Time management starts with understanding your vision and values. So where do you start if your vision seems murky, and your priorities feel out of whack?
We typically think of time management as moving things around on our calendars, but we can’t begin to effectively manage our time until we get crystal-clear on what matters most to us. I spoke with Jeremy Tiers on The Mission Admissions Podcast to discuss how to define your vision, how to prioritize your tasks, and then how to actually get things done. Check out the episode here, or read on for a run-down of our chat.
Defining Your Vision and Values
Maybe you’ve never sat down and tried to define your vision and values. The idea of creating your vision for the future can feel very lofty and intimidating!
Instead of thinking about what you want the next 80 years to look like, ask yourself: what do you want your life to look like in one year? Start with your vision of what your best life would look like one year from now, and reverse engineer what steps you need to take to get there.
Prioritize with Boulders, Big Rocks, and Pebbles
Once you get clear on your vision for your life, it’s time to prioritize. If you feel like you have so much to do that you’re overwhelmed, that’s evidence of unclear priorities.
The concept of priorities can be very abstract – because EVERYTHING can feel like a priority! So to start, break your priorities down into 3 different categories:
- Big rocks
Picture a boulder. If you push on it with all your might, it won’t move. These are the things on your to-do list that are important, but not urgent. They help you show up as your best self in your roles and responsibilities.
Think about your work to-do list. What things are important (not urgent), and help you be better in your role? These are things like professional development, going to the gym, or having a date night with your partner. It’s easy to put these things off week after week, because they’re not urgent – so you should block out boulders on your calendar first.
Big rocks are smaller than boulders – they have some wiggle room. We tend to spend a lot of our time on big rock tasks, because they’re important and urgent. They’re time-bound and typically project-oriented. These things move us closer to our vision in our life and our work – like marketing projects, an event you’re planning, or anything with a deadline.
Because they’re urgent, if we don’t watch out, we’ll spend all of our time putting out fires with big rocks… and we will ignore the boulders. After you time block boulders for the week, then block out your big rocks.
Pebbles are tiny and fill in the gaps. These are all the tiny, administrative-type tasks that aren’t super important. They don’t move the needle, get us closer to our goals, or help us be our best selves… but they have to be done. It could be picking up your dry cleaning, filling out a form for daycare, or making a dentist appointment.
The great thing about pebbles? They’re small. They can fill in the gaps between the big rocks and boulders. But if we’re not careful, pebbles can easily take over our entire day.
Pareto’s Principle says 80% of our outputs come from 20% of our inputs – and I’ll bet 80% of your to-do list is made up of pebbles. If you knock out all the pebbles on your to-do list first, you’ll feel busy all day long… but feel like you didn’t actually get anything done because you didn’t do the most important thing first. Time block pebbles last on your calendar.
Next time you have your to-do list open, go through the list before starting it. Categorize them as boulders, big rocks, and pebbles by writing “B,” “BR,” and “p” next to each item. This will train your brain to prioritize your activities. Then, block time for boulders, big rocks, and pebbles, in that order.
Finally, when you start to accomplish your to-do list, beware of the productivity pitfall (one of the ones I discuss in Time Management Essentials!) of multitasking – AKA, context switching.
A lot of us think we’re great at multitasking. We’ll write a sentence or two in an email, then write a sentence or two in a document, and then check our phone notifications. We call it multitasking, but what we’re actually doing is context switching.
So what’s the problem? When you jump from task to task, you experience something called attention residue. This means that when you switch from Thing A to Thing B, part of your brain is still thinking about Thing B. That results in loss of productivity, effectiveness, and precision.
The worst part? Our brains love it! Our brains crave novelty. When things begin to feel difficult, we love to switch to something else (ever feel tempted to pick up your phone and scroll Instagram when a task gets difficult?). So context switching can quickly become a habit.
There are things you can do to combat context switching:
- Mono-tasking, or trying really hard to do one thing at a time without switching. You can practice this by starting your time block with the intention of doing only one thing during that time.
- Create a physical environment that combats distractions (clean your desk, put your phone away, and sit with your back to the dishes in the sink).
Want more? Listen to the full episode here.