Perhaps one of the most important skills – one that you get no formal training in – is (in my opinion) time management. There are no classes on it, no designations (Certified Time Manager?) but it may be one of the most important skills in achieving personal and professional success.
In years gone by, I would constantly use the phrase, “I don’t have time for that”. What I have learned is what I was really saying was “I don’t manage my time well enough to find time for that.” The fact is, we all have the same twenty four hours in a day, the only difference is how we manage that twenty four hours. John Maxwell says that he can accurately predict the probability of success in someone after only spending one day with them. I would have to say I agree – the habits, tendencies, and efficiency of someone becomes clear after one day. We can see how well they utilize their most precious resource – time.
I would consider myself fairly strong in the field of time management and planning – not that it has always been that way. That is the purpose of this post, for me to share with others a few tactics and tools I use to plan my time.
However, before we engage in some time planning strategy, perhaps it is important to understand the purpose of time management. I think it provides a measurable benefit to the practice in two ways. Firstly, it allows us to plan our time moving forward. We are able to understand how busy our week is, plan around commitments, and be more relaxed – we know what is coming before it gets to us – it’s like driving looking towards the horizon vs. two feet in front of the hood, the latter is much more stressful and calls for last minute reactions.
The second is that is allows us to evaluate our use of time. One of my favourite quotes is ‘seek to get from the day, not through the day.’ This is perhaps one of the essential uses of time management – it helps us get from the days past. We can look back on the day, week, month or year and evaluate how we spent our time. Did we allocate too much to recreational activities, or not enough? Have we been exercising, or doing enough reading, or meeting enough new people? (See my earlier post on People and Books) It provides us with a system to evaluate our time investments.
So it is clear there are benefits to time management – it allows for a more relaxed, planned state going forward, and a better analysis of time spent and goals achieved looking back. So how can we use this tool, along with our modern technology, to achieve this goal?
The Basics: A Calendar
I use a personal calendar, called a Day Timer (that is the brand). It is what I would call my ‘rough calendar.’ It’s about the size of a book, and I carry it around with me. I personally enjoy being able to physically see the weeks and months ahead, so it serves as a first step in my planning process. Any future meetings, engagements, or activities that are more than a week out go in there.
Next Step: The Week Ahead
Each Sunday evening (or Monday morning) I find it useful to plan out my week ahead. You can do this in one of two ways. Some people enjoy just setting out blocks of time (two hours for email at work, two hours for gym, two hours for relaxing, whatever) and some people enjoy getting specific (respond to certain emails, gym for an hour then run for an hour, read 45 minutes of two different books), it’s up to you. The only important thing is that you plan this time out.
The next step is to make sure you 1) hold yourself accountable, and 2) make sure you have access to your calendar wherever you are. I find a great tool is using Google Calendars. I have it set to my home browser (whenever I open up a webpage, there is my calendar staring at me), I have the app on my iPhone (not sure if it exists for the blackberry), and it emails me each time a new appointment comes up (which you can toggle on or off depending on your comfort). It is great – I have my calendar, which I have laid out at the start of every week, right at the tips of my fingers, no matter which device I am on. The other thing is that it is cloud synced – no matter where you edit it (phone, laptop, etc.) it updates all other devices. An edit on my phone will appear in my browser.
During the Week: A To-Do List
Inevitably, no one can accurately plan out a week in advance – it’s impossible. That’s why you will need to add things on the fly (make sure you leave time in your calendar for last minute additions). A great tool to build a to-do list, then move these items to your calendar / mark them completed is Trello. Again, it is totally free, and is a cloud to-do list. You can get the app on any Smartphone, and access it via web. It allows you to share lists, create different lists (personal, work, etc.) and access them from anywhere. Using this tool, you can manage your to-do list much better than the traditional piece of paper.
The best part about maintain a strong calendar habit is that you are able to look back and reflect on how you spent your time – the results will shock you, especially if you have a high level of detail on how you spent your time. You might realize you are investing way too much time into a certain area, or perhaps not enough time into another area. Either way, it is important that we all understand how we are investing our time, so we can understand the process, and correct it if need be.
The system above is what works for me – it may not be what works for you, but I encourage everyone to put some time into thinking about how they manage their most precious asset – their time. To review, this is what I think it should look like
- construct a rough calendar, using a day timer and to-do list
- turn that calendar into a weekly calendar entry using an internet service such as Google Calendar
- add to that by keeping track of item additions with a live to-do list such as Trello
- Keep yourself honest! Try to stick to your calendar as best as possible
- Review at month’s end – are there areas you are allotting too much time too? Important areas that aren’t receiving enough attention? Refine, refocus and move forward
- Rinse and repeat
There really is too much on time management to get into one blog post, but I hope this was a start!