3 Keys to Effective Time Management


Secret of Time Management“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” — William Penn

I often here the argument, “If I had more time for this or that, I could …”

Well, unfortunately, having more time doesn’t always mean getting more done.  It doesn’t guarantee getting the right things done either.

The secret to time management isn’t more time management hacks at all.

It’s knowing the vital few keys that really make a difference.

The 3 Keys to Effective Time Management

Here are the keys I’ve found:

  1. Manage energy, not time.
  2. Make room for your big rocks.
  3. Use anticipation to drive versus react.

1. Manage Energy, Not Time

Sometimes I get more done in an hour than I can sometimes get done in a week.  Why is that?  For me, it’s actually about energy.  There are only so many hours in a day.  While I can’t make more hours in a day, I can use my energy better.

Sure there are lots of interesting little time savers, but there are also plenty of time wasters too.  I find the force that makes the most measurable difference is the energy and engagement I bring to the table.   Energy over time is a key concept in the book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz .  The secret to managing energy is following your passions and playing to your strengths.   Managing strengths to manage your energy is a key concept in Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham.

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2. Make Room for Your Big Rocks

Assuming I have all my energy ready to tackle my day, I need to distinguish between urgent and important.  If I’m only reacting to urgent, then I’m missing out on opportunity to deal with important, whether that’s job impact or personal growth.  The moral of the story is, if I don’t make time for the big rocks, the fillers in my day won’t leave room.  I like Steven Covey’s perspective on urgent vs. important in his book, First Things First.

Here’s a summary of the popular Make Room for the Big Rocks story …

A time-management professor demonstrates the importance of prioritizing by filling a five-gallon mason jar with fist-size rocks. He asks the class if the jar is full. Since another big rock wouldn’t fit, the class answers, “Yes.” However, the professor proceeds to pour a pitcher of gravel, then sand, and finally water into the jar before it is finally full. The point of the story is not that you can cram much more than you ever dreamed into any given day. The point is this: “If you don’t put your big rocks in first, the fillers of life will take up your day and you won’t fit your big rocks in at all.”

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3. Use Anticipation to Drive vs. React

Anticipation is a actually a skill that I haven’t worked on as much as I should.  I actually plan to do a 30 Day Improvement Sprint on anticipation, when the time is right.  It’s funny how many recurring things happen each year, that take me by surprise.  Birthdays.  Holidays.  Reviews.  Events.  Geeze!  You’d think I’d see the patterns 😉

Well, I do.  I’ve seen the pattern of me reacting to events I don’t anticipate.  While the corporate ninja expects the unexpected, I also find that with a little anticipation, a stitch in time saves nine.  If I make project plans, and there’s a major event I didn’t account for, I shouldn’t be surprised when suddenly nobody’s around.  At the same time, I’m sure I can find a way to leverage the sudden spurt of energy some folks have right after mid-year discussions.

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  1. I find the energy point interesting.

    When I can pick something actionable (aka well defined) off my list and say I’m going to do it now then I can really get stuff done. For me directing my energy is about choosing and then committing.

  2. Hey Jarrod

    I agree.

    I find there’s three common scenarios:
    1. Inspired action.
    2. Taking action, and then having inspiration follow.
    3. Deciding what to do and directing your energy.

    #2 is surprising because it’s counter-intuitive. That’s why some people wait around for inspiration, but then never take action. Or when inspiration happens, they haven’t built the skills to leverage it. On the other hand, athletes show up to practice and some days rock.

  3. Do you want to know the real secret of time management? Focus on just doing it. Stop thinking about it and just do it. If you make a few mistakes along the way, correct them and move on.

    Then, with regard to your comment about Drive instead of React is great. So many people walk around with a fire hat on and try to put out all of the fires. Unfortunately, this promotes a constant time deficit and everything is always pushed back and late.

    So, overall, if you just focus on doing your tasks, you will become more successful at time management.

  4. @ Derek

    Good point. Nike definitely captured the essence! I think of it as, decide and go. Don’t keep looking behind you while you’re stealing the base. It’s similar to writing … don’t edit while you write. Just write. Edit when you’re done. Learn and move on.

    One of my friends is successful at running because she doesn’t let herself think her way out of it. She wakes up, throws on her sneakers and just goes.

  5. Hi JD – Derek’s right. We can spend more time dithering about doing something than it would have taken to do it in the first place. One thing at a time. The old simple list and cross it off, check the box. Don’t get me started on productivity systems. 😀

  6. @ Betsy

    Right on! It’s so easy to fall into an emotional vortex and spiral down … or play a mental game of ping pong and fall into the analysis paralysis trap.

  7. Hi JD

    Some good ideas.

    Interesting on the energy… I’m going to look further into that.
    Our team at work did a strengthsfinder test not so long ago with the aim of working to our strengths and not weaknesses. It was interesting indeed (given that our company focussing very much on improving weaknesses and being great at everything…)
    I wrote about it on my blog.

    I’m looking forward to your posts on anticipation for drive.


  8. @ Juliet

    It’s great your team is all in it together. That helps a lot.

    The way I like to think of it is, improve your strengths, but limit your liabilities. In other words, don’t try to make your weaknesses great, but don’t let them get in the way of your success.

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