Time Management Reminders that Boost Efficiency, Peace of Mind

Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. … Being selective—doing less—is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest. … It’s easy to get caught in a flood of minutiae, and the key to not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually lack of priorities.[1]

Begin with the end in mind.[2]

  • I often feel so dissatisfied at the end of the day or week. Like I didn’t get much done. It helps if I instead first figure out what matters most to me—the big picture, what I really want to “accomplish” or even “become”—and have such big, aggressive goals guiding me.

First things first.

  • Focus most time on the important and not urgent. That’s the planning, prevention, and systems work.
  • Rank tasks in order of importance, and squeeze in the less important stuff when you can get to it.

Don’t just list priorities; schedule them.

  • Keep your planner, not your email, in front of you. Lists tend to nag at you and grow ever longer. Schedule the biggest priorities for times when you’re at your peak energy; see the time blocked out on your calendar and you’ll have a visual symbol and reminder of what your goals are for the day.
  • Set a timer or alarm for a scheduled priority to keep on task. Snooze it as you must, but use it to get things done and move on.
  • For any task, specify the most concrete next step. Rather than setting the task as “Write up report” and taking hours to do it, I put “Start jotting report notes” and give myself just a half hour (often setting a kitchen timer to move me along). This breaks large projects into small, concrete steps that feel satisfying along the way.

Schedule only two or three “big rocks.”

  • Big rocks story: An efficiency expert filled a 5-gallon tank with big rocks and asked, “Is it full?” People said, “Yes.” He replied, “Wrong,” and poured small rocks in around the bigger ones. He asked, “Is it full now?” People said, “Maybe.” He replied, “Wrong again.” He took tiny pebbles and filled in the spaces. He asked, “Is it full now?” Catching on, people said, “No.” He said, “Right,” and filled in the rest with water. Someone asked, “What’s the point? That no matter how much you do, you can always do more?” The presenter replied, “Wrong. Put the big rocks in first, and everything else falls into place. Do what matters most each day first, and the other stuff will get done or fall into place.”

Chunk tasks together, like with like.

  • To crank through tasks quickly, get into a momentum with similar work. So, handle most emails all at once. But moreover, handle all your in-box at once, and then all those requiring action at once, and then all emails requiring reading at once, and so forth.
  • Likewise, run through calls one after another, so that when you’re at the phone, or walking and using your cell, you are cued by your system to get it all done at once.

Process email quickly.

  • Run down your in-box by filing in groups: Act/Reply, Read 1 Day, Handled Archive, Delete.
  • Likewise, I get into a momentum with Act/Reply tasks, so that I often take only two to five minutes each, because I’m in “crank through” mode.
  • Cultivate selective ignorance and tolerance for incompletion (Ferriss, p. 82). And remember, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.”(Emerson in Ferriss, p. 83).

Finally, for peace of mind, alternate between getting things done and enjoying the moment.[3]

Roben Torosyan is the associate director of the Center for Academic Excellence and assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University.

Note: All the ideas above are not mine but drawn heavily from the works cited below.

[1] Ferriss, T. (2007). The 4-hour work week: Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich. New York: Random House/Crown.

[2] Slim summary: Covey, S. R. (2003). The 7 habits of highly effective people personal workbook. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[3] Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin.

Excerpted from “Time Management Reminders to Myself.” Academic Leader, 26.11 (2010): 8.