Time management is ultimately about choices and boundaries. The greatest challenges to effective time management are failure to plan and prioritize, distractions and interruptions, procrastination, multitasking (not a thing), underestimating how long tasks will take, and failure to declare a task done.
There are 1440 minutes in each day and invariably, some of them are wasted. How well you use your minutes, determines your productivity and often, your success. The goal is to make as much of those minutes as possible. There are many time management techniques that people use to gain more control of their time and to become more productive, efficient, and effectiveness.
There are many methods promoted (and sold) as the best way to manage time. The truth is that the best method is what works for you. When working with a client to improve their time management skill, I do an assessment of what they are currently doing (which they believe does not work well), their greatest challenge to good time management, and how their brains work to better identify what system might work best for them. If a method doesn’t make sense with the way your brain processes time and information, it will not be effective in helping you manage time.
The 5 Time Management Techniques I will be reviewing in this article are:
• The Pareto Principle named Vilfredo Pareto an Italian Economist who first noticed the connection in 1896.
• The Pomodoro Technique Francesco Cirillo’s method, named for the tomato shaped timer he used.
• The Four Quadrants invented by Dwight D. Eisenhower during WWII, popularized by Stephen Covey.
• Time Blocking is the Method Elon Musk uses to be super productive.
• Rapid Planning Method (RPM) developed by Tony Robbins as a focus technique.
While there are many more, these are all effective and are likely to be the ones you will encounter most often in the literature.
The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. It can be applied in many circumstances, here are a few:
- 80% or your problems come from 20% of your employees (or children).
- 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your products or services.
- 80% or your profit comes from 20% of your clients
- 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of your results.
- 20% of the hazards cause 80% of the injuries or accidents.
Using The Pareto Principle
1. List the problems you are most concerned about. These can be in the domain of personal, financial, business, spirituality, or health.
2. Identify the core cause(s) of each problem. Is your core problem your health? Do you get enough sleep? Do you exercise? How healthy is your diet? How well do you manage your stress? Please note that we are not talking about assigning blame or beating yourself up but identifying the breakdown causing the problem.
3. Score each problem. On a scale of 1-10 how important is each problem? For example, being 5 pounds overweight is not as serious as being overdrawn at the bank.
4. Create clusters of problems with the same causality. If you missed getting paid for 6 days of work last month because you called in sick and are failing to follow up with your doctor about your hypertension, those have the same causality.
5. Add your scores for each cluster. You may have a couple of problem clusters that are scored highly, but most will likely be in the middle or low range. The group with the highest score is what you should work on first.
6. Get Busy! Taking action is the first step. By acting on your most problematic issue, the actions you take will have the greatest impact.
If you are a problem solver and an analytical thinker, the Pareto Method will make sense to you.
The Pomodoro Technique works well with people who are creative, left-brain thinkers and those who are feeling burned out. For those who are easily distracted, this method will help you stay focused. It uses a timer to break time into intervals. I like to use a form of this technique when I am doing a task like decluttering. I have boxes or a file drawer to sort through, I make a fair estimate how much time it should take and set a timer. In going through the box, I have to put the things in a final resting place. Either where it belongs, a donate box, or the trash. If I haven’t completed the box by the time the timer goes off, I get to choose, donate, or trash it, but the box must go.
Using The Pomodoro Technique
- Select a task you want to get done.
- Set a timer for an amount of time you can focus (20-25 min).
- Focus on the task.
- When the timer rings stop.
- Take a short break 3-5 minutes. Move around, grab a cup of coffee, do something that gives your brain a break.
- Repeat steps two through five. After repeating the process 4 times take a longer break (20-30 minutes)
The Four Quadrants takes all your tasks and categorizes them into one of four categories. Each category has appropriate action steps dedicated to those tasks. The value of this method is that by doing the important tasks, you can avoid being thrown into the reactive mode that occurs when tasks become urgent.
Draw a square and then subdivide that square into 4 smaller squares.
Label the top left hand square Quadrant One. These things are rises and pressing problems. Items in this quadrant are urgent and important and should be done or delegated promptly. – Necessity – Manage
Label the top right hand square Quadrant Two. These things are important but not urgent. In this quadrant you focus on proactive goals, creative work, planning and prevention, strategies and values. – Effectiveness – Decide
Label the bottom left hand square Quadrant Three. These tasks are urgent, but not important. They are interruptions and busy work. You will want to limit the amount of time you invest in tasks in Quadrant Three. – Distraction – Avoid
Label the bottom right hand square Quadrant Four. These tasks are not urgent or important. They are typically trivial and wasteful. Waste – Delete
This matrix works well for people in leadership positions and critical thinkers.
When using The Time Blocking Method, you assign each time block in your day to a task. Time blocks can be a half hour, or an hour and tasks can be as simple as taking a shower or as complicated as a board meeting.
- Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On the left, write down the time blocks of 30-minute increments starting with the time you wake up and ending with the time you finish for the day.
- Estimate each of your tasks and fix them into your time blocks
- Add buffer times in between tasks to allow for adjustments during the day.
- Use our
This technique is very structured and works best for analytical thinkers and those needing more structure.
The Rapid Planning Method (RPM) also stands for ‘results, purpose and massive action’. It is a method to aid your brain in focusing on the outcome you want.
The Rapid Planning Method
1. Write down all the tasks you need to accomplish this week.
2. Chunking means grouping your tasks according to commonalities. Commonalities can be type of tasks, geographic, or pertaining to specific people.
3. Create your own RPM blocks. On a sheet of paper make four columns, label the columns Task, Action, Result, and Purpose.
4. Prioritize the tasks. After evaluating the tasks, select your action based on the sheet and begin.
This method works well for people with long term goals, working students and parents.
One of the best things a person can do to get more control of their time is to strengthen their boundaries. By strengthening your ability to say no to things or people that don’t help you to achieve your goals.
Pick the time management method that appeals to you and test it out.
Cami Miller is a business coach and partners with leaders on all levels to develop strategies for success. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.