Again and again, when I talk to students and colleagues about time management, I get the response "I don't even know where to begin." People want to practice good time management, people want to be productive and effective; they just do not know how. Most people do not even know how to begin time management, much less how to do the entire process.

It has been said many times (but bears repeating) that we all have the same amount of time, 24 hours a day. Time management cannot get us more time. What time management allows us to do is to use the time we have more productively. Time management allows us to get more done in the same amount of time, or less. So, even though we are not getting any more time, we are doing more than we did, and so it feels like we are getting more time.

Less Waste

One of the first principles of being more productive is to waste less of whatever resource we are talking about. To be more productive with money, we can start by reducing the wasted money. Similarly, to be more productive with our time, we can start by reducing the time wasted. Reducing the time wasted can be done in two ways.

First, we can reduce or eliminate activities which directly waste our time. There has been a lot written, particularly recently, about how to go through your schedule and find those activities which are time wasters. Then you can reduce the amount of time used by those activities.

Second, we can focus on those activities which are important rather than urgent. Stephen Covey, in his classic "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" talks about this extensively. Important activities are those which move us toward our goals. Urgent activities are those with deadlines. They are often not the same activities. By doing important tasks rather than urgent tasks, we move towards our goals, which makes us feel that we are not wasting our time. We make progress, not just have activity.

Finding the Important Actions

The process of time management, then, has two distinct tracks.

The first track supports the reduction or elimination of time wasters. This is done by monitoring our activities and then clearing out the "trash" or wasters. For example, rather than making a separate trip every time we need something from the store, make a list and go the store once a day. This saves time by reducing the amount time driving. The basic tool of this track is scheduling, which allows us to control our actions and behaviors to reduce wasted time.

The second track is prioritizing. The purpose of prioritizing is to "keep the main thing the main thing." In other words, prioritizing tells us what actions we need to perform to make progress on our goals. This makes our actions important, useful, and productive. Prioritizing takes several steps. You need to set your goals (which include the time frame of the goal), which allows you to create your plans. Once the plans have been made, you can create a schedule of milestones, and these milestones allow you to prioritize your activity, and your actions become important.

Maintaining the Focus

By working both aspects of time management, you can transform your efforts from being confused and inefficient to focused productivity. With light, focus can transform the warmth of sunlight to the cutting power of a laser. With time, focus can transform a useless day into incredible results.

Author's Bio: 

John Steely has been teaching mathematics, study skills, and habits of success for over 25 years. You can access a number of free resources he has found and made at Steely Services