“The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more” – Jonas Salk
As any entrepreneur can attest, success doesn’t mean your job gets any easier. Whether you’re running your own business, or working in any modern, high-pressure job, you know that advancing in your career is synonymous with expertly managing your time.
Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry
- Managing time effectively is absolutely required for busy people who are committed to producing their best work
- Maximising your effectiveness means prioritising and organising your tasks very thoroughly, and giving yourself enough time to complete them properly
- Tasks that can’t fit into your schedule need to be delegated to others rather than delayed to avoid creating a backlog. Very busy people can’t afford to be micro-managers.
How to manage your time as a very busy person
Getting control of your schedule isn’t just a convenient way to get an overview of your day, it’s a necessary tool to protect your professional reputation and your health. Poor time management can result in lower quality work, tasks being missed or forgotten, and unmanageably high stress levels that can impact your physical and mental health.
There are two important skills that you’ll need to cultivate to develop good time management habits: The first is prioritising tasks to ensure that you have full control and oversight of the most vital items; the second is delegating tasks to the right people in the right way.
Prioritising is all about focus. Successful people don’t do everything at once; instead, they focus on the most important things, and ensure that those things are done right and on time. The secret to prioritising well isn’t just deciding to generally focus more on “important” things, it’s about organising and determining precisely what is worth your time and attention, and when.
Order your list
Create a list of all your tasks, and arrange them in order of importance (not necessarily in order of urgency). The result should place higher order tasks, and tasks most closely associated with your job description at the top, and lower skill time-intensive tasks near the bottom. The end goal is that the tasks that need your personal attention the most are the ones that will receive your focus.
Block out time for each task
Determine how much time you’ll need to do each task properly, without considering the amount of work time you have in the day or week. This is important because it’ll help to ensure that you don’t try to squeeze high-value tasks into inappropriately small time slots, which will inevitably damage the quality of your work.
Schedule everything into a calendar and stick to it
Only after you’ve completed the above steps can you sit down and schedule everything out in your calendar for the week or month. Mark out your working hours, and fill them with your indicated tasks, starting at the top and working your way down until your time is fully spoken for. Don’t assign yourself any additional tasks, the rest will need to be delegated.
By doing this you’ll make sure that the tasks you’re doing will be given the focus and attention that they deserve, and that they’re the tasks that most deserve that attention and focus. The remaining tasks on your list are also deserving of focus and attention, but it’ll need to be someone else’s.
People who are just “regular” busy, will generally manage their time by prioritising important tasks, and then delaying less urgent tasks for later. That works for them, because they might have a few extra hours free in a few days to take care of those issues. Very busy people, on the other hand, will never have those few extra hours, so trying to delay tasks is synonymous with forgetting them entirely. As a very busy person, you shouldn’t delay work for later instead, delegate it immediately.
Give up on controlling everything
The reason many very busy people won’t delegate tasks well is because we don’t trust other people to do things right. As a result we try to force time-consuming and low-priority tasks into our own schedule, instead of handing them off to someone else. A few people (think Elon Musk or the late Steve Jobs) compensate for this by abandoning all personal relationships and free time and reducing sleep to just a few hours per night. While those iconic business people are held up as the massive business successes they are, this approach is untenable for almost everyone, and unhealthy even for those who can survive it.
What we generally do instead is overcommit ourselves, and then only delegate tasks when they’re already late. The way to improve the situation isn’t to find a way to squeeze everything in, but rather to hand those tasks off much earlier.
Develop strong trust relationships
If you’re someone who feels a strong need to be in control, you’ll need to develop close working relationships with the people around you. Delegate the same kinds of tasks to the same people, and go out of your way not to interfere in the way they handle those tasks. This is important because it’ll ensure that you don’t waste time following up and interfering with those tasks, which will inevitably draw your focus away from the higher priority work you need to be doing.
Good time management is a practice, not a quick hack you can just apply once. Choosing the right tasks to prioritise for yourself, and overcoming the need to handle or be involved in every other task you’re ultimately responsible for takes effort and time. Managing your time well, however, is more than worth it. It will help you manage your stress, improve the quality of the work you do, and help you build that ever-elusive work-life balance.