And Why They Really Work
One of the key “secrets” in successful time management is not to do everything that could help you to manage your time better, but to sift out the activities that bring positive ROI. Let’s say you want to track everything you do during the day, including the visits to the bathroom and the time you spend there. Perhaps tracking it can help you reduce the time by combining bathroom activities for example, but how much time are you going to win? Few minutes per day at the cost of feeling like a prisoner.
Now add to this the time you waste for recording your activities and you’ll usually end up in actual loss of time. The return of investment (ROI) of such process is negative.
The good time management activities are only these which have positive ROI. It of course varies for different people and different tasks, but in general there are some activities which can be considered best in terms of time investment vs. time earned.
The most important task first
This activity follows from the prioritization technique. Most people like to start the day with some small unimportant tasks like arranging documents or answering low priority mails. Doing this makes you feel like actual work is being done and that you are moving further. Unfortunately it’s easy to waste the entire day in such small tasks, or at least to waste your energy and feel tired when the time for important tasks come.
It’s much better to start with the most important thing on your plate, even if it requires the highest concentration. If you need some time to wake up and feel concentrated in the morning, better spend it on something you enjoy or a physical activity rather than trying to “get in” by doing meaningless tasks. By starting the most important task first you will be moving forward with the most important aspects in your life. And if you have chosen the task correctly (again think about prioritization), you’ll feel more empowered to work on it rather than on small things.
Keeping to-do list
Keeping to-do list is one of the simplest, yet very efficient things you can do with your time. You don’t need to go into specific details in the list itself. Just write that you’ll work on project A, then project B, then study about C and so on. For the details you can keep small to-do lists for each project. This helps staying organized without working with overwhelmingly large to-do list.
If you have no to-do list at all you risk to lose your prioritization and work on the wrong tasks. Besides this part of your brain will always be engaged to remember what you have to do next.
What would you do if you didn’t have the habit to brush your teeth? Perhaps you would have to keep “brush my teeth” in your to-do list. You would have to think about the task when doing your prioritization. You would have to look at brushing your teeth like some kind of work. It’s so much easier when you just have the habit – you don’t have to remember doing it, as your brain keeps track at subconscious level. You can think about anything else while brushing your teeth, thus the time when you are doing it isn’t really a lost time – you are not entirely engaged into it.
Now think about the power you can gain if you install habits to do some moderately important tasks that can be nearly automated. You will free up your mental energy and will have some time to do something else. Tasks that are good for turning into habits are for example doing your exercises, filling a time sheet for your clients or employers, arranging your desk and so on.
Here is a great article explaining how you can turn goals into habits.
There are certainly other time management activities which work well. Have you had any success with other techniques? Feel free to comment!