Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting it All Done - Part 1: Elements and Definitions

Well life is getting busy again, and that is a good thing. I have one month before school starts up again and in that time I need to find a good system for managing my time. So it is time to think about time management in detail.

What does time management accomplish?

Time management is not about getting all your work done, but it does help with that. Time management is not about filling every moment of the day with productive activity. Time management is about finding a balance between work and play while making sure the things that need to get done get done.

Time management brings together two other concepts: Tasks and appointments. While the definitions of these are for the most part obvious let us take a minute to be clear about what we are talking about.

Tasks: these are the things we want or need to accomplish.

Appointments: these are scheduled items that have a set time and/or place they need to be done.

The main purpose of time management is this: Balancing the completion of tasks with the keeping of appointments while still maintaining quality of life.

Elements of a time management system

Time blocking is the first element in creating a time management system. The basic idea is to divide your day into times to do certain types of work. For example, you could divide the day into work, personal and school. During the hours set aside for work that is all you do, things related to your job, for school and personal business. You can drill down as deep as you want with time blocking, setting aside time for specific work or school tasks and so on. This does not work for me. How I want to use time blocking is to simply set aside free time and work time. Work time will be for accomplishing anything non-recreational. Running errands, setting interviews, doing school work, going to class or work will all fall into this category. This way I can guaranty myself some time to fool around each day.

The next element of time management is activity grouping. The idea here is to organize what you are doing in such a way that tasks and appointments complement each other rather than conflict. An example of this is making sure that if you need to go grocery shopping and you are meeting with someone at the Starbucks next to Safeway you can combine the trips. Tasks grouping can also mean that if you have a number of phone calls to make during the day you can give yourself an hour to just make phone calls.


Prioritizing is another key element of any time management system, and it is so critical and complex it deserves its own subheading. We only have so much time to do the things that have to get done so we have to decide what is important, what is practical and most importantly what is efficient. We need to be able to maximize out most limited resource when we schedule and that is time. We need to put that time into the tasks that will have the greatest impact on our lives and achieving our goals.

But there is a great dilemma in prioritizing. Those things that are important need to get done, however they are not always the most practical tasks or the most efficient tasks. While it is hard to realistically change the importance of a task or appointment, we can work to make them more efficient and practical. This can be accomplished by what I like to call 'event anchoring'. This is a type of prioritization that focuses on picking an important task or appointment, then uses task grouping to arrange geographically or process related tasks around that anchor event.

Another element in prioritizing to be aware of are deadlines. These can often shift the importance of events causing them to be more critical then they actually are. Managing tasks with a deadline over the entire allotted time period is critical to creating a smooth work flow.

To be continued


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