“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?“ – Henry David Thoreau
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Master Your Time, Master Your Life
Laws, Principles, and Rules
Email / Social
As a high performance coach at Microsoft and beyond, I have helped individuals, teams, and leaders master the mindset, skillset, and toolset of better time management.
One of the most effective tools I’ve seen is the time management checklist. By following a clear and concise set of guidelines, you can take control of your time and make sure you’re spending it on the things that matter most.
Time management is not about managing time, but managing yourself. The biggest levers you have to change your time management game are your priorities, your personal energy, and your planning. The game of time management changes as you change.
In this article, I’m going to share my time management checklist with you, so you can start maximizing your productivity and achieving your goals.
Master Your Time, Master Your Life
Some say, time is all you have. Master your time and you master your life. Time management is one of those wonderful, timeless topics with so many lessons and so many great mentors.
This checklist distills the wisdom of the ages into a collection of strategies to help you master your time:
- Time is what you make of it.
- You don’t have time, you make time.
- Time is your most valuable resource.
- Invest time in what’s important. Investing in your time is investing in your life.
- Don’t dwell on the train you missed — focus on catching the next train.
- Time changes what’s important.
- You can’t buy time.
- Time is all we have.
- Time is a teacher. Time is a judge. Time is a healer. Time is a friend.
Time Management Laws, Principles, and Rules
- 80/20 Rule / Pareto Principle: This rule states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Apply Pareto’s Principle (The “80/20 Rule”). Work on the 20% of activities that produce the 80% of your results.
- Murphy’s Law: Murphy’s Law states that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” In the context of time management, this means that unexpected events and obstacles are likely to arise and disrupt your plans, no matter how well you’ve planned and prepared. To effectively manage your time and mitigate the impact of Murphy’s Law, it’s important to build in some flexibility and buffer time in your schedule to account for unforeseen circumstances.
- Parkinson’s Law: This law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This can be applied by setting strict deadlines and limiting the amount of time spent on a task. To waste less time, give yourself less time.
- The Law of Diminishing Returns: This law states that the longer you work on a task, the less productive you become. This can be applied by taking breaks and working on other tasks to maintain productivity.
- The Law of Prioritization: The Law of Prioritization is a time management principle that says to prioritize tasks based on their level of importance and urgency. Complete the most important and urgent tasks first, followed by those that are important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and finally, those that are neither urgent nor important. Its goal is to help individuals use their time more effectively by focusing on tasks that will have the greatest impact on their goals.
- The One-Touch Rule: This rule states that you should handle each piece of paper, email, or task only once. This can be applied to time management by avoiding procrastination and completing tasks as they arise.
- The Zeigarnik Effect: This effect states that people remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks. This can be applied by breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable parts to increase motivation and productivity.
Foundational Reminders for Better Time Management
- Ask yourself, “Who can I team up with to get results? How can I build more effective teams? Who should be paired up on the team for best results?”
- Ask yourself, “Who, what, when, where, why, how?”
- Carry a small pad for tasks, notes and ideas.
- Catch the next train. Keep your trains leaving the station. When you miss one, don’t hold your train back. Instead, catch the next one.
- Learn how to scan. Find and focus on what’s important faster.
- Make minor decisions quickly. Don’t spend $20 on a $5 problem.
- Pair up with other people and improve your own effectiveness.
- Periodically evaluate how you’re using your time.
- Remember that time changes what’s important.
- Use The Rule of 3 to avoid getting overwhelmed. Limit yourself to three things and think in threes.
Action Reminders for Better Time Management
- Do it now vs. do it later. Avoid procrastinating.
- Don’t let your inner Critic or Perfectionist get in the way of your Doer.
- Establish glide-paths to simplify your day and make your routines friction free.
- Establish routines for recurring activities.
- Just start.
- Reduce the amount of procrastinating you do. Find your persona patterns for taking action.
- Start with something small.
- Start your day early — “Get a jump on your day.”
- Take decisive action.
- Think in terms of “good enough for now” and treat perfection as a “journey”, not a “destination.”
- Worst things first. Do the worst thing in your day to get it out of the way and avoid looming over you.
Calendar / Schedule Reminders for Better Time Management
- Add creative hours to your week.
- Add power hours to your week.
- Allow sufficient time for sleep and recreation.
- Carve out time for what’s important.
- Have a buffer. You need a buffer to recover things don’t go as planned or plans change.
- Have a time and a place for things.
- Identify key windows of opportunity.
- Identify your peak performance times and guard them.
- Invest time each week in activities that free up more time.
- Know where your time is going.
- Know your most effective hours.
- Make appointments with yourself to finish work.
- Say “No” with skill to make time for priorities and to stay focused.
- Schedule time for administration.
- Schedule time for thinking and creativity.
- Schedule time for free time.
- Set a specific time each day for eating, sleeping, and working out.
- Set boundaries. Set boundaries for your work week, such as “nights off”, “weekends off”, or “dinner on the table at 5:30.”
- Spend time where it counts.
- Use your most creative hours for your most creative work.
- Use your most productive hours for your most productive work.
Email / Social Media Reminders for Better Time Management
- Don’t “paper shuffle” — “touch it once.” Act on it versus shuffling around and revisiting.
- Set a specific time each day for email, returning phone calls, and social media.
- Set a time limit for reviewing email.
- Set a time limit for social media.
- Triage your incoming action items to either do it, queue it, schedule it, or delegate it.
- Batch similar tasks together, such as responding to emails or scheduling social media posts, to increase efficiency.
- Avoid checking email or social media first thing in the morning to maintain focus on your top priorities for the day.
- Practice good email etiquette by keeping messages concise, using clear subject lines, and avoiding unnecessary back-and-forth communication.
- Set boundaries around email and social media usage by communicating clear expectations with colleagues, friends, and family.
Focus Reminders for Better Time Management
- Don’t multitask. Have one fallback project for when you get blocked.
- Focus on flowing value, not spending time.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
- Focus on outcomes, not activities.
- Learn how to deal with interruptions more effectively. Find patterns that work for you.
- Limit distractions. If it’s a distraction for you remove it or minimize it.
- Reduce interruptions by allocating time for things, including meetings.
- Reduce interruptions by finding different places to work from.
- Reduce open work. Close something down before starting something new.
Goals Reminders for Better Time Management
- Ask yourself, “What do you want to accomplish?”
- Identify three outcomes for the day.
- Identify three outcomes for the week.
- Identify three outcomes for the month.
- Identify three outcomes for the year.
- Identify what you want to accomplish each day.
- Identify what you want to accomplish each week.
- Map out what’s important in your life to create a meaningful map.
- Review your goals and objectives at regular intervals.
- Set reasonable goals.
Meetings Reminders for Better Time Management
- Be efficient with things, but effective with people, as Stephen Covey would say.
- Allocate a time limit for each meeting agenda item.
- Ask yourself, “Are the right people at the meeting?”
- Have a short stand-up meeting vs. a long sit-down meeting.
- Meet in other people’s office, so you can just leave when you want vs. kicking people out.
- Define clear objectives and goals for the meeting.
- Prepare an agenda in advance and share it with the attendees.
- Schedule meetings during non-peak productivity times.
Motivation Reminders for Better Time Management
- Do it for a job well done vs. an external reward or acknowledgement.
- Know why you are doing it to stay motivated.
- Find your why. Connect the task to your values and make it meaningful.
- Use metaphors to find your motivation and improve your energy. For example, treat your project like an epic adventure.
- Break down your goals into smaller, achievable tasks.
- Celebrate your successes along the way to stay motivated.
- Visualize your success and imagine how it will feel to achieve your goal.
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
- Practice self-care to keep your energy levels high and avoid burnout.
- Create a routine or schedule to establish a consistent work habit.
- Eliminate distractions and focus on the task at hand.
- Track your progress to see how far you have come and stay motivated to keep going.
- Practice positive self-talk and focus on your strengths.
- Remember that failure is part of the process and can provide valuable learning experiences.
Organizing Reminders for Better Time Management
- Start by decluttering your workspace and creating a clean, organized environment that is conducive to productivity.
- Declutter and make space. Give yourself breathing room.
- Use the “10-minute Burst” technique to organize and clean up your workspace.
- Utilize calendars and daily planners to keep track of important deadlines and appointments.
- Develop checklists for routine tasks to ensure you don’t miss any important steps or details.
- Use lists to organize your tasks and priorities, making it easier to focus on what needs to be done and stay on track.
- Keep your workspace tidy: Clear your desk at the end of each day to start fresh in the morning. Put away any tools or materials you no longer need to keep your workspace uncluttered.
Personal Energy Reminders for Better Time Management
- Eliminate non-essential activities that drain you.
- Feel strong all week long by spending more time in your strengths and less time in your weaknesses.
- Improve your energy to achieve more within the same amount of time.
- Manage energy, not time.
- Take breaks from difficult tasks.
- Use bursts of energy for getting faster, simpler, better results.
- Use your best energy for your best work.
- Leverage the Power of Routines: Develop routines that work for you and make them habits to increase productivity and reduce decision fatigue.
- Avoid Multitasking: Multitasking can actually decrease productivity and increase stress. Instead, focus on one task at a time and complete it before moving on to the next.
Planning Reminders for Better Time Management
- Each day, create a new “To Do” list.
- Each week, create a new “To Do” list.
- Have a plan and work the plan.
- Identify the minimum work to be done to figure out the critical path.
- Know how long things actually take you versus how long you think they should take.
- Know your limits in terms of bandwidth or capacity or throughput.
- Make it a project. Have a start and and end for your work.
- Set and respect deadlines.
- Use commuting time to plan and organize your day or sorting through problems.
Prioritizing Reminders for Better Time Management
- Use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance. Categorize tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important.
- Ask yourself, “Does it matter?”
- Ask yourself, “How important is it?”
- Ask yourself, “What’s the impact?”
- Ask yourself, “What’s the next best thing to do?”
- Eat your vegetables first. Do the most important things first.
- Know what’s valued vs. what is just expected. Remember that value is in the eye of the beholder.
- Let things slough off. To do so, focus on the most important things. Remember that time changes what’s important.
- Prioritize more effectively by using MUST, SHOULD, and COULD.
- Prioritize your tasks based on importance, not urgency.
- Say “No” with skill to make time for priorities and to stay focused.
- Set priorities based on importance, not urgency.
- Trade up for better uses of your time.
Task Management / Task Batching Reminders for Better Time Management
- Use the 80/20 rule: Focus on the 20% of tasks that yield 80% of the results. Prioritize and tackle these tasks first.
- Ask yourself, “When should I do this?”
- Ask yourself, “By when should I have this done?”
- Batch your work to gain efficiencies.
- Chunk your work down into small actionable tasks you can get your head around. Eat the elephant “one bite at a time.”
- Consolidate your action items.
- Delegate or outsource tasks to others.
- Develop the discipline of follow up.
- Have a background project to work on when you’re blocked on your main project.
- Keep your To-Do list within sight.
- Keep your To-Do lists short and focused.
- Know what’s on your plate. Be able to show and share what’s on your plate. This helps you say, “No” with skill.
- Make lists of the things you choose to do.
- Map the work out and break it down so you know how much time to spend.
- Set deadlines for tasks you delegate.
- Identify how you currently spend your time: Start by tracking how you spend your time for a week or two. Use a time log or a time tracking app to record your activities and how much time you spend on each.
- Analyze your time log: Review your time log to see where you’re spending your time. Look for patterns and identify areas where you’re spending too much or too little time.
- Identify your priorities: Make a list of your top priorities, both personal and professional. This will help you determine which activities are worth spending time on and which ones you can eliminate.
- Determine your time wasters: Identify activities that are time wasters, such as social media or checking email too often. Try to eliminate or reduce these activities to free up more time for your priorities.
- Plan your day/week: Use a planner or calendar to plan your day or week. Schedule time for your priorities first and then fill in the rest of your time with other activities.
- Track your progress: Continuously track your progress to see if you’re spending your time in alignment with your priorities. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure you’re making the most of your time.
Time Blocking Reminders for Better Time Management
- Choose the right time blocking tool, such as a planner or a digital calendar.
- Set aside a specific block of time each day for time blocking.
- Identify your most important tasks and schedule them during your most productive time of day.
- Break up your day into manageable chunks of time and assign specific tasks to each block.
- Schedule breaks and time for rest to avoid burnout.
- Be realistic about how long each task will take and allocate enough time for each one.
- Stick to your schedule as much as possible and avoid distractions.
- Review and adjust your time blocking schedule regularly to ensure it is effective.
- Prioritize your time blocks based on urgency and importance.
- Use your time blocking schedule to hold yourself accountable and track your progress.
Timeboxing / Time Budgeting Reminders for Better Time Management
- Ask yourself, “How much time do you actually have for it?”
- Ask yourself, “How much time should it take?
- Bite off what you can chew within the available time or energy that you have.
- Don’t spend 20 minutes on 5 minute problems.
- Identify candidate areas for timeboxing.
- Invest your time proportionate to the value. Put in what you want to get out.
- Set limits in terms of quantity.
- Set limits in terms of time.
- Think in terms of “containers” of time to do your work in. Give yourself enough space in this container.
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