The Real Reason to Manage Your Time

by Claire Tompkins

We all have to do lists in some form or another to keep us on track with all we have to accomplish. If the list is long (and it probably is!) we have our various ways of prioritizing it as the day or week goes on.

Making effective to do lists and determining which things to do when are critical skills to have if you want to get things done effectively. When we're busy, though, we blindly follow our to do list without stopping to ask why those tasks are on it.

Let's look more closely at some of the common things that "land" on our list, investigate how they got there and look at how you can manage them differently.

1) Volunteering

When you work for yourself, tasks aren't delegated to you in the traditional way. Sometimes you take them on yourself by volunteering, in both professional or personal capacities. If you're the kind of person who doesn't like to say no, you can get overwhelmed with this kind of work. Even if it's rewarding and enjoyable, there's only so much you can do without compromising yourself.

Make sure that it's clear what's expected of you volunteer-wise and what you're willing to do. This could be quantified in terms of tasks you'll complete or number of hours you'll devote.

2) Coordinating with vendors and colleagues

When you're working with vendors or colleagues, it's critical to be clear about what each of you will do. For your own peace of mind, you'll want to keep these tasks in the big picture of your overall task list, to make sure you're not taking on more than you meant to.

3) Busy work

It's tempting to fill your list with simple tasks. We like them because we know how to do them and they're quick. They're especially gratifying if you're also working on some complex, long-term projects where you're not always certain what to do and the payoff is delayed.

Tasks like this can be appealing because they involve a variety of activities and don't challenge your attention span. These things may indeed need to be done, like invoicing clients or ordering supplies, but not at the expense of your important work. Batch these to do's for greater efficiency or save them for when your mind doesn't need to be its sharpest.

Is it truly urgent?

Task with short deadlines focus your attention keenly. When it's clear that something bad might happen today if you don't do something, you're pretty motivated to do it. The problem is that a lot of urgent tasks come from manufactured urgency. They seem a lot more imperative than they are and often could easily have been done before they became critical.

You may have heard of Stephen Covey's time management quadrants. This matrix divides up task into urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and not urgent or important.

We commonly get suckered into the "urgent but not important" quadrant. The very urgency of such tasks makes us skip over assessing their significance because there's no time to do so. If you find yourself in this quadrant, you may feel productive but what you're doing is not the important stuff. Just because you're busy it doesn't mean you're really accomplishing anything.

Fake urgencies can be product or service solicitations (the prices goes up tomorrow!), getting caught up in client chaos, not wanting to miss anything on Twitter or Facebook, or feeling the need to respond to email the moment you receive it.

Make it a practice to dig deeper. Regularly ask yourself "what am I doing and why am I doing it?" That's the basis for any other time management tricks you learn. Those questions will help you get dead wood off your to do list and help you plan ahead to avoid time consuming crises.

Time management skills are useful for getting things done competently. But there's no point to increasing your productivity if what you're producing doesn't really matter. What time management is really about is making sure that you spend the hours and days of your life engaged in activities that are meaningful to you.


Professional organizer Claire Tompkins specializes in creating customized organizing techniques. By addressing her clients' unique needs, she provides solutions that make their lives easier with more free time to do what they love. Get her report "30 Minutes to Less Clutter on Your Desk" with your free ezine subscription.

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