this quest is to regulate the pace of life, reduce unwarranted stress, organize your actions and responsibilities according to the main values and priorities in your life, and realize a meaningful, purpose-driven life.