Time is your most precious asset. Once spent, time is unrecoverable neither can it be stored up for a future event. If you habitually put things off or delay decisions until the ‘right time’, ask yourself what purpose this serves you. If you are not happy with the answer, act now to change things. Decide what you want to do and by when – then take that first vital step forward.
Remember that time management is self-management. The degree to which you feel in control of your time and regulate yourself significantly affects your wellbeing. The better you manage the critical events of your life, the better you will feel and the more energy you will have to get things done that are important to you. Good self-management is therefore essential for maximum health and personal effectiveness.
The psychology of self-management is based on a simple principle call the Law of Control. This law says that you feel good about yourself to the degree you feel in control of your life. The law also says you will feel negative about yourself to the degree you think that you are not controlling life.
Psychologists refer to the difference between an internal locus of control, where you feel that you are the master of your destiny, and an external locus of control, where you think circumstances outside yourself control you. When you have an external locus of control, you feel that you are governed by the pressures of your work and responsibilities. Most of what you are doing is reacting and responding to external events.
There is a big difference between action taken on purpose and goal-directed and reaction, which is an immediate response to external pressure. It is the difference between feeling positive and in control of your life and feeling negative, stressed and pressured. To perform at your best, you must have a strong feeling of power in the critical areas of your business and personal life. If you believe that you cannot improve your self-management, you are highly likely to be right.
What are your beliefs about yourself and your ability to manage your time? The fact is that habits form from behaviour, and our beliefs drive behaviour. You can take all the courses on time management you like, but if you perceive yourself as a poor time manager at the mercy of external events, nothing will help. If you have developed the habit of being late for meetings or accept that you are a disorganised person, those habits become your automatic behaviour.
If you do not change your beliefs about your level of effectiveness and efficiency, your ability to manage your time will not change either. However, the great thing about beliefs is that we can choose to change them. So, how do you develop new, positive ideas about yourself and your level of personal productivity. Fortunately, it is not difficult, but it does take some effort and willingness to try a different approach.
Try using the Four D’s of Effectiveness to adjust your mindset as suggested by best-selling author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy. These are:
- Desire – you must have an intense, burning desire to get your time under control and to achieve maximum effectiveness.
- Decisiveness – you must decide that you will practice good self-management techniques until they become a habit.
- Determination – you must be willing to persist in the face of all temptations to the contrary until you become an effective time manager. Your desire will reinforce your determination.
- Discipline – you must discipline yourself to make self-management a lifelong practice.
When faced with competing choices, ask yourself, ‘What is the most valuable use of my time right now’? You might like to try using the Eisenhower Matrix to help you decide. Also referred to as Urgent-Important Matrix, applying this helps you prioritise tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.
The Eisenhower Matrix is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Dwight had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. This led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower principle, which today helps us prioritise urgency and importance. Author Stephen Covey refers to it in his best setting book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.
Here is how to apply it:
For every existing to-do on your list and every new one coming in, sit down and ask yourself these critical questions:
1. Is this task really urgent? Does it need to be done today, or can it wait? In other words: Should I aim for doing it today (Do First quadrant) or put it down with a date that I am committed to accomplishing it by instead (Schedule)?
2. Is this task important for me personally? For my family or my long-term career? Really? (Do First or Schedule, but if not, a candidate for Delegate or Don’t Do)
3. Am I the best and the only one able to do this? Could the person who requested me to complete this task provide the required information, or is another person better suited to this job? Could I afford to seek outside help to get this done (Delegate)?
4. Is there something of little urgency and importance I could stop doing right now? To whom or which task, whether started or not, can I say no? What time-wasters have I given into today and should I remind myself every day not to do again (Don’t Do)?
Your goal should be to trim down your existing to-do list and closely review any new task coming in, starting today. If you’re having trouble being hard on yourself, speak out loud the above questions for each task you review. Be honest, realistic and try to reflect on your responses strictly.
It helps to focus on developing a specific self-management habit, like being early for every meeting. Every change in your life comes about when you make a clear and particular decision to do something different. In doing so, you will move into the internal locus of control, and things will begin to improve for the better. If you trip up along the way, remind yourself that no one is perfect and that you can learn from any mistakes.
Start by visualising yourself as you want to be. A good self-management technique is to see yourself as already a well-organised and highly productive person. What would be different about the way you behave? Create a picture of yourself as calm, confident, highly efficient, more relaxed and about to complete large amounts of work in a short space of time.
Imagine how a highly productive person would be and act. Would the person’s desk be clean and tidy? Would the person appear unhurried and unstressed? Create a clear mental picture of yourself as a person who controls your time and life. A good approach is to act as if you were already good at self-manager. Think of yourself as organised in everything you do. How would you approach your day? What would be different about the way you act? Practising this technique will help you form good habits. If you can imagine it, you can work to become it.
If you find yourself slipping into a negative frame of mind, ask yourself, ‘how well does this belief service me?’, then choose something more useful. Think of Henry Ford, who said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t, you’re right”. Remember, you can decide your mindset, and this is the first step in regaining control of your work and life.
For further tips, check out my latest video – How to get the right things done
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