If you run your own business, chances are that you have invested in time management at some point. You might have taken a class, read a few books, or tried a physical or electronic time management tool. With all that you’ve learned and all the tools that you have at your disposal, why do you still feel that you don’t have the time you need to get things done?
It is possible that you feel this way because traditional time management tools and advice concentrate on controlling time the wrong way. They neglect to teach you one important concept that can help you manage your time better.
What is “time”?
Start with understanding what time really is. The dictionary definition is actually quite a useful one – that time is the dimension in which events occur. While scientists defining time consider anything to be an event – wind blowing, flies buzzing and so on – you wouldn’t personally accept those as events. To you, personally, an event is only worthy of being called that when it achieves something that you consider important.
Using this understanding of what an event is in your definition of time, you get to see that time only exists when it achieves something of importance to you. You have a way of creating time then – by only doing the things that are important. The rest of the time, when you’re writing a beautifully laid-out expense report, it isn’t time at all. When you take your energy away from looking at your email to doing something like calling your clients, you’re creating time.
The Pareto principle is a famous mathematical theory that says that, in most situations, 80% of the results seen come from 20% of the causes. Marketers are quite familiar with this – they’ve often had their noses rubbed in how 80% of the company’s sales come from just 20% its marketing team.
The Pareto principle could work in time management too: a fifth of your time each day manages to produce most of your results. Successful time management doesn’t just involve rethinking what time is (something that facilitates results). It also involves rethinking what results are.
Traditional time management involves creating to-do lists. While to-do lists are great, most people don’t learn how to make them the right way. In the world of to-do lists, you get points for doing just anything on the list, no matter how unimportant it is. If you are in business to achieve results and only 20% of the things you do actually produce those results, your to-do list should reflect this. The traditional to-do list encourages you to waste time.
The answer to this isn’t simply to create a list that prioritizes tasks by how important they are. There are many kinds of important work that takes up so much time that they force you to give up doing other things that could add up to better results.
What is the answer then? Perhaps you need to prioritize your tasks in a new way.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Here’s a quick example that illustrates a new way to prioritize tasks. Take three common business-related tasks that you might find on the average to-do list. You could try to assign each a mathematical rank.
- Create a report on a business trip. (Time: high; Results: low)
- Do homework on filing taxes. (Time: high; Results: medium)
- Call promising sales leads. (Time: low; Results: high)
You need to prioritize your tasks not only by how important each task is but by how important the results are to advancing your cause. It would, in fact, be an idea to assign a number on a scale from 1 to 10 for the time taken by each task and to the results obtained of each.
If you assign calling a client just 1 point for time taken and 8 points for possible results, you could divide 8 by 1 and get a priority rating of 8. Creating a business trip report, on the other hand, could rate 8 for time taken and 1 for results. Dividing 1 by 8, you would get a very low priority score.
We all love procrastination for some reason – putting off the things that really make us happy and fulfilled and doing the things that simply help us mark time. Perhaps the thought of actually doing the things that advance our cause makes us nervous about how, when we actually work, we could fail. When we do simple rote stuff, we can’t possibly fail. Creating a prioritized to-do list is a possible way out.