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Effective Time Management Skills Everyone Needs to Have

How you spend the time you have dictates what you achieve in life. Using your hours to work toward the outcomes you value the most will help to not only bring you success, but will also sustain that feeling of fulfillment that comes from accomplishing your goals.

Making the most of the time you have and achieving the life that you dream of requires not only a set of time management skills, but a mental shift in how you think about time management best practices. The right time management system can help to focus your attention on what really matters to you, so that your brain can zero-in on reaching your highest value outcomes without getting swept up in distractions, which can result in feelings of frustration and a lack of motivation.

ALIGN YOUR ACTION WITH YOUR CORE VALUES

If the actions that you take aren’t aligned with what truly matters to you — your core values — then no matter how much you do with your time, you’re not going to get that same sense of achievement and fulfillment than you would if you focused on the outcomes that add the most value to your life.

Suppose that you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner, and you decide to use an hour out of your day to give that person the attention they deserve. But as you’re sitting there, your phone in your pocket vibrates. You take it out to see who texted you. You’ll probably even text them back, and, before you know it, you’ll have a conversation going. By shifting focus to your phone, you’re splitting your attention away from your partner, and you’re no longer working toward the outcome that you truly value, which is a healthier, more passionate relationship with the person you love. By staying focused on your end goal, you’ll be more successful at attaining the outcome that speaks the most to your core values.

Aligning your actions with your core values is a question of having clarity on what these values are. What do you truly want? How can you accomplish this goal by using effective time management skills? Is it to lose weight or to earn a promotion at work? Whatever it is, you have to be clear with the outcome you plan to achieve and designate the time needed to reach your goal.

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Clarity is achieved by being specific about what you want and by building your outcome around a meaningful metric. If you tell yourself that you want to lose weight and lose one pound over the next year, have you technically succeeded at what you set out to do? Sure, but is it really what you wanted? Probably not. You were most likely looking to lose 20 or 30 pounds. By being specific with your outcomes, and having clarity on what they are and why you want them, you can have the laser-guided focus you need to achieve them.

How do you know if you’re truly working toward your core values? Conduct a core values audit: track your activities for two weeks, taking note of which core values they connect with, and audit yourself with a keen eye as you evaluate how to move closer to your goals. Eliminate any activity that you identify as unconnected to your values and goals from your schedule. Replace it with something that serves your ultimate plan.

Minimize distractions

Identify what is distracting you. Email? People popping into your workspace? Texts? Social media? Whatever it is, eliminate the distraction and the stress that comes with it. Block websites if you have to. Put up an “Away” or “Do Not Disturb” notice on your accounts. Take control of your workspace and time so you can be productive.

As an experiment, journal your “interruption emotions” for one week. Each time you allow yourself to be interrupted, stop and jot down exactly what you were feeling before you stopped what you were doing and switched tasks. Often we allow ourselves to lose focus and be interrupted as a crutch when we’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions. These are learned, addictive responses — and we can learn to overcome them and change our behavior by employing effective time management skills.

Learn to say no

This is one of the biggest skills we all need to learn. When you say no to something that isn’t really adding value to your life or supporting your core values or goals, you are saying yes to something else that is: time to be with family, exercise or even much needed sleep.

If saying no to something seems hard, think about a time when you reluctantly said “yes” to something and later regretted it. Now, remember all of the emotional turmoil that one decision caused. You went around kicking yourself for awhile, and then you resented the person who asked you to do the task or attend the event in the first place. You fantasized about ways to get out of the commitment. In the end, you either did the task begrudgingly even though you didn’t have the time or resources to do it, or you flaked out because you were overcommitted, right? Saying no in the first place is a lot easier than all of that, so learn to do it. In the end, this time management strategy will help you devote more time to things that are actually important to you.

Understand how priorities really work

If you have endless lists of priorities, it’s the same as having no priorities.

By aligning your outcomes with your core values, you can achieve clarity on which goals are true priorities. What actions, produce the most value? What outcomes address your true wants in life? Once you have a direction to move in, you’ll get a better sense of what actions deserve your attention and which ones don’t.

If you’re facing an overwhelming number of tasks around an outcome, remember that you can create better to-do lists by chunking all related tasks into smaller groups that are easier to manage and tackle. That way, you can better visualize and identify the steps you need to take to reach your goal.

Tony explains the power of chunking and how it helps direct your focus towards what matters.

Work on tasks in 20-minute increments

When you have difficult things that demand all of your focus, it can be draining and intimidating. One great tactic to use in cases like this is the 20-minute increment block. Here’s how it works.

Get your mind ready; let yourself know you’re about to focus on something important. Pick up the task and set an alarm for 20 minutes. Until it rings, give that task everything you’ve got, without any email, cell phone or other distractions. When the alarm rings, decide whether you’re going to put the task down or finish it. Take a break if you like, and get back to that task afterward. Repeat the process until the task is complete.

You already know that feeling you get when you’re in the zone. You’re unstoppable, and you get more than you thought you could get done finished. The only problem is that getting into the zone feels haphazard and random; sometimes you’re there, but sometimes you’re not. Working on your tasks in these 20-minute chunks helps you pull yourself into the zone as needed.

Cut back on instant answers

Too often people ask us to do something and we instantly say yes, even though we are too busy and really want to say no. Then we have a commitment we’re stuck with, looming ahead in our calendar. Instead of answering right away, step away from the email or tell the person you’ll need to let them know in a little while.

Try not instantly committing for one month. Instead, take time and ensure that you commit only to tasks or activities that support your core values and goals. If something someone asks you to do doesn’t align with those values and goals, be bold and politely decline.

At the end of the month, assess: how many extra tasks would you likely have taken on had you not taken some extra time and thought before answering? How much time did you save by doing that? How much more fulfilled do you feel with what you did accomplish?

Outsource

Remember, you’re not in control of how many hours there are in the day, and you’re not in control of every outcome of your actions, either.

That’s okay! Outsourcing tasks is a critical skill that every successful entrepreneur and Fortune 500 CEO has to master, and so do you. When you can delegate tasks, do it.

Think of it this way: if you’re too focused on completing a giant list of tasks every day, you’ll be unable to focus on your larger goals and core values. If you focus on only the outcomes that are in your control instead, you’ll avoid the frustration that comes with overburdening yourself and what you do accomplish will be that much richer in meaning. It’s also worthwhile to remember that by delegating whenever possible, you help yourself grow because you give yourself space to take on the newest, most challenging tasks yourself.

Effective time management skills are at the heart of a happier, more fulfilled life because you’ll be able to focus and achieve the outcomes that drive your passion. Imagine that intense feeling of peace and satisfaction at being fulfilled with what you’ve achieved. With the right time management framework, you no longer have to imagine that state, you can attain and live it.