In business, the topic of a time management matrix often seems to be an esoteric discussion that frustrates many teams on a regular basis. In fact, trying to be good at managing time can often feel like trying to hold smoke in your hand — impossible. Everyone wants to be an expert at time management, but the fact is that many of us fall short and allow it to become a constant source of irritation.
Here’s a secret: time management is a practiced, learned, and continually honed skill. It’s not something that just happens easily, and every single day will present challenges to how you want to spend your time. So, embrace the concept of time management as an ongoing practice, and it will begin to be less painful.
Not every task is important or urgent
One of the toughest obstacles to effective time management is the habitual treatment of every unplanned event that crops up as urgent, important, or both. We all know this isn’t the case. Not every situation is a kitchen fire that needs to be put out pronto. Being able to step back for a minute and evaluate the true importance and urgency of a situation will allow you to decide whether to deal with it immediately, defer, or delegate it to someone else.
You can’t control time
But you can balance it. Time is a very finite thing and the only irreplaceable resource. There really is only so much of it to go around. Accepting this fact can help you recognize how to utilize your time or balance it better in order to achieve your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual goals and objectives. Approaching your time management like a balancing act can help you plan for the unplanned.
Feeling like your time is out of your control leads to serious stress and anxiety. Those feelings of overwhelmed, confusion, or panic detract not only from your overall workplace productivity but also from your enjoyment and passion for work. No one wants to go into work each day feeling like they’re always behind, sucking at balancing life and not accomplishing their goals day in and day out. We’ve got some great strategies to help turn your days around:
Plan for the unexpected
Effective time management takes planning. Creating blocks of time with space built-in is key to making sure that you are able to achieve your daily objectives.
Understanding that unforeseen events will happen and carving out some free time in your day can be a game-changer when it comes to becoming an effective time manager. Scheduling breaks, non-work overflow time, and open blocks that aren’t filled with high-priority items allow you the breathing room to have events pop up and be dealt with without completely derailing your day.
The misconception that all successful and effective time managers are uber busy and have zero free time each day is just that: a misconception. Can we please just let that go once and for all?
Effective time managers focus the majority of their day on completing high-priority tasks while habitually leaving some open time for the barrage of unexpected brush fires that can happen. If you have a realistic schedule created, it’s easier to see where you can borrow time or set less pressing matters on the back burner in order to deal with urgent situations.
Set a shut-down deadline
Effective time managers also outline shut-down time in their daily schedules. Having a hard stop on your workday helps keep you focused on getting things done by a certain time. It also gives you a goal each day to focus on. Seeing a time when you’ll get to spend that hard-earned leisure time is liberating and gives you a definitive point to look forward to.
Schedule your creative/visualization time
Productive leaders know that their creative time is just as, if not more, important than their “doing time.” Be sure to add in creative/brainstorming/visualizing time (you’ve heard us refer to this as deep work) to your schedule each day. Protect that time and make sure it’s not one of the blocks that you have to give up. Remember, it’s just as important to spend time working ON your business as it is IN your business.
It’s okay to be selfish
Learning to get comfortable saying no or culling projects and tasks that don’t serve your vision, strategy, and values is imperative if you are to become an effective time manager. Here’s another secret: you can’t do it all. Nor should you have to. That’s why you’ve surrounded yourself with an awesome team, right??
When a task, job, or unforeseen event presents itself, pass it off to someone else if managing it is not the best use of your time. Learn to become a great delegator and less of a control freak. Continued practice with delegation will liberate a surprising amount of time in your daily schedule.
Take fewer meetings. Make your necessary meetings as lean and mean as possible. Limit, cut, ax, whatever you can that doesn’t max out your productivity and performance. Learn to say no without feeling guilty about it.
Embrace fixed-schedule productivity
Fixed schedule productivity is the concept that you have a set amount of working hours during the day that provides you with an ideal balance between work and relaxation. It’s only successful, however, if you honor that schedule by sticking as closely to it as possible. The big take-home here is that by becoming more diligent about setting and sticking to a schedule of hours that compartmentalize work versus downtime or relaxation, you will start to take better control of your time.
Don’t be surprised at how hard this will actually be at first. Holding this schedule as sacred and not letting outside BS violate it is likely to be very uncomfortable for you initially, but it will greatly help you to prioritize what you are able to give up and what you must adhere to in order to drive your workplace performance and satisfaction. Remember: you can’t and shouldn’t do it all (have we mentioned that enough?). In fact, once you stop trying, you will learn to master time management.
If you just can’t get unstuck from your day and need help figuring out where or what to trim or prune from your schedule, we’re here for you. We’ve got years of experience at this and can help you learn to finally be an effective time manager once and for all. Call us to schedule a time to learn how to make time for what matters.