Over 10 Years of Trying to Manage Time and Improving My Productivity, What I Have Learned.
For the past ten years of my career, I have been working on mastering time management; I have tested different approaches and followed multiple people and sources. It is a summary of what I have learned.
All great people, entrepreneurs included, have one thing in common: they have mastered the art of time management. I first started to learn about time management when I was in University. At that time, I was doing a Computer Science Degree and a Diploma in Finance and was the President of Tanzanian students in Bangalore, India. I had only 24 hours to do all this and manage to enjoy my campus life. I got my degree, and I was able to receive several accolades. Over time I have learned to make the most of my time. These tips and tools help me do everything I want within a specified time frame.
The Eisenhower Box
I’m not sure whether I read the article in 2013 or 2014. James Clear, one of my favourite bloggers, introduced me to the Eisenhower Box, and it is one of the most valuable productivity tools I have used for years. To master time management, you need to eliminate waste. The tool allows you to prioritise what matters and drop what doesn’t by grouping your activities based on their importance and urgency. If it is essential and urgent, you do it. If it is not necessary but urgent, you delegate. If it is critical but not urgent, you reschedule (postpone); if it is neither vital nor essential, you drop it. I was a bit innovative in integrating the tool with Trello, a task management tool to help me manage my daily tasks. I have been doing that for the past seven years.
Principles of Essentialism
I was introduced to the concept of disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism. I wrote an article about this a few years ago. At some point in my career, I wasn’t sure what are the real opportunities and distractions in my life. A non-essentialist thinks everything that comes in their direction is essential; you want to be all things to everyone, constantly looking for more, and your life lacks satisfaction. Looking deep, you realise it all starts with poor time management. If you read and practice this book, your life will never be the same.
The Life Calendar
Most of us create calendars guided by our corporate life. Listening to Peter Njonjo, the Founder of Twiga Foods, on how he manages time, his secret was how he works his calendar, including putting life activities within his core calendars. It goes beyond birthdays to include family retreats, weddings, and other important life events. He made a vital joke that his wife always complained to him to ensure she was not just another item on his calendar. It is a critical point. “Time Masters” understands how to manage the four burners of life, and it is not all about work and corporate life. There is no such thing as a “work-life balance”; it’s just life.
The Brutal No
In a culture whereby people want to look good to everyone saying “NO to someone asking for a favour appears to be an offence. While in a real sense, agreeing to do something and not doing it is the actual offence. The “Time Masters” have mastered “NO” to mean “NO”. More “YES” means less time, and more “NO” equals more personal time to accomplish your tasks and priorities. Brutal No doesn’t mean you have to be mean to your colleagues; it is about making them kindly and professionally understand you have other preferences at that time.
To-Do List Versus MITs
For most people, when you have a routine to-do list, you are already productive. A To-do list is the best way of doing things that don’t matter, and you can’t be effective by just ticking boxes. You can ask yourself when was the last time you managed to tick all the boxes on your to-do list at the end of the working day, and the answer is none. You must replace the to-do list with Most Important Tasks (MITs). MITs allow you to focus on the essential items on your list, giving them the necessary resources and attention required to accomplish them. These are the tasks when you do them; by the time you finish, you feel the progress and the accomplishment. Responding to ad-hoc emails, pop-up meetings, etc., is not part of the MITs.
The Mapped Journal
Journaling is not a common culture in the developing South, and most people don’t document or even plan their day. Over the years, I have learned to map my journal according to how I want to manage my day. I have multiple sections on one page; MITs (for things I want to achieve that day), Other Activities (for stuff I can postpone for another day), Life (for health, faith and family-related issues), Pop-Ups (for things that just pop-up that day), and I leave one empty next page for taking notes. I spent time reflecting on the blocks on areas I needed to focus on and improve on the next day. It is not all perfect, you will have some messed-up days, but at least you will realise you messed up that day on time management.
Buy Time and Delegate
What do you think is more expensive, “Time” or “Money”? When you start to make enough money, what you quickly realise you are losing is time to make more money. What smart people do is buy “Time”. One of the things I was hesitant to do for years was buying time from other people. One of my significant regrets is that I stayed too long before hiring a PA. Learn to purchase time from people and pay people to do things that unnecessarily eat your time. Sometimes you want to do things yourself, believing you are saving money while, in the real sense, you are losing money.