Why You Need Time Management: Spend Your Time On What Matters
I’m rather defiant about my self-diagnosed attention deficit. I like to hop around from topic to topic — except when I like to drill like a laser for hours on something important and ignore absolutely everything else. I suspect a lot of college media leaders are like that. I suspect that, like me, they need some time management tools so their joyful work style doesn’t overlook important tasks or deadlines or otherwise blow up in their faces.
I’ve never been able to find a book that I thought applied directly to the time management challenges of a college student working as a media leader. So when I decided to cover this topic at our in-house “Leadership Academy,” I resorted to writing a brief guide based on my own attention-challenged experience. I call it:
“@adviserdavid’s Guide to Setting Priorities and Managing Your Time … or, When You’re Up to Your Ass In Alligators, It’s Hard To Remember That Your Job Is To Drain The Swamp.”
The smart-aleck title, I hope, conveys that time management really is not about dreary lists and calendars. It’s about spending MORE time on the things that we really value. (These days, draining a swamp isn’t going to be universally valued. In my youth, that expression was popular because of course swamps should be drained to make way for housing developments, and of course you needed to avoid being bitten by alligators while you did it.)
I don’t claim to be an expert. Call me a time management survivor. I welcome additions, objections and alternatives. Feel free to use any of these methods in your training (a little credit would be appreciated) and let me know your improvements.
Here’s what I gave my students in an extremely undesigned PDF, or here’s the plain text:
@adviserdavid’s Guide to Setting Priorities and Managing Your Time
… or, When You’re Up to Your Ass In Alligators, It’s Hard To Remember That Your Job Is To Drain The Swamp.
Set a schedule to accomplish your priorities
A calendar is not optional. Google Calendar is great. You can set it from your phone, you can have multiple calendars interconnecting, and you can manage it from your phone. But before you start making appointments, you need to make sure your calendar is set up to accomplish your priorities. So after you fill in class schedules and other unbreakable personal commitments, schedule time for critical tasks, such as:
- One-on-one weekly meetings with each person who reports to you.
- A one-on-one meeting with the person you report to.
- Checking in on tasks you’ve delegated.
- Your work obligations. (Weekly column to write, sales call reports to review?)
- Wildly Important Goals
- Add more here: __________________________________
Note: You may NOT decide that “I’ll do some of this during my office hours.” Each IMPORTANT task gets a solid unbreakable time on your calendar. Office hours are for the merely URGENT, as we shall see …
Sort the ‘urgent’ avalanche
You are bombarded with messages and requests all day, and that’s even if you’re not managing anyone. You know how the avalanche arrives: text; phone calls; email; social media; people dropping by to interrupt. Some of these demands on your time will turn out to be somewhat important, but most are merely URGENT – they’re something being put in front of you right now that possibly should be dealt with immediately, or maybe tomorrow. If you deal with everything as it arrives, say goodbye to all that time you earmarked for the truly IMPORTANT.
One way to put a major dent in this problem is to adopt a ONE-MINUTE RULE. If you receive via any conduit a request that you think will EVER require your action or attention, determine if you can take that action in one minute. If it would take one minute or less to send the email, talk to the co-worker or throw out the pizza boxes, do it. Do it now. Because then the task is gone forever and you won’t waste more time later rethinking how you need to respond to the request.
If the matter deserves your time, but it:
- Can’t be handled in one minute
- Can be safely deferred until later
you need to divert it into the real heart of your time management system.
Set up the tools of follow-up
Items that you decide to defer until “later” should go to one (and sometimes more than one) of three places:
- Daily to-do list
- Physical folders
- Electronic folders
At all times, have a list of the things you must get done today or in the near future.
- A section for “must do today.”
- A section for “later.”
- For the most important “musts,” use Google Calendar, etc., to set an electronic reminder. (Example: “Today is deadline for ethics training.”)
This list must be thoroughly rewritten (or edited if you’re online) at the end of every day. Sometimes a “must” didn’t get done. It goes on tomorrow’s list. And you’ll remember more things you need to add if you look at the list at day’s end.
Physical folders – yes, the kind with paper in them – are a must to keep track of ongoing items that you may need to lay hands on at a moment’s notice. I favor a folder for:
- Each person who reports to you. It’s used at those weekly one-on-one’s.
- Any important topic. Maybe all records related to a particular trip or task.
- Wildly Important Goals or other things you track.
Electronic folders can be a great way to keep your email inbox under control. (Note: YOU MUST TREAT YOUR INBOX WITH THE ONE-MINUTE RULE. Don’t let a message sit there and clog up your inbox distracting you from more important matters because you wouldn’t act on it or sort it for later action.)
But don’t kid yourself. If you create 100 email folders, you won’t use them and you’ll forget what might be filed where. Create folders for matters you truly will care about later. If you’re disciplined, you could use a “today” folder that you would review at the end of the day like a to-do list.
For the routine that you don’t think you’ll read again, DELETE THEM. Your email doesn’t truly go away in Gmail anyway. You can always go back and search in the Trash file just as you can in the Inbox. But deleting them from the inbox means you can readily see new messages when you check email. You can also “flag” or “mark as unread” if you want to leave a few messages in your Inbox to act on later. But be careful with this.
Now, about checking email: CHECK YOUR EMAIL. AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. MORE OFTEN WHEN YOU KNOW SOMETHING IMPORTANT MAY BE COMING. WHY AM I SHOUTING? BECAUSE PEOPLE WHO MISS IMPORTANT EMAIL MAKE ME SHOUT!
Bonus tip: Make “reading” one of the really IMPORTANT tasks you must schedule during the week. Find stuff on social media and save it to read later. Read great books, newspapers, magazines. Read, read, read.
Second bonus tip: Share your system with the people who report to you. Tell them you expect similar time management discipline from them. And help them achieve it.
And please humanely relocate those alligators.