The following five steps will help you to set up simple and sustainable solutions to better invest your time, and improve your time management skills.
It’s time to stop confusing being “busy” with being “productive”. Busy people often have poor time management habits such as multi-tasking, allowing interruptions, not focusing on the right tasks at the right time, and not planning and prioritising. Productive people know that their time is money and, just like money, time needs to be invested for the greatest possible return.
Is it really possible to find 30 hours of lost time a month? Yes. The good news is, time management skills are something you can learn, adopt and improve. The following five steps will help you to track, rate and cost your time and then set up simple and sustainable solutions to better invest your time:
1. Identify your challenges and values
Having absolute clarity over what drives you and what gets in your way is central to deciding where you should and shouldn’t invest your time. Ironically, the reason we rarely take time to reflect on things like how we feel about the life we lead and the time we devote to work, family, friends, community, spiritual and volunteering commitments, is because we simply don’t have the time.
Make the time to think about and identify your:
Key time challenges
What keeps tripping you up and robbing you of time?
What is most important to you; where do you want to spend your time?
Identifying your challenges and values provides a baseline against which to reflect on your current time habits and against which to measure the improved behaviours you are about to implement. You also want a very clear understanding of what you are—and are not—prepared to sacrifice your time for.
2. Map out your day
Your day is made up of a multitude of competing demands on your time. So how do you know which time investment is best?
To make the right decisions, you need the data:
- How often are you interrupted?
- Do you procrastinate?
- How often are you on your device?
- How often are you off your device?
You cannot accurately respond to these types of questions without a full set of real-time data.
Mapping a few days of your time will show you exactly where you invest your time from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed: everything you do for yourself; your kids; your partner; every call; every email; every interruption; and everything else that makes up your day.
You absolutely need this data because you can’t know what changes you can make to your time habits until you know in detail exactly where you spend your time.
3. Analyse your activities
Take your time maps and allocate each task performed to one of the following categories:
- Musts: The tasks that you—and only you—can perform
- Wants: The tasks that you do just for you—the fun stuff
- Delegate: The tasks someone else can perform for you in return for payment (or free)
- Reject: The tasks you don’t need to do, or that you do need to do but which can be done smarter, faster or differently.
You should also price out exactly what your habits are costing you (for example, if your time is worth $50 an hour and you spend an hour a day on social media, that’s $18,250 of your time a year!).
4. Reframe your time
It’s decision time. Smart time investment is all about getting rid of the low-value tasks (delegate) and the no-value tasks (reject) to make time for the fun stuff (want) and to focus your attention on the tasks that generate your income (musts). So what you are going to delegate and reject, to make time for your musts and wants?
5. Steal back time with your new time management skills
This final step focuses on implementation, momentum and sustaining your success. Like a summer detox program, revisit these five steps annually to recalibrate your time habits. Over time, some poor habits may slip back in, or you will want to reject and delegate other tasks now that you know they are not the best use of your time.
This is an edited extract from Kate’s fourth book, Me First: The Guilt-Free Guide to Prioritising You (published by Wiley), which is available in all good book stores.
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