I recently read an interview with entrepreneur Chris Wanstrath of GitHub who quoted Cameron Moll saying “I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in priorities.” We should be focusing, instead, on priorities. After all, there are aspects of work that are just as enjoyable as those in life, and there are times in our lives when we’d rather be working. The two aren’t just opposite sides of the same coin. How do we establish priorities in such a way that we enjoy both work and life and don’t burn out?
Stephen Covey formulated a simple 2×2 matrix for identifying and prioritizing activities that will result in more effective personal health. If we are ever going to manage our time well and get things done, Covey’s matrix, from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a good place to start. The first step is to identify which quadrant we are spending most our time in. The second step is to find a way to spend most our time in the right quadrant.
The Time Management Matrix: Activities
This first matrix shows the activities that draw us into each quadrant.
The Time Management Matrix: Results
And this second matrix shows us the results of spending time in each quadrant of activities. It’s not surprising where we want to be (but just in case it’s not obvious, I’ve highlighted it for you). The tricky part is in prioritizing our activities in such a way we can focus primarily on the ones that will keep us in quadrant 2.
It’s not too difficult to see what types of activities to avoid and what types of activities to focus on to achieve optimal results in the workplace. This isn’t saying that you can’t dabble in each of the four activity quadrants. But you do have to choose which quadrant you will spend the most of your time in if you are going to achieve the results you want. It’s simply a matter of getting our priorities straight.
How to get into quadrant 2
The above matrices as outlined by Covey make it obvious we need to be focusing on activities that will result in getting us into the sweet spot of quadrant two. Here are some practical tips on how to find your way there.
- Track your time
In the same way we track our expenses to keep ourselves on a budget, track your time. Knowing where your time is going is the first step to better time management. Online time tracking applications, like Intervals, will help you track time better with timers. And detailed reports give you clear insight into where your time is being spent well or wasted.
- Identify problem areas
Once you’ve figured out where your time is going, decide where it shouldn’t be going. Spending too much time checking your fantasy football scores? Spending too much time micromanaging? Figure out what you shouldn’t be doing or what can be done by someone else and free yourself from that entanglement.
- Focus on priorities
Decide what your priorities should be. We can often times spend too much time knocking off the low hanging fruit on our list of to-dos and never getting to the higher priority items. Delegate enough time to prioritize all of your tasks, giving equal attention to the little and the big tasks, to avoid the bigger tasks becoming crises later on.
- Plan ahead
Take a little time out of each day to plan out the next day. List out your priorities and what you’d like to accomplish, leaving room for any emergent tasks that may come up. Knowing what you want to get done before you start working is one of the most effective ways to manage your time. Otherwise, you are left vulnerable to the whims of your inbox and your clients.
- Stretch and breathe
Remember to give yourself some room to stretch out your legs, take a deep breath, and face the reality that there are only so many hours in each day and you can only do so much before you burn out. The goal in managing your time better is not to fill your daily schedule with more activities, rather, the goal is to use your time more wisely, more effectively, to avoid crises and alleviate stress that result from poor time management.
There are a lot of time management techniques online. Some good, some bad. There is no one-size-fits-all solution nor should there be. Every small business faces its own unique set of time management problems. It’s up to you to figure out how you want to use your time tracking down time sinks and turning them into more productive opportunities.