Time Management - Planning and prioritising

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Planning

Planning is about determining all of the tasks that you need to complete in order to achieve your goals. By getting a clear understanding of all the tasks you need to complete, you can better prioritise and allocate your time.

It also helps you to manage the completion of tasks and keep on top of your work.

Developing a task plan

Planning doesn't have to be a complicated process. In a lot of cases a simple task plan is all you need.

  1. Write a task list - write down all the tasks that you need to complete in order to achieve your goal. These don't need to be in any specific order, consider this as a 'dump' of tasks. The purpose is to have all your tasks accounted for on a page.
  2. Define the task duration - for each task or process note down how long it will take from start to finish to complete.
  3. Set a due date - decide on the due date for each task

Prioritising tasks

Prioritising is about evaluating the tasks that you need to complete and determining the relative importance and urgency of each task.

  • Important tasks - these are tasks that move you toward achieving your goals.
  • Urgent tasks - these are tasks that demand immediate attention because they have immediate consequences if they are not done.

By prioritising your tasks in this way, you can better understand which tasks you should devote your time and energy to now, which tasks you can delay, which tasks you can delegate, and which tasks you can possibly eliminate.

The urgency/importance matrix

The urgency and importance matrix (below) is an excellent tool for prioritising your activities and determining what action you should take.

The urgency importance matrix
  1. Urgent / Important (Do it now)
    There are two reasons why you may find yourself working on important and urgent tasks. First, unforeseen work has come up. This is unavoidable and from time to time you will need to deal with situations like this. Second, you have lost track of tasks, taken too long to complete things, or left things to the last minute, and now tasks have become urgent. If that is the case, you need to look at what you can do to prevent this happening in the future.
  2. Not urgent / Important (Decide when to do it)
    Tasks in this quadrant help you achieve your goals but are not yet urgent - and with good planning and time management, they shouldn't become urgent. This is where you want to be spending the bulk of your time.
  3. Urgent / Not important (Delegate it)
    Tasks in this quadrant can sometimes give the illusion that they are important, however they are generally important to someone else - they don't actually help you achieve your goals. Working on too many tasks in this quadrant is generally a result of saying "yes" to too many requests and/or a failure to delegate lower value tasks. If for some reason you cannot delegate these tasks, try to reschedule them for a more convenient time.
  4. Not urgent / Not important (Delete it)
    Tasks in this quadrant are just a distraction. They aren't important to you, and they aren't important to others (even though they may think they are). You can just ignore a lot of these and they will go away. If people persist, re-evaluate if it's worth taking on, and if not, explain why you can't do it.

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Next: Time Management - Scheduling your day