I often hear friends and colleagues tell me they feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
They’re overwhelmed with tasks and end up putting in longer and longer hours at the office just to keep up. Worse, they’re jumping from one fire drill to the next without achieving any of their long-term goals. Even for the best and the brightest, strategic time management can be a tough skill to learn colleagues tell me they feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. They’re overwhelmed with tasks.
Over the years I have developed a personal time management system that helps me to allocate my time effectively, meeting urgent deadlines while still making time for long-term goals. This system forces me to think strategically about my role and my career. If you’re struggling to invest time in big picture goals, it may help you, too. Here’s how to get started:
Write your mission statement.
The first step is to understand your big picture goal, which you should think of as a personal mission statement. To accurately define your big picture goal, consider how your work drives the overall mission of your company. Think beyond your day-to-day tasks. What impact do you hope to achieve at your company?
Personally, my big picture goal is to help Lucas Group service companies that need assistance identifying and hiring key talent. This goal gets to the heart of how we grow as a business and how we make our clients happy. I make sure that every task I spend my time on drives this goal in some way.
Divide tasks into key functional areas.
Once you have identified your big picture goal, break this goal down into three to five key functional areas. Whereas the big picture goal is strategic, and your key functional areas should be more tactical. Every task you spend time on should fall into one of these areas. Once you have defined these areas, decide what percentage of your time you will spend on each area. The allocation of your time should be weighted by the relative importance of each area, as well as the volume of tasks you will tackle in each area.
For example, as a manager, my key functional areas are hiring my team, managing my team’s performance, cultivating new business relationships for my team, and coaching and training employees firm-wide.
Organize your task list by functional areas.
Now that you have a framework for prioritizing tasks, it’s time to start strategically organizing your time. This starts with a full assessment of everything that’s currently on your plate and coming down the pipeline. Going forward, at the end of each week, block time on your calendar to plan for the following week.
During your planning time, write down all of the tasks you will need to accomplish the following week. For long-term projects, consider which tasks will need to be completed within the next work week to stay on schedule for deliverable milestones. Next to each task, note which key functional area the task supports. If you find yourself with a task that falls outside your key functional areas, consider whether you are the best person for this task or if you should delegate it to someone else.
Use your calendar as a to-do list.
Once you have your task list, take a look at your calendar for the coming week. Block off time for each major task. Make sure that you block out time for more abstract tasks as well, such as brainstorming and skills building. As you block time on your calendar, consider how your energy and focus levels fluctuate during the day. Personally, I use the hours between 8am and 10am for new business because I am most productive and sharp during these hours, and I reserve the afternoon for more administrative tasks that require less critical thinking.
Once you have planned out your week, add up how much time you are devoting to each key functional area. I find it helpful to color code your time blocks so you can see at a glance how you’re allocating your overall time budget. Are there functional areas you’re neglecting? For example, it’s easy to overlook a long goal like skills building in favor of more urgent deliverable tasks, like next week’s client proposal. Time blocking will help you meet upcoming deadlines while also dedicating adequate time for big-picture career goals.
Schedule flex time.
One mistake I made when I first started this system was to allocate every minute of my time. I quickly realized that such a rigid approach was actually counterproductive– if anything unexpected came up, my entire schedule would be thrown into disarray. Make sure that you leave sufficient flex-time in your schedule for impromptu meetings and unexpected events. Finally, leave a 30-minute slot at the end of every day for “odds and ends”. Use this time to reply to emails and organize your in-box so you’re ready to go the next morning.
As you gain seniority at work, the ability to think strategically becomes increasingly important. Blocking time around key functional areas, rather than working from a never-ending to-do list, keeps you focused on the big picture. You’ll knock out the important tasks while growing your professional skill set and consistently driving your company’s growth.
What strategy do you use for time management? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.
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