By John Conway
How important is time management? Just think about all of the ways we are bombarded with information throughout the workday.
It starts with the alarm on your phone, followed by early morning text messages, emails and push alerts. While getting ready for work, you may be multi-tasking and getting your news in the background from the TV, radio or a smart speaker. (You don’t want to be under-informed for the water cooler conversations.)
Once at work, there are voicemails to check and return at your desk, more missed calls on your cell phone, meetings (during which you look at your phone at least 10 times), drop-in visits, and maybe even some good old-fashioned mail from the USPS. (Nope. Turned out to be junk mail.)
Before you realize it, your co-workers are filing out of the office and it’s time to pack up your laptop and head home, where there will be more emails and texts hitting your phone and maybe a spouse, child, pet or good friend who also would like a little of your time, too.
You get the idea. Our days are filled with a steady stream of interruptions and tugs at our brain for attention. Before we know it, a good eight or 10 hours have slipped by and we are left wondering, “What did I accomplish today?”
Let me make clear that just because I am writing about the importance of time management doesn’t mean I am expert. I would rate myself as proficient, with much to learn in order to get to the expert stage. (But hey, I did carve out time to write this post.)
To some degree, time management requires discipline and focus. You can use tools such as your smartphone and calendar to help achieve discipline. Focus, however, is much harder for all of the reasons I touched on above.
I learned a good bit about focus from Gary Keller’s bestseller “The One Thing.” The book has a lot of strategies to help you determine your One Thing – those key actions that if done successfully make all of the other tasks on your list easier to accomplish, or removed from your list entirely. After all, part of time management is learning to say no sometimes.
Keller recommends: “Time block your One Thing” and “Protect your time block.” In other words, treat your One Thing or main purpose of the day or week as you would a meeting with your manager or a doctor’s appointment. Put it on your calendar, and don’t remove it simply because you are invited to another meeting at the same time.
For me, email is the biggest impediment to focus and prioritization. It’s easy to view the inbox as one giant to-do list where every message appears to carry the same weight or priority. Working through that big queue means you’re productive, right?
Sometimes there are emails we cannot ignore. Our boss might need some data right away. Your most important client may have an urgent item to discuss that cannot wait. Many times, however, we have a series of requests that are neither urgent nor important. It’s our job to prioritize them. If we don’t, we give up control of our most valuable asset – our time – and hand it over to others to control.
I find mornings to be my most productive time in the day. I have my full energy and concentration. I haven’t been barraged yet with emails, texts or calls, as others are just waking up and getting into gear. The cadence of work is often such that the second half of the day becomes more hectic and chaotic than the first half. So make that first half count. Use that to focus on your One Thing.
“To experience extraordinary results,” Keller says, “be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.” Being a maker means that you are creating and doing, which generally gives people energy. Being a manager means you are overseeing or directing — also important duties, but arguably not as important as time spent being a maker.
Creative time should be spent thinking when our brains are fresh and alive. It is a time to plan, to write and to research. My best ideas and thinking come during bursts of intense focus, and that often is early in the day.
It’s fine if you are maker in the evenings, when the house and your brain quiets down. Just be sure to protect your time. It may be the most valuable asset you have.