In this post, we are going to provide some additional tips, ideas, and techniques to help you learn to practice priority and activity management, not time management.
If you remember from our last post on time management, you get exactly 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds each day regardless of what you do (or don’t do for that matter).
So, what do you do if you can’t manage time?
You need to learn to manage the activities and events in your life in relation to the time you have available.
The way you do this not to try to "manage time”, but instead you focus on performing the right activities “now”, setting the right priorities for the “future”, and learning from what you have already completed in the “past”.
First, focus on the now!
The work you are doing "now" is the only place you can actually make an impact on what you are actually accomplishing.
- Are you working on the best possible things “right now”?
- Are you staying focused and being productive with the time you have?
The way to be successful is to block-off time to work, stay focused, and avoid distractions so that you can put enough quality time against an activity to make solid progress.
Second, plan for the future!
The work you want to do in the “future” is a “prioritized plan” of what to do next.
- What is most important to accomplish first thing? Second? Third?
- What are the lower priority items that can be deferred or delegated?
Your “prioritized plan” is your future work that has not yet occurred, so this is where you can impact what you will accomplish.
Third, learn from the past!
The work you have already completed is in the “past” and cannot be changed, but is a record of our actual actions.
- Did you actually accomplish what you had set-out to achieve?
- Did your actions help you achieve your goals?
- Did you spend your time and efforts on the “right things”?
- Did you (instead) end-up getting side-tracked on non-value added activities?
You need to be brutally honest with yourself here!
We all know the lure of the internet, social media, or even hanging-out by the water cooler is often infinitely more interesting than reading financial statements or building that next PowerPoint presentation.
But unless your job is surfing the internet or chatting with your friends on Facebook (lucky you!), these activities (although enjoyable) don’t move anything off your real world priority list or help position yourself for that next promotion.
And make sure you are following a system – any system!
Have a system or method to track and capture your projects and tasks, their priorities, and their next steps and actions. There are dozens of systems out there you can follow, from good old paper and pencil lists, to simple task management systems, to fully integrated personal productivity systems.
Some of the more well-known productivity systems are listed in my "Must Read List".
Finding an appropriate time management strategy and system that works best for you depends on your specific needs, your own personality style, your ability to self-motivate, as well as your own personal level of self-disciple.
Technology can help, but is not a silver bullet!
And remember, technology can help to make you a bit more effective and efficient, but it’s not the “silver bullet cure” that many would like you to believe.
A new task management tool or inbox processing interface won’t magically do the work for you.
In fact, my experience as well as many others I have consulted have found that the overhead and complexity of many productivity applications often far outweigh their supposed productivity gains.
The key, however, is to use something, follow it consistently, but also feel free to modify it to suit your personal style and needs.
How does this apply to Email Overload?
Many of the same principles of priority and activity management for managing all of your tasks, activities, and projects also apply to managing your inbox.
Although the tools and systems are different, the underlying challenges and approaches are very similar, regardless if you are trying to manage time or manage your inbox.