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We live in a time-pressured society, especially at work. The boss says 'I need this now,' or 'I need it yesterday'. Too often such comments arise from lack of forethought or planning but they do illustrate the point - so many people feel that they have too much to do and too little time in which to do it all. So little time, in fact, that they have no time for time management.

Actually, the core principles of time management take up very little time to learn and use and yet they give big benefits. Frequently the biggest obstacle is to break old habits. Time management is all in the mind - it comes with your attitude and approach to life and people - and the fundamental principle is something you have been doing all your life - prioritising.

If you really have too much to do and too little time in which to do it then you are already making decisions about what gets done and what does not get done. In time management this fundamental skill of prioritising means making sure that the important things get done even if that means that some less important things do not get done very well or even, possibly, at all. It is that simple!

Two skills are needed to implement this principle:
1. Good judgement in deciding what is and is not important - the mental skill of prioritising.
2. The courage to leave the least important things so that there is time to do the most important ones - the activity skill of implementing your decisions.

Of course, you have been doing this all you life but not necessarily in a rigorous fashion - logical decisions fully implemented.

It will be true that in your life some things get done and others don't, but the prioritising is often influenced more by chance or by who is shouting the loudest than by genuine importance. It really is difficult to prioritise sensibly when you are under pressure from people standing in front of you demanding attention right now. (Try making a career decision when surrounded by your young children who are feeling tired and grumpy.) So it is important to try to decide your priorities during a time of peace and quiet.

For most people this will mean first thing in the morning after arriving at work, before the hubbub starts. It may mean a few quiet minutes after parking the car, or on the train or bus to work.

As you prioritise, take into account other peoples' priorities - especially those of your manager and colleagues. You are likely to be part of a team and teams have priorities too.

A common technique is to grade priorities into three tiers. You may call these A, B and C or high, medium and low. They mean the same thing. Essentially you are saying that the 'Highs' will get the bulk of your attention today whereas the 'Lows' will not get a look in. The 'Mediums' will get looked at when you have finished the 'Highs' or can no longer make progress with them.

Often, the 'Lows' just don't get done. Or maybe you save some of them until a time when you are not at your best, perhaps late on Friday afternoons when your highest priority is to go home.

When deciding on the 'Highs' try to see the difference between things that are important and those things that are merely urgent. Just because something is urgent does not mean it is important. Getting good marks in an exam might be important, filling your car with petrol will never be important in the grand scheme of your life - but it may well be urgent. Try not to let urgent tasks dominate what you actually do. The important ones are (by definition) more important, don't let them always get pushed aside by the urgent tasks.

Good prioritising is the core of good time management. It takes courage to decide that some things, perhaps things that once were important, are actually now 'Lows' and may not get done. That is progress because time and objectives move on.

It takes even more courage to action your decisions by leaving low priority tasks so that you can concentrate on what are now the high priorities. Be courageous!


About the author:
Tony Atherton is a freelance trainer and writer with over 25 years' experience. He runs in-company courses in Business Report Writing, Technical Report Writing and Taking and Writing Minutes. For course details click home.


Enquiries: E-mail direct to Tony Atherton or call 07976-390960

Based in Hampshire, England

Last updated 24 July 2014