Setting priorities and establishing boundaries are the heart of time management. These behaviors are closely linked to productivity and the achievement of important goals and objectives. There are inevitably instances when conflicting responsibilities and demands threaten to overwhelm us. Deadlines loom. Manipulative people scheme to insinuate themselves into our lives because they enjoy the attention and control.
Procrastination ushers in avoidance behavior that sabotages the fulfillment of obligations and may prevent us from reaching our full potential. We may disappoint those who deserve our support. The cold fact is that certain responsibilities and people are more important than others and we must be mindful of that reality when allocating the most precious resource we possess, next to our health.
Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School and Jordan Cohen, Productivity Specialist at the global firm PA Consulting Group, have spent the past three years studying how knowledge workers can become more productive. The two found that knowledge workers spend 41% of their time on discretionary activities that don’t necessarily bring much value. To make the most our time, it is not enough to merely draw up a to-do list and throw oneself into as many items as hours and energy allow. It is necessary to give some thought to the implications and potential impact of what must be done, as well as the consequences of failing to do it.
In his 1989 time management classic How to Get Control of your Time and Your Life, Alan Lakein recommended that we evaluate each task by establishing SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound — goals when deciding where to devote our time and what to do first.
SMART goals are used to rank and label what we must do as an A, B, or C task. A-level tasks /goals are the most important. Lakein says A-level tasks are where one devotes 80% of available time. The remaining 20% of available time will be divided between the B-level and C-level tasks, with C-level tasks receiving the smallest percentage of time.
To achieve important goals and objectives and in general accomplish whatever it is you intend to do, make a to-do list and start with A-level tasks. Lakein emphasizes that in order to get beyond mere efficiency, in which a laundry list of essentially unimportant tasks are completed, and on to productivity, we must understand and do what is most important. He urges us to work smarter, by doing what brings value-added and not harder, by frittering our time on busy-work that could either be ignored or out-sourced.
Birkinshaw and Cohen suggest that we sort the C-level tasks into three groups: quick kills, meaning it’s possible to discontinue these tasks with little or no negative consequences; off-loads, meaning what can be delegated or out-sourced; and long-term redesign, meaning projects that need to be restructured or re-thought before they can be assessed for value-added potential. The idea is to make more time available for A-level tasks or leisure activities that allow us to re-charge our energy stores, relax and enjoy ourselves. Work – life balance is an important component of quality of life, preventing burn-out and enabling us to operate at our productive and creative peak.
Thanks for reading,