This year, one of my biggest discoveries was Quadrant 2 time management, the strategy that has you focusing on what is really important to you as opposed to what is urgent, and realigning your time to honor and commit to Quadrant 2 activities each week (for more on this, see tips 2 and 3 below). Q2 time management is helping me a lot this holiday season since I can view holiday preparations as “relationship building” activities that are definitely in my Q2! And I am pleased to hear from my students and my clients that Q2 time management is helping them as well.
Since time management is one of the keys to authentic success, my contribution to the many year-end “top 10” lists out there is the list of my top 10 tips for effective time management, which I hope will be helpful to you both in the busy holiday season as well as during the rest of the year.
1. Set values-based goals and priorities
Time management starts with knowing your values and then setting your goals that reflect your values.
Values are the principles that govern your life that can range from relationships to personal growth to leadership and creativity, joy, passion, autonomy, security, authenticity, service or community. When you align your life with your values, you can cut through the swirl of confusion and make the right decisions, including the activities and relationships that provide meaning and fulfillment.
Armed with these values, you can set your long-term career and personal goals. Then, decide on what are your priorities or short-term goals, the things that you want to achieve in the next performance season, or the next 3 months or the next semester.
2. Identify Your Q2 Activities
Once you know your top values and priorities, the next step is to change the focus of what you do so that you commit to the activities that advance your long-term important goals. A great model is Stephen Covey’s Quadrant 2 time management where you divide your activities into 4 quadrants based on what is important and not important and what is urgent or not urgent. Click here to see what the 4 quadrants look like.
The idea is to make sure that every week, you are tending to your Quadrant 2: the relationships, activities and projects that help you to achieve your long-term well-being. Then, reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with other people’s crises and agendas (Q1), minimize doing anything that interrupts you or diverts your attention from the important work (Q3) and eliminate pure time wasters (Q4).
So identify your Q2, whether it is projects towards your long-term goals, cultivating and maintaining your important activities, relationships, planning or any creative activities. And don’t forget to add creative renewal, rest and down time into your Q2 so that you can be in top shape to do that important work!
3. Commit to Weekly Planning
The next step is to commit to weekly planning so that each week, you are incorporating your Q2 activities and working towards your long-term vision.
It starts with making a weekly plan and focusing on two types of activities:
- activities to which you are committed (e.g., rehearsals, performances, meetings and teaching); plus
- a few activities that feed long-term goals and values-driven projects.
The first part takes care of itself so it’s a matter of slotting those activities into your calendar. The second part is where the magic occurs because you commit to activities that enable you to create your vision of success and to relationships that nourish and support you. Each week, pick one or two of these activities and treat it as an important commitment to your future!
4. Make a strategic daily to-do list
What does your daily to-do list look like?
While many people use the “kitchen sink” method of dumping everything onto a sheet of paper, this sets up an impossible task of attempting to slog through a long list of things that never get done, leading to enormous frustration and a feeling of failure.
Instead, make a strategic daily to-do list where you select your daily activities based on the following 3 questions:
1. What is important about today?
2. What must get done today?
3. What is important about the future?
This will help you to accomplish your short-term needs as well as make sure that you are honoring your Q2.
5. Focus on the highest impact activities
Another way to pare down your daily list is to look for the highest impact activities.
Two strategies work like a charm:
- The 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule posits that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.
This is a great way to maximize the use of your time because you are focusing on what has the biggest impact on your time. So look at your to-do list of 10 things: which 2 things on your list will have the biggest impact on what you need to get done?
Start with those and experience the satisfaction of knowing that you are 80% of the way there!
- Eat That Frog
Take another look at that daily to-do list. What is the biggest, yuckiest, most challenging thing on your list, the one you are most likely to procrastinate about? Many people will spend their days getting rid of the “easy” tasks so that they have time to attack the hardest thing on the list. Yet, often, that is a recipe for procrastination (see tip 7).
Productivity expert Brian Tracy in his best-selling book Eat That Frog urges us to swallow the frog and doing the most challenging task first. Then the rest of your to-do list will feel like a breeze!
6. Just Say No
Do you find yourself engaged in activities for other people (Q3) rather than doing what you want (Q2)?
One of the biggest reasons that we do not have time for the things that we long to do for ourselves is that we take on commitments for other people for fear of not wanting to disappoint them these other people, as well as a fear that maybe you might miss out on something really “cool”. Saying no is very challenging! It’s about setting healthy boundaries so that you can “Just Say No”.
The next time you are tempted to say yes to something, consider the following before you commit:
- How well does this activity reflect your values, long-term goals and priorities?
- How does this commitment fit into your Q2?
- Might this activity be better in a future time when you have more time?
And when you say no, do so without apology because you are honoring your choices! Just remember that saying yes to “them” is saying no to you.
7. Overcome Procrastination
Do you find yourself procrastinating?
Do you beat yourself up when you procrastinate?
If the answer to these questions is yes, you are in good company! And you understand that you are wasting a lot of precious time, right?
Rather than be hard on yourself for procrastinating, examine the reasons that you are procrastinating because you can then tackle the obstacle head-on and save many hours that you would otherwise spend putting off those very tasks that you are avoiding!
Maybe you hate the task itself.
Or you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
It could be that you don’t know how to do the task.
And perhaps you are having a hard time deciding what to do.
Whatever the reason, you can find a solution that involves tackling the task head-on, rather than procrastinating!
8. Conquer Perfectionism
Many high-achievers lose control over their time because of perfectionism, which can manifest itself in one of two ways:
- spending countless hours on a project thinking that if only they work hard enough, it will be perfect; or
- avoiding the task out of the fear that it will never be perfect.
The next time you find yourself in this downward spiral, here are some things that you can do to conquer your perfectionism:
- Ask yourself what is at stake and how important is it for a particular task to be perfect
- How well is being a perfectionist working for you? If you find yourself losing sleep, losing friends, feeling stressed because you are devoting yourself to the illusion of perfection, maybe it is time to stop.
- Set a time limit for a project. Once you have hit the deadline, STOP.
- Celebrate your achievements when you accomplish your goals before moving on to the next one so that you can enjoy what you have done!
9. Minimize External Distractions
What are your biggest distractions?
In our wired age of 24/7 availability and connectivity, it is easy to avoid work because it’s more “fun” to chat with friends or surf the Internet. While these activities might provide some fun and relaxation, excessive use becomes a Q4 activity that you should eliminate.
How do you manage your distractions?
- Block out times to work, turn off phone and email, don’t answer the phone
- Schedule a time each day to respond to email and voice-mail and set a timer so that you stay within your time limit
- Use the 80/20 rule for email.
- Write down any thoughts that come up while you working on one project and handle them later
- Get rid of anything that is not urgent and not important.
- Take a break when you are on overload.
10. Practice Mindfulness
So often, busy people think that they have no time for fun and that the best way to get some relief is to multi-task: talk on the phone or iChat with a friend while you are doing work, check your iPhone incessantly when out to dinner with a friend or try to solve work problems when exercising.
This is where the concept of mindfulness comes in very handy: when you are engaged in a task or an activity, focus all of your attention on that. Period.
That means that if your relationships are very important to you, make the time for that special person and focus all of your attention on being with that person. Even if it for 30 minutes at a time, you can make that quality connection.
That’s it for 2013! I am off for a few weeks and then will be back on January 6 with more tips on creating authentic success!
Happy Holidays to all!
© Astrid Baumgardner 2013