3 Techniques For Time Management and Prioritisation
Learn how to manage your time effectively for career success
“My favourite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” — Steve Jobs
When was the last time you thought about time management or prioritisation? It generally isn’t something that people actively think about; and yet it is something we all do everyday. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we are constantly making decisions and prioritisations on what we will do next.
Put this in a professional setting, and you will find yourself constantly prioritising tasks. There will be a stream of incoming emails, meeting invites, chat windows, competing deadlines and a myriad of to-do tasks, all competing for your time and attention. If you can prioritise things in the right order and allocate your time correctly, sooner or later you will find yourself moving up the corporate ladder. This is often a key skill for management.
Often times, the hardest thing is to make the first step; to get started. It is easy to get caught in the busyness of every day life and chaotic work cultures with no structure.
“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.”
In this blog, rather than simply present 3 different management techniques, we are going to see how to implement each one and combine them together. This will give you a set of tools that you can use immediately!
Create a list
The first task to getting organised and hone your time management skills is to know of and track all of your outstanding tasks. When the list is small, it is easy to remember it without writing it down. However, when you or your team has a big list of tasks, then you need a way of tracking them without forgetting anything.
This is why it is imperative that you create a list of all the outstanding items and simply write them down! Just by doing this task, you will be making sure that you are aware of all the tasks and their associated deadlines.
This can be a physical or digital list of items. Personally, I have a number of different lists. I have a personal to-do list, a work to-do list, and then there’s the team’s to do list. Generally, when a number of people are affected or are tracking progress on tasks then it makes sense to use an online list. I recommend setting up a Kanban board that everybody has access to. Trello offers a simple and yet powerful digital Kanban software:
Infinitely flexible. Incredibly easy to use. Great mobile apps. It's free. Trello keeps track of everything, from the…
It allows you to define different lanes representing the status of work, and you can drag your items across, giving everyone a real time view of the status of the work. Here’s an example of a Kanban board below:
If you have carried out the previous exercise, you will now know the whole universe of items you need to address. We will call this universe — all the different lists — your work backlog.
We can now work through this backlog to categorise and appropriately prioritise all of the items of work. One of the ways to do this, is to use the Eisenhower Matrix.
“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” — Oprah Winfrey
For each of the items, you need to go through and make two choices. You need to decide whether they are urgent or not, and whether they are important or not.
If an item is:
- Important & Urgent, then it should be placed in the top left quadrant.
- Important but not Urgent, then top right quadrant.
- Urgent but not Important, then bottom left quadrant.
- Not Important and not Urgent, then bottom right quadrant.
Depending on the quadrant it landed in, then you can decide the actions you need to take.
For those of you who are sole practitioners and do not have anyone working for you, you might not be able to delegate. In that case, you start by addressing the ‘Do First’ items and afterwards address the ‘Delegate’ items. Another option, is to consider hiring an online part time assistant to help you with those items. See for instance pages like Upwork.
Prioritise your Urgent and Important items
With the Eisenhower Matrix we were able to group our tasks in terms of priority and we were able to determine the high-level actions that should be assigned to them. The next task, is to address the individual items within each quadrant.
Take for instance that we are looking at the Urgent & Important quadrant. We know that every single item needs to be addressed. How then do we determine which one to tackle first? The first thing to do is to try and understand what each item is all about. In doing so, the aim would be to figure out the work involved in completing each item. This should give us a sense of how much time each task would take.
To begin with, we should first attempt to see whether there are any quick wins. Both on a task level, but also on the breakdown of a task. Imagine that we had two tasks. One task would probably take all day to complete and the other one two hours. We should probably begin with the two-hour task to get it out of the way and delivered, before we move on to the bigger task. The quick win, would give us good momentum and boost our confidence.
However, we may have noticed that we need some outside input to our big task which to obtain we first need to send an email or make a phone call. Sending the email or making the phone call is quicker than the smaller 2-hour task, and if we were to complete it upfront, someone else would be working to send us the information we require while we’re working on a different task. That will also mean that we will be ready to start working on the bigger task as soon as we finish the other one rather than sitting around waiting for information.
The last thing to cover is the Pareto Principle, and how we can use it to our advantage. The Pareto Principle is known by many names, such as The 80/20 rule or law of the vital few. This principle essentially states that for a given situation, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
An example of this, could be something like 20% of medium writers produce 80% of the content.
Knowing this principle, we can look to see how we can apply it to our situation. Let us examine a few use cases.
Use Case 1: 20% of the work delivers 80% of the value
Following from our Eisenhower matrix, and our quick wins, the Pareto Principle essentially advises that we could do 1/5th of the work and get 4/5th of the value. That could either be because we only address a subset of the backlog or because we solve each item partially. Maybe we deliver the work in a draft state, rather than 100% completed.
Use Case 2: 20% of the root causes, cause 80% of the problems
Sometimes, you might have some tasks which seem to be repeating themselves. It might be the type of problems you keep addressing, or the same group of clients causing most of the problems.
Whatever it is, it is worth identifying the trend and solving the issue once and for all. To identify the root cause of a problem, it is worth asking why 5 times in a row. The final answer tends to be the root cause of the problem.
Having used the Pareto Principle, you can then identify the best way to proceed with your workload to achieve the most out of your day/week/month or year!
I hope you have found some or all of the above useful. Hopefully you put some of these into practise and they work out for you — remember to persevere for a while whenever you are trying out a new technique . It takes a bit of time to get the hang of it.
Finally, please find a list of other of my articles you might find useful:
- These 7 Habits will keep you getting better and better:
7 Habits of Successful Product Managers
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People applied to Product Management
- You can’t perform your best if you don’t sleep well:
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