Is time-management right for you?

“Is time-management right for you?”

That was the title of a mock seminar that my colleague Seth recommended today. Except that I didn’t get the ‘mock’ part. “Isn’t time-management technically right for everyone?” I wrote back. Duh, H.

In a moment of synchronicity, I found my notes from a presentation I attended last November.

The presenter is ridiculously accomplished: Barely 30, she’s already risen to the top of her field. And she credits a lot of her success to proper time management.

A couple of things in my notes jumped out at me. First, the most important time-management mantra:

If you don’t set your priorities, someone else will do it for you.

Think about that for a second, and let it sink in. Ready for the next concept?

Welcome to the urgency triage tool. Here’s yet another of my homemade charts:

Basically, our tasks and obligations fall into four piles. The key to being effective is to focus first on the things are both urgent and important. You know, the critical stuff: paying the mortgage, feeding the cat, feeding yourself, meeting those do-or-die deadlines. (And no, social media is neither urgent nor important.)

Based on what’s urgent and important, choose five top priorities for your day. Then, map out the tasks you absolutely, positively must complete to achieve those top five priorities.

So … how to do that, exactly? Tasks without an assigned time will probably go undone. So schedule some “work time” for yourself every day. Whether you’re committed to exercising, practicing an  instrument, writing a presentation, or cleaning your house, the principle is the same.

Likewise, schedule some “paperwork” time for yourself every day. As you sort through your mail and email, try to handle each item only once (the “one-touch rule”). Respond to emails, and then archive them. Pay your bills as you receive them. File (or shred) correspondence on the spot.

Obviously, these small pointers aren’t going to change your life. But I can say that scheduling “paperwork” time (and following the one-touch rule) has greatly reduced the clutter on my desk, and it’s made my in-box far less daunting.

Want to know more about making the most of your time? The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic, of course. But also offers lots of great meditations on living a more balanced, more productive life.

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