If you observe some of the most successful people in business, such as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you can’t help but wonder how they are able to fit so many different ventures into their life and career.
Managing one’s time is an important skill in the financial services industry too. Each person has to find what works for them and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For example, one of the most productive people on the planet, Elon Musk, allocates his whole day in 5-minute blocks which is certainly a unique approach.
I’ve been fortunate to learn from some fantastic managers over the years, and also been influenced by many great books like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Here are some time management concepts that have worked for me:
#1 Urgent vs. important: The Eisenhower Matrix
Everyone should prioritize urgent and important tasks (quadrant 1). But we have to do a certain number of non-urgent, less important “hygiene” tasks as well (quadrant 4).
The key is how to spend time between quadrant 2 and 3. The most effective people minimize the amount of time they spend on urgent, less important tasks by delegating or saying no. This won’t be easy, especially when you are early in your career or in a new job – but is essential. Instead, allocate your time to important, non-urgent tasks that typically take longer and will be more difficult to find time for, but have greater impact.
#2 Weekly or monthly goal setting
We all have to set objectives at work each year. But a year is a long time and it’s easy to lose track of priorities. So try setting your goals monthly or even weekly. On a Sunday evening or Monday morning, try spending 10 minutes to write down the key things you want to achieve that week - including possibly an activity that’s not urgent but important - that you’ve been putting off for later. Then when you inevitably get sucked into something urgent, you won’t lose track.
According to David Allen, inventor of the Getting Things Done methodology, “Self-management is about knowing what to do at any given moment.” I keep a post-it note by my keyboard with the top 6-8 focus items for the week, and whenever I have a few minutes to spare, I scan through it to make sure I’m staying on top of each item.
#3 Do the most difficult thing first, don’t procrastinate
Most people always have one or two items on their priority list that they really don’t want to tackle, and so leave it to the end. This can often lead to procrastination. Try tackling the most difficult things – tough conversations, difficult presentations or analyses – first and leave the more fun and easy tasks to the end. You’ll be able to get things done a lot faster.
As Mark Twain famously said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
#4 Plan ahead – and look backwards
Plan what you want to achieve before you go into meetings and discussions. If you spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of each conversation, every meeting will be far more efficient.
Finally, at the end of each day or week, it is important to see how you did. Did you actually accomplish what you set out to get done? By tracking progress, you will soon get a clearer sense of how much you can get done in a given time. Over time, your ability to create a realistic schedule for yourself will get fine-tuned.
Time management is a skill that one can learn and get better at over time. And if you do, it will allow you to be significantly more productive and impactful in your career and life.