Pericles, the first century Greek statesman, famously observed that “time is the wisest counselor of all.” It forces us to prioritize our efforts and focus on what matters most.
But, if you're anything like me, you probably consider time more of an enemy than an ally, let alone a mentor.
Even now as I write this post I'm thinking of everything I have to do before the end of the day – attend two meetings, answer five emails, connect with my assistant, pack for a business trip, workout, then spend time with my family before leaving for the airport.
Tweny four hours in a day never seems like enough time to get everything done.
Overwhelmed and seemingly overworked, we get bogged down and discouraged. Or worse yet, we start multitasking. Believing that we can beat the clock and succeed, we do lots of things at the same time - talking, walking, texting, tweeting.
Unfortunately, time and humans don't work this way.
The second hand continues to sweep despite our efforts to slow it down, and when humans do more at the same time, the less well we do on any one task. According to cognitive scientist David Meyer of the University of Michigan, interruptions that occur while multi-tasking hinder the brain’s ability to process information which leads to mistakes.
So what are we to do? Here's some ideas that work for me and others.
First, recognize that time management is really about managing yourself. It is about setting and pursuing priorities for personal and professional growth and limiting distractions that derail this process.
To help you stay on track, create daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly “to do lists.” Set time aside each week to plan, execute, and review your long term goals. It is easy to let the tyranny of the urgent dictate our behavior.
Many leaders are in constant crisis mode, putting out fires as they arise and attending to daily minutia. This saps energy and limits their ability to focus on the future and execute strategic priorities. To avoid falling into this trap, be sure to delegate operational responsibilities to other people in your organization.
Second, get into a routine. Choose a time to accomplish specific tasks, such as writing reports, working on a project, answering email, or returning phone calls. Begin with the most cognitively demanding task (of the most pressing if a deadline is looming) and move on from there. For this reason, and because I am easily distracted, I generally reply to non-urgent emails at the end of the day.
Third, break large projects into a series of smaller tasks. The prospect of facing a large project head on is overwhelming and can lead to procrastination. By creating smaller, more manageable tasks, the project still gets finished and it more easily fits into your busy schedule.
Finally, don't over-commit. Be realistic with your time. Leaders and other high potential people are especially prone to taking on too many responsibilities; after all, people want and ask for their expertise. Be willing to say no, even if the commitment is in the future. Now or later, a commitment will take time and energy.
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