Time management is a popular term. It conjures visions of stopping clocks and herculean feats of efficiency, squeezing in one more task or commitment. In reality, it's less about managing time and more about managing ourselves and our decisions. We know that ineffective time management results in stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disruption, burnout, low self-esteem, and low confidence. Arguably, nothing we want.

John C. Maxwell created a beautiful analogy for time management, stating we all have an equal amount (of time) packed into identical suitcases, i.e., 24 hours or 1440 minutes. He continues to explain that even though everyone's suitcase is the same size, some people get more out of their suitcase than others because they know what to pack.

I see time management as a three-tiered funnel. At the top, the widest part of the funnel, everything to be done gets tossed in. Items from your to-do list, task management software, calendar, planner, and goal setting will fill it up quickly.

As things crowd in at the top, it gets more intense because the next step is prioritizing what makes it to the next smaller section of the funnel. There are only so many hours each day, so you must decide how to spend those hours. Darn it! There's that word - decide. Many of us are uncomfortable with that word because we're afraid of making the wrong decision.

There are various methods you can use to set your priorities. A quick Google search will offer up the most common. Not every technique will resonate with you, so I recommend trying some for size and seeing what fits. You can even mix and match to suit your needs.

When I think of this prioritizing phase, I think of time as a budget. Like your finances, there are only so many hours to go around. Unlike your finances, there is no 'credit.' You can't borrow two hours from tomorrow to use today. These 24 hours are all you get today, and you must make the most of them.

The time investment in my weekly review helps me stay on top of the bigger picture of everything I have to do - basically, the top section of the funnel. Each week, as I review outstanding items, I think through the following questions:

-Am I the best person to complete this task? Should it be delegated or even deleted?
-When is this due? (This is where the task management software helps because I can program that for each task.)
-Who is waiting for me to complete this task? Am I inhibiting their ability to get something done?
-How does this task support my values or contribute to my goals for the week, month, quarter, or year?
-If I do this, will it make something else easier later?

Items that pass through the filters above and achieve priority status make it to the bottom and smallest section of the funnel. They should be logged in your calendar/planner, reasonably slotted amongst other time commitments. Reasonably is an important keyword here. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish in a day. Consider meetings, travel time, social appointments, and family gatherings. Wherever possible, leave white space in your calendar for the unexpected. Maybe even cancel or decline some meetings.

Each afternoon, designate the next day's top three most important tasks (MIT). Because priorities will shift, I don't recommend determining those daily priorities too far in advance unless a specific day is required. Block off time in your calendar to work on those MITs.

I mentioned earlier that time management is less about managing time and more about managing ourselves. It is about making decisions and taking action.

By actively engaging in the prioritization process, you are making intentional decisions about how to spend your time. Deadlines will creep up more slowly because you keep them on your radar. Unexpected tasks and meetings won't hinder you as dramatically when you carve out some white space each day.

Over time, and with regular practice, prioritizing will help you produce higher quality work, keep you from missing deadlines, decrease stress levels, maintain work-life balance, and bolster your professional reputation.

So – what will make it to the bottom of your time funnel?

This article first appeared on the New Path Perspective blog by Kathy Muzik for New Path Productivity®, LLC.

Author's Bio: 

Kathy Muzik is one of Productive Environment Institute's Certified Productive Environment Specialists™ (CPES™).

Our team is consist of Certified Productive Environment Specialists™ (CPES™) who teach business owners a 9-step system to go from overwhelmed to optimized. Step 1 is a free Assessment that can be found at www.ProductiveEnvironmentScore.com.