Time Management Toolbox

One of the things people talk to me about commonly is how to manage their time. Over the years, I have accumulated a bunch of pithy equations that characterize this skill, which I now present to you as the one and only time management toolbox.

Eq 1: “Time” \approx “Currency”

This is a common saying, but not applied as commonly as it ought to be. Consider the fact that spending your time is equivalent to spending your money…but worse — because you have a limited supply of it. The motives here aren’t simply selfish; just as you want to generate the most value from your time, so too does whoever signs your paycheck. Time is your greatest asset, so use it wisely. And remember, you can use it like currency: spend it to help someone and generate goodwill.

Eq 2: “Urgent” \neq “Important”

People sometimes have a tendency to confuse the urgent (tasks right in front of you) with the important, but it is important to distinguish between the two, as you can see in the table below. If you think about it, there are many tasks that are urgent (or appear to be) — but don’t fall into the trap of pursuing these tasks unless they are also important.

Urgent vs Important

Eq 3: “I don’t have time” \Rightarrow “This is not a priority”

In this talk, Laura Vanderkam points out that every minute you spend is your choice. Whenever you are tempted to say that you don’t have time to do something that you think is important, try saying instead that it is not a priority. All of a sudden, you realize that you are making a conscious choice to deprioritize something important, which also means you can choose differently by elevating its priority and dropping something else instead.

Eq 4: “Prioritize Task” \equiv “Deprioritize Everything Else”

One of the tricks I have found useful to employ is to ruthlessly deprioritize and discard any task with the slightest chance of being unimportant. Rather than asking whether something is or could be important, instead ask the opposite. Create a vacuum that you then have no choice but to fill up with your important tasks. I often surprise myself when I pick up an obviously important task and ask, “What’s the worst that could happen if I dropped this?” and the answer turns out to be, “Not much”. 🤷‍♂️

Eq 5: “My Time” > “Your Time”

Not everyone’s time is equal, and if you want to leverage your time effectively, consider your time to be more important than everyone else’s by default. In case this sounds selfish, remember that every other person with this skill is doing the same thing themselves! In any case, don’t be shy about demanding time from others, and don’t take it personally if you are refused. When you are mentoring someone, remember that an hour spent trying and failing is more valuable to the student than an hour you spend teaching them. Provide guidance, then get out of the way.

Eq 6: “Out of Sight” \simeq “Out of Mind”

Things that are right in front of us not only seem urgent, they also make us forget the things that aren’t in front of us. The antidote? Write down your important tasks and goals on post-it notes and stick them on your computer monitor. Or keep a list of things you consider important, that you are forced to look at every day, maybe several times each day.

Eq 7: “High Throughput” + “Low Latency”

If you focus exclusive quality time on a task, you can make a signficant dent in it. On the other hand, this may prevent you from shepherding other important tasks that would have benefited from quick action to move them along or course-correct. If you allow yourself to be driven solely by incoming tasks and events, you lose the ability to spend dedicated quality time on any particular task, and the overhead of context-switching becomes too much. Obviously, there is a happy balance between these two ends of the spectrum, but it is important to recognize that you need both kinds. Personally, I prefer to spend early mornings on longer tasks that require deep focus, and handle interrupts, follow-ups and meetings during the remainder of the day.

That’s all for today, folks! 🖖