Effective Time Management in 3 Steps

Effective time management is about working smarter in the right direction - the direction of your highest priorities. For the last 10 years I have worked as a time management coach and I often have people say to me:

"Kell, I am working hard but at the end of the day I haven't accomplished what I set out to do".

The modern world of work often means that we are juggling 10 different things and that your attention is grabbed by

  • who shouts loudest, 
  • who shouts most often, or 
  • what has the tightest deadline.

This can mean that the vital few are at the mercy of the trivial many!

Effective time management is about ensuring that you get the highest return for your time.

There are three steps to effective time management:

  1. identify what is important to you in your work and personal life.
  2. plan AND protect your time on those high impact activities, and
  3. acting daily to execute your plan

Sounds simple doesn't it!

These 3 steps sound simple but they are not necessarily easy!

Step 1. Think annually and check-in quarterly

You don't want to spend your day, your week, or your life, climbing the ladder only to get to the top and realize that it is leaning against the wrong building.

In other words you want to ensure you are heading in the right direction before you put your head down.

As Stephen Covey in his bestseller 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' reflects in habit #2 that to this we need to "Begin with the end in mind.”

effective time management

In the practical world of work this is best captured at the personal level by 'think annually' followed by 'quarterly check-ins'.

Think in yearly increments

I want you to think of your life and what you want to achieve in your work and personally over the next year. 

Maybe you have an important project that you need to complete, perhaps you want to be in better shape, or have a better relationship.

By developing an annual plan of the things that you want to achieve you are making a declaration of your intentions for the next 12 months.

The clearer your intention the better the result!

List all the things that you want and then identify what is most important to you using the Pareto principle to fine tune your list into the top 5 goals at the annual level.

Once you have a clear idea on those things that truly matter to you, your family, or your job; use this 1:1:5 template to plan at the annual level 

Do Your Quarterly check-ins

Just as a business checks-in on a quarterly basis, so should you!

But rather than doing a quarterly business review, check-in on how you are progressing towards your goals.

21st century time management is less about getting everything done and more about protecting your time for those things that matter most. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time do I need to schedule into my calendar over the next quarter to move my goals forward?
  • What does success look like in the next quarter?

The annual planning and the quarterly check-in becomes your compass to ensure that you are heading in the right direction.

Step 2. Weekly planning holds effective time management together.

When I work with clients many of them know what is important to their job and this is mapped out in their KPI’s.

But what is important is often very different to what they are working on!

The work at the ‘coal-face’ is often very different to what is important to the individual, team, or company.


Because, unfortunately, today "normal" means stressed out, rushed, and constantly jumping from crises to crises. 

Are you a reactive worker?

By looking at the four quadrants of how you spend your time, you identify your symptoms and solutions to poor time management.

Planning and then scheduling your activities each week ensures that you make time in advance for your key activities rather than trying to find the time later. You can construct your weekly plan using:

Personally, I use and like Achieve Planner because:

  1. I can set up an ideal week and then to schedule my high impact activities, and
  2. I schedule by projects (which have their prioritized task lists attached), so that when I come to that time to work on that project I simply work through the task list for that project.

Step 3. Act Daily for Success

Whatever your time management system, you have gone along way to improving your effective time management if:

  • you have done your annual planning,
  • you are conducting quarterly check-ins on your progress, and 
  • you are doing your weekly planning every week, 

Are you having trouble maintaining your to do list?

Don’t worry you are not alone. This is because we often confuse the master list with the to do list

These 3 simple steps align what is important to you, your family, or your work.

Changing your effective time management habits can be hard! If you want a caffeine hit of motivation, these inspirational time management quotes reinforce positive time management habits and beliefs.

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