Thriving in a fast paced, challenging environment (2)

b) Taking Control of Your Time at Work

In his Time Management lecture Randy Pausch suggests that failing to prioritise and plan is the same as planning to fail; he then helpfully points out that you can always change your plan, but only once you have one! He recommends that you set both long term and short term goals and plan accordingly for each day, week, month and three month period.

It is also important to remember to set aside an appropriate amount of time to attend to life issues that are not work related. Time spent with your family, for instance would fall into this category. When prioritizing, you must remember to place sufficient value on activities that give life greater meaning. These real priorities are often inadvertently overlooked when we focus on maintaining our professional lives – often with negative consequences.

The decisions you make about which tasks should come first will probably be the most important part of managing your time. These decisions can be difficult and frustrating but are the key to effective self-management. In this section we introduce a number of tools to help you do this effectively.

Time management experts argue strongly that you must learn to judge the relative importance of each task to help in your scheduling.

To Do Lists

We recommend that you create and then update a To Do list on a daily basis. You will find it invaluable in helping you decide where your priorities lie.

You can then use your To Do list to keep you focused on what really needs to be done, and keep you away from un-important tasks that have no value.


Write down all your outstanding tasks on a sheet of paper

Categorize the tasks using Covey’s four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency. The matrix classifies tasks as urgent and non-urgent on one axis, and important or non-important on the other axis. Using this framework will ensure that you prioritize work that is aimed at long-term goals (Quadrant 2), rather than tasks that appear to be urgent, but are in fact less important (Quadrant 4).

The four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency

Carefully go through deciding if an item is to be graded as:-

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

Quadrant 2: Important not Urgent

Quadrant 3: Not important, Not Urgent

Quadrant 4: Urgent not Important

Some people prefer to write the lists for each Quadrant on separate sheets of paper.

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important – DO IT NOW

Urgent items are those with an immediate or soon-to-arrive deadline. These tasks will not always measure up in importance to some tasks, but their urgency gives them a higher level of priority. Recognizing that you need to push time-sensitive projects to the top can reduce panic situations.

Quadrant 2: Important not Urgent – DECIDE WHEN AND DIARIZE

Quadrant 2 has the items that are not urgent, but important.

These are the tasks Covey believes we are likely to neglect but should focus on in order to be effective.

Important items are identified by focusing on a few key priorities and life roles which will vary from person to person, then identifying small goals for each role each week, in order to maintain a holistic life balance. One tool for this is a worksheet that lists up to seven key life roles, with three weekly goals per role, to be evaluated and scheduled into each week before other appointments occupy all available time with things that seem urgent but are not important (Quadrant 4).

Place the tasks in both Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 in priority order, so the most urgent task becomes 1a), then the next becomes 1b) etc.

Priority will be decided on three factors:

  1. Time – which tasks are urgent and which can wait until later.
  2. People – tasks require the input of others, should be given priority so others also have ample time to complete their part.
  3. Magnitude – this means considering the consequences of completing a task later.

Quadrant 3: Not important, Not Urgent – DUMP IT

Delete all items you decide are not worth doing.

Quadrant 4: Urgent not Important – DELEGATE IT

If you have staff, then delegate – if not, decide if you are going to complete these tasks or not. We will be covering ‘When and how to delegate’ in more detail later.

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