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March Madness: Time Management is a 3-Step Ladder

Who can forget that moment when Michigan tried to call a time out that they didn’t have? It was one of the stand-out time management blunders in the history of sports.

Mismanaging time can be a great way to lose off the court, too. Don’t take my word for it, look up pretty much anyone offering advice in business and you’ll see the same thing. Check out the leader in time management training, Brian Tracy. His books (like “Eat that Frog”) have inspired many to get their time back.

I see effective time management as a three-step ladder:


1. Focus on the important things

What is the one thing you can do today that will make the biggest difference? DO THAT FIRST! The reality is most of us try to do more in a day than we can possibly achieve and that means some things just aren’t going to get done. The key is to plan your activities so that the items you really can’t afford to skip are safely out of the way.

Put some thought into prioritizing, and schedule out your daily priorities list in some way. Some people like bound paper weekly planners or calendars, others prefer an electronic calendar like Sunrise. Maybe you incorporate a Project Management system. I like Asana, but there are others, including Workflowy, Trello and a host of others. However you do it, figure out your most important task for the day is and simply DO IT!


2. Leave time for the unexpected

We can pretend that the world is filled with sunshine and rainbows, but we all know life doesn’t usually go smoothly. Clients make last-minute requests, your dog gets sick, or the latest snow storm of the century keeps you from even getting to the office. On a normal day, I bet most active business people spend a huge part of their time just putting out fires.

The key is to leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. Make sure at least some of the things you plan to do can be dropped, rearranged, or delegated to someone else if (when!) something comes up. Delegating is huge. Whether you rely on an internal team or a group of outsourced specialists, delegating tasks can put time on your side. However you do it, leave your schedule flexible so that dealing with the unexpected does not cause you to neglect your designated most important task of the day.


3. Do the other things you want to do

Steps one and two of the ladder bring you to the third rung—doing what you want to do. These are the things most people start to skip when their lives get too busy, such as exercise, hobbies, or time with the family. Putting these things off for a day now and then is usually ok, but put them off forever and you no longer have control of your time. And people who don’t take care of steps one and two effectively often end up doing exactly that—losing control of time.

The key is to focus on that one thing that makes the biggest difference, leave room in your schedule for the unexpected emergencies you know happen more often than not, and then do the things you want to do. If there is something else you wanted to do but didn’t have time for, you can let that go because you weren’t going to have time for it all anyway. You can’t get extra hours in the day just because you want them and you can’t make things take less time than they actually do.

The reality is we all have a limited amount of time on the clock. We have a limited number of time outs. Forget that, and you lose the game.