Personal time mastery

Jocelyn Coverdale — №19 with Chris Brogan

Debates persist over the meaning of “time management” given that we can’t actually manage time and given the ambiguity of what it actually is: a skill set? a strategy? a process? a system?

Regardless of how we define “time management”, time is fleeting, finite, precious and valuable. We yearn for “time management” to be about creating the life we want by providing the time and space to do important things.

Yet, it’s how we manage six key time processes that affects our time mastery. These are:

  1. Clarifying your purpose
  2. Capturing
  3. Prioritizing
  4. Planning
  5. Scheduling
  6. Focusing

Along the way we may find useful apps to carry out these processes. But creating time and space for the life we want is not about tools or apps – it’s about processes. Here are thoughts about each.

1. Clarifying Your Purpose: What is your purpose in life?

A heady question! But it’s the cornerstone of time mastery. Spend time clarifying your calling. Is it to teach, heal, create, or build wealth? Envision a purpose in alignment with your own values and passions so you begin down the right path, giving your time and energy to the right work. From there, set measurable goals toward your purpose and choose tools that help you write, track, and set time frames. Clear purpose makes for effective time choices.

2. Capturing: Get it out of your head

We know this. The gurus teach it. The problem is what’s floating around inside our heads is not always front and center, and brain dumping all in one sitting doesn’t happen. A capture tool is essential, as well as a process to funnel thoughts into action systems.

Whatever phone or tablet you use, note-capturing apps abound. Holistic thinkers prefer mind mapping; linear thinkers like outlining tools. Voice recorders paired with speech recognition tools are great, but it takes a certain comfort level to speak thoughts out loud, and an easy process to transfer recorded notes to organizing systems. But with practice, this is a winner.

3. Prioritizing: Rocks, pebbles, sand and water

Whenever you catch yourself thinking “I don’t have time to…” the truth is you do. In fact, you have all the time left in your life, and that’s not going to change, but your thinking can. Try thinking instead, “I haven’t made this a priority yet.”

Effective time mastery replaces low value tasks — pebbles, sand and water in the familiar parable — with high value work — the rocks. But it’s up to you to decide which rocks according to your purpose. With nothing prioritized, everything is a priority, which means nothing is prioritized — a vicious cycle. We know multi-tasking is a myth and you cannot do all tasks simultaneously, so you must make choices, and make a “Not To Do List.”

Prioritizing happens in all stages of time mastery, but the best approach is to have an approach. How will you select what to do NEXT? One approach is setting criteria: Is it applicable to your goals? Is it time-sensitive? Can you weigh and rank the amount of effort against the value of the results you’ll get? Or try the Agile method, setting boundaries of three things to accomplish today; three projects to do this week, and three goals to reach this year.

4. Planning: We don’t have time to manage our time

If you think you can’t afford time to plan, fact is, you can’t afford not to. The most important time you spend is the time you plan how to spend your time. Planning is deciding how to use resources, including time, to accomplish goals. It’s looking ahead, setting intentions, deciding and arranging, within a selected time frame. The starting point of planning is a review of everything — what you want, what you do, your priorities. The end point is a clear blueprint to your goals.

However, don’t rely on tiny screens or micro views of daily appointments to do long-term planning. A good planner serves as goal tracker and project manager, and includes space for master lists of goals, projects, next actions and sequential tasks. A “big picture” calendar for scanning long-term horizons works best.

5. Scheduling: Balancing fixed and flexible time

Tasks on a list, without assigned times to complete them, won’t get done. It’s only an intention. Scheduling is a commitment. A calendar is essential as your “commitments manager” — where to be when, and what to work on when.

Time mastery is balancing fixed and flexible time, and prioritizing both. Apply the 80/20 rule here, recognizing that 20% of your time yields 80% of your results. Try time blocking 20% of your day for your most important work. Give that block 100% focus, schedule it during personal “peak time”, and commit to it as fixed, not flexible time.

Don’t overschedule. Assume tasks will take more time than you think (be pleasantly surprised if they don’t!), and schedule “cushions” between appointments, built-in breaks, and some empty space for the inevitable distractions, fires, or traffic jams. Also schedule down-time, fun time, and especially “unplugged” time.

A good practice is to keep a “5-minute knock-off list” of short reads, quick calls, notes to folks — tasks for brief wait times. Keep tools handy — Kindle or Pocket; a GTD-style context list for calls, note cards and stamps, messaging apps, and a capture tool.

Finally, remember to schedule time to think, be creative, and do nothing important!

6. Focusing: You interrupt yourself the most

If distractions, busywork, or low priority items are eroding your time, grab it back. Executing on your plan requires focus, flow, and your eye on results.

Turn off reminders and notifications robbing your attention and directing you to OPP email (that’s “Other People’s Priorities”). Define busywork as what’s not supporting your priorities (or return to steps 1, 2 and 3). Bolster focus with time blocking tools and monitor time-wasting browsing habits with time tracking plug-ins.

Curbing digital distractions improves focus, but remember most interruptions come from yourself. Keep a capture tool handy to grab and park stray thoughts for later.

The best tool: Habit

Although we’d all like to find a magic-bullet to give us more time, the fact is apps are really secondary. The best tool is the power of your own habits to capture, prioritize, plan, schedule and execute based on your higher purpose — the results you want and the priorities you set.

Photo: Flickr / violscraper CC BY-NC 2.0

Jocelyn coverdale

Jocelyn Coverdale

A consultant, trainer, and international speaker working with busy, often overwhelmed professionals, helping them stay on top of the workload, not buried by it. Specializing in workplace productivity and Lean Office methodologies, she helps clients implement effective workflow; improve business processes; master schedules, projects and tasks; implement systems to find, leverage and share information; control email; and asses technology and digital tools to meet their needs. A Certified Productive Environment Specialist® and former IBM-certified Consultant and Trainer in Lotus Software, Jocelyn is owner of Ballantrae Solutions and its subsidiary company Tech Savvy Organizing, and a founding partner of Project Digital Sanity.

Visit Jocelyn's website Project Digital Sanity