Mastering Time Management: What To Do Before the To Do List
You are constantly presented with new information, communications, to-dos, and ideas. At any point in time, you have hundreds of options for how you choose to spend that moment. While it may feel good to check things off a to-do list, if you aren’t intentional about what is on your to-do list or in your schedule, as well as the choices you make throughout the day, you are not productively working towards goals but instead just “being active.” This can eventually lead to feeling drained, overwhelmed, directionless, and even a sense of failure.
Oxford Dictionaries defines time management as “the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work.” But you are only managing your time effectively if you are spending it on the right things, i.e. those tasks and activities that support your greater vision and goals. This starts with knowing what is important and where you want to go. Then, you can better define your shorter-term goals, ensure your actions relate to and support those goals, and achieve the success and happiness you desire. Let’s break this down.
Step 1: Know What is Important and Where You Want To Go
If you aren’t clear about what is important in your life and work, you will likely be overwhelmed and unsure if you’re using your time in the most optimal way. All of the planners, apps, and products in the world can’t help you if you don’t know your priorities.
In order to create the needed clarity, the first step is to determine your long-term vision for work and life. If this is an exercise you haven’t done before, it can be difficult but eye-opening. Start by setting aside some focused time to write your answers to the following questions:
- What do I love about my life right now? What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at?
- How can I do more of this?
- What do I spend time on now that I don’t enjoy?
- How can I do less of this?
- What would I like to do that I am not currently doing?
- Where would I like to see myself in 5 or 10 years? Where am I? What am I doing? Who am I spending time with? What does success look like to me?
- What do I want to contribute to the world?
Once you have written your answers, circle words or phrases that stand out to you the most. Use these words and phrases to draft a few sentences defining your vision and priorities over the next 5-10 years. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, and know that it may change a little from year to year. What is important is that you have been thoughtful and intentional about your vision and high-level priorities as you see them right now.
Step 2: Turn Your Long-Term Vision into Short-Term Goals
Once you’re clear on your priorities and vision for success and happiness, you can now set shorter-term goals and objectives. Using your vision statement from above as a basis, determine what you will do in the upcoming year to support your long-term vision for success. In other words, create your SMART Goals* for the upcoming year. (You might categorize these goals by area of work and/or life.)
Then for each goal, answer the following questions:
- What resources do I need?
- Who can help?
- What might get in the way of success and how can I address it?
Document your goals on paper, in a spreadsheet, word document, or in a project planning tool. Once you are clear on your annual goals, you can then determine the strategies needed to reach each goal. In other words, how will you reach your goals by the desired dates? If your goal is to lose 20 lbs by the end of the year, your strategies may be to exercise at least three times per week, learn and implement meal planning, and hire a wellness coach.
Step 3: Determine Goal-Based Next Actions
With annual goals and strategies in place, you can now determine the specific actions required to support them. Don’t worry if you can’t yet list every action needed throughout the year. Focus first on the upcoming quarter, or at least the next 1-3 actions needed to make progress towards your goal. Once these actions are complete, the following steps should become clearer. In the weight-loss example above, the first three actions might be to: 1. Purchase a gym membership, 2. Research potential meal planning programs, and 3. Set up interviews with 3 wellness coaches.
With specific next actions defined to support your goals, strategies, and long-term vision, you are NOW ready to plan and schedule these actions into your weeks and days. The tools and strategies you use for weekly planning and scheduling may vary depending on your job, your work style, your specific challenges, and personal preferences. Check out my blog or follow me on social media for guidance and tips related to weekly planning and other daily time mastery tips.
Step 4: Review and Reset
It is important to periodically review, and potentially reset, your annual goals and objectives as well as your long-term vision. This will help you continue to work with intention, stay focused, and achieve more. When you face obstacles, it will help you remember your “why” and keep you motivated to continue.
The time you spend on this process will help to ensure you are spending your time, energy, and focus on the right things each day. You will have more control over your time and feel less stress and greater joy.
*SMART Goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based