I was toying with the idea of transferring some of the principles from Jeff Olson’s 2005 book, The Slight Edge, Secrets to a Successful Life, into ‘incremental time management.’
Why incremental time management? If we can do something incrementally, a little each day, then a little more, then we make progress. A lot of us waste time every day putting out fires, accepting distractions that we shouldn’t, tackling interruptions (phone, people, e-mail, texts, Internet, etc.), opting for easier and lower projects on our agenda. The list is staggering, the number of ways time is lost every day. Why not develop a method that can take advantage of incrementalism and apply it to time management.
Time management is not tracking your time. There are a few of us who can reconstruct any day they’ve had for the past several years. Their records of what they do are amazing. But, tracking or recording what you did is not the skill to master to be in command of your time every day.
You can’t conquer the future by recording the past unless you actually learn from it, and don’t repeat your mistakes. Extract the reasons why you chose to spend your time working on lower priorities when you knew that the higher priorities had to be done. Then, you can use your record keeping to become a more effective manager of your time.
It’s not the shuffling of one thing on your to-do list around to accommodate an unplanned visit or phone call. It’s knowing the reason why you chose to deviate from your plan. Planning and analysis are two critical time management skills.
Categorizing your time into groups of activities helps to identify how much time you are spending on the different activities scheduled each day. People typically don’t have a planned activity labeled ‘putting out fires’ – but, they spend a good amount of time doing that at the expense of other required daily tasks.
I believe that decision making is probably the most critical time management skill to develop. You have to have the ability to recognize what is the most important use of your time at a particular moment – regardless of your planned schedule. I have a saying that I use a lot in my talks, ‘choose your distractions wisely.’ When you choose to be distracted – you made a decision to choose something, not of equal or higher value – a distraction is usually considered to be time wasting not time enhancing – you decided that it was time to procrastinate rather than be productive.
Procrastination is killer of productivity. When you analyze why you chose to accept a distraction that led to procrastination, you can begin to develop a pattern to connect the dots – ‘what’ and why” dots. What did I do and why did I do it?
If you start seeing a trend of the same reason for accepting distractions over and over again, then you can take action to make changes. Just deciding to make a change and actually doing it are difficult – each step is difficult, but not insurmountable.
There are lots of time management skills that need to be honed as you progress towards minimizing procrastination and maximizing productivity. Organization, prioritization, delegation, coping, personal improvement, goal setting, etc. are just a few of the tools you will need to be able to pull out of your toolbox when you need them. You need to know how to use them, not open the instruction booklet and see how to turn it on and off. You need to master many new skills that you may not possess today. But, if you learn them incrementally, you can master them over a period of time.
If you spent three minutes before you start work doing breathing exercises to reduce stress before work begins. Then spend three minutes during lunch doing the same thing, but concentrating on those stressful issues that arose that morning. As you sit in your car before leaving the parking lot, take another couple of minutes to relieve/reduce the stress that crept into your world that day. Those incremental actions lead to a healthier lifestyle by reducing stress.
Incremental time can be spent on a number of projects – work or personal. Dedicate two or three minutes to doing something that will make a difference in your life. You won’t see it today or tomorrow, but you will see the results of that habit two or three months down the road.