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Learning the Secret of Effective Time Management…

Remember when you started your business? You had a VISION, an intention, and you put everything on the line to turn that vision into a business. You were energised, passionate, excited – and maybe a little nervous! Your goal was pursuing the lifestyle you wanted. Living your dream and all that. That takes guts! Of course you weren’t thinking of effective time management…

Rather, you were inspired by the image of what you could be. And you did something that not many people could do. It takes courage, drive and vision to quit the day job and jump into the unknown.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

But what’s happening now? The realities of effective time management…

How did your day go today? A bit of a blur? One minute it was 8.30am then the next it was 4pm… How does that happen?  Where does the day go? Is this what you expected from your new life?

I have used the following exercise at various points in my career to help me look at and manage my time effectively. I believe it is the secret of effective time management – for me at least.

It starts by drawing a circle…. This circle represents your week – those precious 168 hours. Like segments of a pie chart, mark on that circle segments of time you spend on different types of tasks in your business.

How much time do you spend:

  • On ‘the work’ of your business? i.e. the actual tasks that your clients/customers pay you to do.
  • On ‘urgent’ issues? Crises, urgent calls, or the never-ending stream of emails in your inbox?
  • On interacting with your team? Strengthening connections and ‘teamship’ – Those little conversations that make working in your business feel like a family?
  • Looking after you? Making a healthy meal, sleeping, exercising, meditating, socialising, spending quality time with your family and partner.
  • Gaining feedback and optimising current operations? How frequently do you check in with staff, ask for feedback, listen intensively to what your team are saying? What new initiatives have you introduced to improve your operations?
  • On tasks that directly work to reaffirm your goals?
  • Planning future projects/being creative? ‘Big picture’ thinking, where are we going, what future opportunities can we take advantage of?
  • On any other categories that are relevant to your business

Really, do this exercise NOW!

With all the exercises I share in these blogs, for them to work and give you clarity, you MUST do them honestly! I know we all tend to bend the truth when we are maybe embarrassed or don’t want to face up to reality. Trust me, doing any of these exercises with absolute honesty is hard but enlightening. This will give you clarity and insight into your situation now.

Being busy and lazy – A contradiction?

I heard an interesting distinction from motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins the other day.

Not many people associate being busy with being lazy. They’re opposites, right? Well, no. She explains, you can be BUSY and at the same time be LAZY. You can just be busy with the WRONG things!

These are tasks that are not aligned with your goals, that are taking up all your time but not moving you forward. Laziness is defined as: ‘the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy’. In the context of what Mel Robbins argues, this is an unwillingness to work on the right things.

Being ‘busy with the wrong things’ is being LAZY! These are tasks that require system one thinking that doesn’t really move you anywhere, or require any effort whatsoever. Where is your work and energy going?

So how do we break this habit?

An excellent book which I have re-read many times is Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people (There’s a handy summary on YouTube.) One habit I think is particularly relevant is Habit 3, ‘Put First Things First’, in which he explains his ‘Importance/Urgency Quadrant’.

What if you’re focusing your efforts in all the wrong areas – getting caught in the ‘activity trap’, as Covey calls it?

Categorising your To-Do list – The Urgent/Important matrix


What do we mean by Important and Urgent?

Using a simple grid, Covey’s system defines tasks according to their importance and urgency.•

In Quadrant 1, we see Crises. These are both URGENT and IMPORTANT tasks. In Quadrant 2, we’re in Achieving Goals and Planning. These are NON-URGENT and IMPORTANT.

For Quadrant 3, there is the name, Interruptions. They’re URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT tasks. Whilst Quadrant 4 is just Distractions: NOT URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT

Generally speaking, urgent tasks cause us to react. We stop what we’re currently doing and work on the urgent task instead. Important tasks meanwhile lead us towards our overall mission or goals. These key actions often require planning, organisation and initiative.

Covey’s way of categorising priorities from Urgent/High Importance to Low Urgency/Not Important not only helps you devote more time to tackling tasks that proactively move you forward, but they also prevent those Quadrant 1 situations.

This method goes a step beyond simply prioritising your to-do list, to really practising effective time management. It allows you to adopt a holistic view of what you should be focusing on. You categorise each task into those that are really important, and those that really are not – or which ones can be delegated. When you put this into place, you invariably find that there are fewer fires to put out because you’ve already tackled them at a less critical stage.

So, to help you focus on those task that are important…

Go back to your circle. Find four coloured pens and allocate one for each of the quadrants. Go through your circle and colour in the tasks/segments with the colour that best represents the quadrant definition.

What colour is most prevalent in your circle? Don’t worry if it’s not all Quadrant 2. We are all human!

Absolute clarity is key. Both on your ‘Why’ (your vision) AND how you are operating now so you can identify improvements and implement them. When we identify what is aligned with our vision, identify what to improve, learn how to improve it and then proactively DO something about it, success is inevitable! I definitely recommend reading Stephen Coveys book – Amazon.