Strategy & Execution

Manage Yourself. Not your Time

Quick question: It’s 9:42 AM on Wednesday.  Your next conference call starts at 10:30 AM so you have approximately 45 minutes.  What do you do? 

A.      Call the client with whom you’ve been playing phone tag on an important issue.

B.      Check in with your staff members on the status of an ongoing project.

C.      Start drafting the presentation you are giving next week.

D.      Shuffle through papers, get lost in something, and barely start the conference call in time.

There is no one right answer (although I think it’s fair to say selecting option D too many times probably will not yield great results).    But if you had trouble deciding how to manage yourself, I’ve compiled 5 great steps that will help you manage your self and your use of time each day. 


  1. Keep a next actions list.  In Getting Things Done, productivity guru David Allen talks about the importance of breaking to-do lists into specific next actions rather than vague statements such as “Plan conference.”  When you always know what your next few actions are, it’s easier to take the specific action and cross something off the list.  Take a moment to write down at least 3 next actions that will help you move forward with one or more projects on your to-do list.
  2. Know how long tasks take.  I was first introduced to this obvious but often neglected concept in Time Management from the Inside Out.  When you know how long tasks take, you can plan much better.  List an estimated time next to each of your next action items.  Then when you work on each item, set a timer on your watch, phone, or computer to track how long it really takes.  The more frequently you do this, the more likely you will accomplish your goals.
  3. scheduleSet a date.  You are more likely to complete your next actions when you set a date.  Start with standing appointments: choose the same time every week to write a blog post or to complete a certain report, then create a recurring appointment in your calendar.  Treat it as you would any other appointment – keep it!  And when you are making a commitment to a client to get something to him or her by a particular time on Thursday, for example, set time on your Tuesday or Wednesday calendar to work on it.  Stop reading and review the next actions list you just started; now set a date to complete one of your next actions.
  4. Focus.  If you’re like me, you’ve lived most your life believing you were most productive when multi-tasking.  It turns out that we are much better off single-tasking!  Once you set a time to do something, close all other applications, turn off your ringer, and concentrate on that one particular task.  Giving 100% of your attention to an important project dramatically improves your results.  Check the date you set to complete a next action.  How will you ensure that you are able to focus during that time?
  5. Eat That FrogEat the frog.  Finally, consider starting your day with the most difficult next action on your to-do list, the one on which you’re most likely to procrastinate, as suggested by Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog.  Tracy states if you handle your most dreaded task first, you will gain energy and build momentum, on the other hand, if you procrastinate, your energy will be zapped without you realizing it. What frogs do you need to eat?  What would it take to eat one now?

Think back to your answer to the quiz at the beginning of this post.  It should now be much easier to develop an answer because you have your next actions listed and know how long each task takes.  When you set dates, you are increasing the likelihood you accomplish your goals, particularly if you commit to single tasking.  And, when you start getting in the habit of eating the frog, the rest of your days will flow much more smoothly and productively.

Time management is a myth.  What we have instead is the power of self-management.  What self-management tips can you share? 

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