“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Have you ever wondered why that expression is true? It’s because busy people are masters of time management. Busy people don’t think of each day as 24 hours - they think of each day as 86,400 prioritized and planned seconds. While our calendars are divided into 30 minute increments, our lives are not. We have 86,400 opportunities each and every day, and we get to choose how to use every single one of them.
Manage Your Time
Most of us manage time in a reactive, rather than proactive, mode. That is, we react when emails arrive, we react to the pile of papers on our desk, we react to phone notifications, and once those are done, we look at our to-do list. We need to manage our time based on a prioritized to-do list. Focus first on the most important item on your to-do list, then focus on the next priority. With each task, ask yourself, “What’s the best use of my time right now” and then focus on that task until it's done.
Manage Your Calendar
The to-do list is best suited for items that aren’t constrained to a given start and end time. Items that have a specified start and end time belong on your calendar. Notice that it’s your calendar - not your calendars. While you may use different calendaring tools for work and home, stay organized by always having a single, master view of your calendar that drives your daily actions. When putting items on your calendar, ask the question, “Is this the best use of my time?” If you want to have a date night on Friday, put it on the calendar. If you want to work out every morning from 6-7am, put it on your calendar. The calendar should reflect your priorities and represents your plan of how you choose to spend your time each day.
Manage Your Distractions
Everything screams for your time. Phone calls, texts, emails, and notifications are all competing for your time and focus. Unlike powerful computers, our brain is only capable of focusing on one task at a time. In fact, attempting to multitask only reduces productivity as your brain has to re-orient itself every time your focus shifts to a new task. When emails arrive or notifications pop up on your phone, resist the urge to give them your attention until you’re done with the current task. When you do handle mail, whether snail or email, handle it once and only once. Do one of four things with mail: act on it, file it for reference, delete it, or create a task on your to-do list to act on it later.
Manage Your Downtime
Every day, we waste countless, valuable seconds. If you want to better manage your time, especially when you find a few unexpected minutes of downtime, have some “filler” tasks on your to-do list. Put some tasks on your list specifically for those moments, and label them as filler tasks. For example, create tasks called “filler: read professional development articles” or “filler: read the Bible” or “filler: meditate." That way, when you’re in the doctor’s waiting room or a meeting is starting late, go to your to-do list, find a filler task, and act upon it immediately. While those small blocks of time seem insignificant, they add up quickly and can become your best productivity tool.
Putting it Together
Life’s short, and you can go through the motions of life and allow time to control you, or you can take action and take control. Too many people use the excuse, “I’m too busy.” While they’re busy using the excuse, people who are much busier are finding ways to get things done. There’s never a good time to do something. You need to make the time to make it happen. Rather than letting those 86,400 seconds slip away every day, put them to work for you.