Time-Management is not only something for corporate managers and leaders. It is a topic that everyone can benefit from, especially if we want to get ahead and make a difference in our lives: “Where should I spend my time on? What is important?” From time management for beginners or consider this your beginner’s guide to time management but all of us can benefit from a good old review!
The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.
Stephen R. Covey
On the other hand we have questions like “How can I spend my time in the best way possible? How can I get the most out of it?”
Basically, time management is the the art of focus and decision-making combined with effective productivity.
In this post I want to take a broader look on the topic and give an overview about time-management to answer these questions:
- Are we really managing time?
- What is a To do list and why do I need one?
- What is important and what isn’t?
- What is the different between urgent and important?
OK, let’s get the shocking thing out first: there is no such thing as time-management! Why? Because time cannot be managed! Time goes on, whatever we do, we cannot change anything about it. We all have the same amount of it and we all have the same choices of what to do with it.
If you even take a deeper look at it, you recognise that in reality time even doesn’t really exist: it is merely a concept we use as humans. And we pretend to measure it by using things like clocks: a mechanical or electronic devise that changes form and so displays a different condition when we look at it. What there is, is always the change in the present moment and our decision what to focus on in that moment, so we can shape the change the way we want to.
Deep, huh? What this means to you is understanding that it does not control us and we cannot control it. We can just invest ourselves in those activities that best serve us and move us to where we want to go.
So what is time management really then?
What time-management really is, is self-management. What do you do in the moment and what do you intent to do in the next moment? And what is influencing what you do in the next moment? These are the important questions to answer.
The 4 stages in Time-Management
Basically there are four generations of time-management and each includes and builds on top on the one before. If you find your daily productivity in any of those then great, they all matter. But they all matter together. You may think it depends on the workload – what you want and have to manage and that is right. Because only you decide how productive you want to be. If you can apply the 4th generation for you, you can really shift your whole life and productivity level.
The first stage or generation is the To-do list . It is the basic organisation of things we have to do. We write them down and when they are done we check them off. Great. Feels good to check a task off, doesn’t it? We’re done. Or not?
The basic problem is there is no order in the 2do list. While it is an improvement over working every task out of the head, getting it out and fixating it, it gets out of control if the To-do list gets above 20 items, 100 items …
Then there are calendars, planners and diaries. In the second generation we plan ahead and schedule the To-dos in the future. It gives more control and security over what we do and it adds the important thing called preparation.
Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.
But still it is confusing because there is no order in the tasks really. Often there are so many To dos and so many appointments and meetings that it gets overwhelming. What is important and what is not? I can’t do everything. What do I have to do and what must I deny to do? So we need to know what thing is more important than another.
In the third generation we need to get priorities into play.
How do we prioritise?
We have to know our goals and our values.
To do’s are evaluated in relationship to goals and values. Is it in alignment with my value of, for instance, integrity? And what have we set out to achieve anyway? Is it getting us towards to the goal, is it irrelevant or taking us even further away from it?
Still it is not the final step to be as efficient as you can be, a machine. So it is not about managing time and all important tasks as efficient as possible and alienate everybody around us, including ourselves. The challenge is to manage ourselves and all needs and wants and demands in harmony, in balance .
So what time-management all boils down to is your decision of what is most important for you, and then focus your attention mainly on executing that and not something else.
So, what is important and what is not?
Stephen Covey says to divide tasks into important To dos and urgent To dos. The time-management matrix helps to shift focus into the important To dos.
Time Management Matrix
I always understood this intuitively and if you examine your day you usually will find all 4 quadrants at work. But even if you understand it and recognise your tasks as important and urgent, how do I profit from this matrix? How can I make practical changes to get better in my productivity?
The value lies mainly in the awareness of what is important and what not. And then in moving more and more into Quadrant 1 (important and urgent) and with all the rest into “The Zone” (Quadrant 2): into what is important but not yet urgent.
If you do this, you will master time-management and produce not only good results but also balance. Success will be much likelier and seem more natural and effortless. Someone who is good in time-management is not someone who is constantly managing the tasks in stress. In fact that is definitely a bad time-manager, since he is constantly in quadrant 1 and possibly 3. It may be important, but it is urgent for sure. That is bad time-management and the “cure” is in quadrant 2 – The Zone .
There are several slightly different interpretations of the the time-management matrix (google image-search ), for instance The Importance of Managing Self has a practical interpretation. I also found the following mindmap from Mappio.com very good.
We need a compass instead of a clock
Importance of a Compass
Without a compass we will literary get lost. How do we know our own direction. What is urgent? Urgent are all tasks that are “in your face” and want to be done immediately. But are they important or not important?
What is important? Important are the tasks that are in harmony with our goals and our life-balance.
- Important & Urgent -> Do them now the best you can
- Important & Not Urgent -> Set focus here, whenever you can (The Zone)
- Not Important & Urgent -> Say “No” because you have a quality “Yes”, or delegate them
- Not Important & Not Urgent -> Avoid these for sure
Why are the important tasks urgent? Mainly because we did not handle them when they were not urgent. Some problems will always appear out of the blue, but most of them don’t. But if we know what’s important, will the urgent and not important To dos magically go away? I don’t think so, clutter happens everywhere. But what it gives you is direction and control. Let’s think not of a clock but more of a compass. The compass shows the direction, the orientation and the goal that works.
If you have the compass you basically work the 4 generations backwards and use the mechanics like prioritised To dos in your calendar. There is one difference: you have a compass that you set north.
For me that is the whole point of time-management.
It’s the way to be successful and happy, and not only successful but miserable, because I am working my ass off on something that has no meaning for me. I do the right thing and then I do it right.
Time = life; therefore, waste your time and waste of your life, or master your time and master your life.