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  • Writer's pictureAngela Stratman

Building Success: Approaches to Time Management

In the ever-evolving world of modern professions, fostering mastery of time becomes an empowering force for sustained success. As professionals gracefully navigate demanding work schedules, tight deadlines, and personal commitments, efficiently allocating and utilizing time emerges as a guide in your journey of achievements. This blog post is the first in a series to explore the intricacies of building habits for success, with time management techniques as one habit for professionals seeking to harmonize their daily routines and enhance overall productivity.


Setting Clear Goals - The Foundation of Success


Time management begins with a clear understanding of personal and professional goals. Take the time to articulate both short-term and long-term objectives, ensuring they align with their overall career/life trajectory. You create a roadmap that guides your daily actions and decisions by setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals.

I encourage you to see my prior posts on Goal Setting.


Identifying and Mastering Your Priorities


With goals in place, the next critical step is prioritization. Not all tasks carry equal weight, and one must learn to discern between urgent and vital responsibilities. Some tasks have non-negotiable deadlines, milestones to bigger goals, mundane tasks, and random things that can pop into your head. Thinking all of these things are equal can be the cause of panic attacks and stress. Not everything important needs to be completed urgently, and not all urgent things are important.


The Eisenhower Matrix, a time management tool popularized by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, categorizes tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important. This matrix is a compass for prioritizing tasks, allowing you to focus on what truly matters. I have used this matrix in my career and while completing my MBA. Below is an explanation of each quadrant of the matrix and a personal one I used in my life. In my personal life, I have made one change: the fourth quadrant from Delete to Delay. If something is a task I identified to complete, then I should do it.


https://slab.com/blog/eisenhower-matrix/
Courtesy of Slab.com


I have included both an editable PDF and printable PDF with an Eisenhower Matrix template for your use. Download here.

Eisenhower Matrix_fillable
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Download PDF • 21KB
Eisenhower Matrix
.pdf
Download PDF • 18KB

The Power of Routine - Creating Your Most Productive Day


Once you have your tasks and projects prioritized, the next step is to schedule them. There are a couple of techniques to do this; the first is time blocking. Time Blocking, a method that involves dedicating specific blocks of time to particular activities, is a powerful tool for structuring the day. These time blocks can be 30 minutes, an hour, or multiple hours; depending on what you are doing, they can last throughout the day. You can optimize your schedules by allocating focused time for tasks, meetings/classes, and breaks.


For example, I spend the first hour of my day on email replies and my highest-priority projects. Still, I also have to work around meetings/classes, so if I want to spend a solid two hours on a project, I find my open 2-hour block first and schedule that in, then fill in the 1-hour blocks and so forth. Having a scheduling routine can significantly enhance productivity.


Additionally, don’t forget to schedule breaks! I usually do three in 15-minute increments throughout the day; some people find a 5-minute break every hour is good for them. You must find what works for you; don’t neglect them.


The second is consistency. Consistency is the bedrock of success, and daily rituals play a pivotal role in fostering it. Morning rituals, such as meditation, exercise, or goal visualization, can set a positive tone for the day. In the morning, before I start any work, I take 10 minutes, make a list of tasks, and block my schedule. Evening rituals, like reflection and planning for the next day, contribute to a sense of closure and preparation. This is where I make that list of tasks I schedule the next day. My recommendation is to have at most 10 tasks on any given day. If you have over 10, you may need to return to your priorities and see what can be moved. Of those 10, pick 3 that are “mission critical.” If you got nothing else done but those 3, you would still consider your day a success. I mark my top 3 with a * on my list so that I know what is critical in the morning and should be scheduled first. You will create a framework for sustained time management success by consciously embedding these rituals into your routines.


Resources to Help – Keeping it all Organized


I use two different resources when I schedule my tasks/goals. The first is paper and pen. I use my ReMarkable2, and I love it, but before I had that, I used an old notebook or even scrap paper and a pen to make my lists and schedules. There is some satisfaction in physically crossing something off a list. I use this to make my list of tasks and time-block them, allowing me to cross items off throughout the day.


The second method is my Google Calendars. Yep, I said calendars, plural. Google allows Gmail to create multiple calendars, and Outlook also has this option. I use this resource for my goal planning, projects with long timelines with milestones, anything I can break down into smaller steps, or items with a definitive due date. I have 4 calendars.



To bring these two resources together, every evening, I look at my calendar for the next day and write my list of 10 tasks, picking my top 3 priorities.


Planning Ahead – Not Falling Behind


When you get a project, a syllabus, or set a goal, take time to put the milestones, deadlines, and due dates in a calendar. I recommend placing the item on the day before the due date; this applies to work, school, and life items. When I use a credit card that currently doesn’t have a balance, or I buy something new with payments (like a car), I take the receipt, and that same night, I put an appointment on the bill calendar 30 days from the day I purchased/charged it. Take the time upfront to add events to your calendar, then fall behind. You have your goals, projects, tasks, etc., identified, prioritized, and scheduled. Now you have to do them.


Overcoming Procrastination - Strategies for Breaking the Habit


Procrastination hits us all at one time or another and is a killer to the quest for effective time management. Understanding the root causes of procrastination, such as fear of failure, lack of motivation, or unclear goals, is the first step towards overcoming it. My favorite is that I just don’t want to do it, so I don’t; until it becomes an issue, I have to, and I am miserable doing it. You can adopt strategies like breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, setting deadlines, and leveraging accountability partners to curb procrastination tendencies. Accountability partners can also help keep you focused. This is an excellent use of mentors and family members. But you have to be willing to take their encouragement and nudging.


There is a procrastinator-beating method called pairing. You pair something you want with something you don’t want to do. For example, if you have an online lecture and want to get in your daily walk, Can you listen to the course while walking? Trying to find pairing options can get creative. I have written an entire paper on my phone while sitting at a kid’s soccer practice. If you want to make it work, you will find a way.


Either way, cultivating a mindset of self-discipline and recognizing the value of taking immediate action can also be transformative in breaking the procrastination habit.


Adapting to Change - Flexibility in Time Management


Life happens, and adaptability is a prized skill. You must be prepared to pivot and adjust time management strategies in response to changing priorities and unexpected challenges. The ability to remain flexible while focusing on overarching goals is vital to navigating the uncertainties of a dynamic life. Learning from setbacks, recalibrating plans, and embracing change as an opportunity for growth are integral components of a successful journey. There will be days when the plan goes out the window. The Wi-Fi is down, the power is out, you sprained your ankle, and things like those happen. You need to give yourself the grace to accept it and the fortitude to build your schedule for the next day. Remember the Eisenhower Matrix. It may be time to see if you can delegate more. Above all else, take a deep breath and remember tomorrow is another day.


Sustainable Success - Achieving Work-Life Balance


In conclusion, building habits for success in time management is a continuous journey of self-discovery and refinement. By setting clear goals, mastering the art of prioritization, creating an ideal workday through time blocking, establishing daily rituals, overcoming procrastination, and adapting to change, you can cultivate a framework that propels them toward their aspirations.


In conclusion, the journey toward success through effective time management is an ongoing process of self-discovery and refinement. By setting clear, SMART goals, mastering the art of prioritization with tools like the Eisenhower Matrix, and structuring your day through time blocking and consistent rituals, you create a framework for sustained achievement. Utilizing resources like physical lists and digital calendars ensures organization while planning ahead and overcoming procrastination, which are crucial steps in staying ahead of commitments. Flexibility and adaptability are critical as you navigate unforeseen challenges, with the ultimate goal being a work-life balance. In embracing these time management strategies, you equip yourself with the tools to propel towards your aspirations, recognizing that tomorrow is another day. Effective time management makes you well-prepared to make the most of it.

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