Prioritization: The Real Secret to Time Management

I have tried a few times to write about time management, but have struggled with it. This isn’t because I struggled with time management itself, but with trying to unlock my own secret behind developing a reputation of never sleeping (when in fact I sleep quite a bit!).

It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at how I was managing my team’s time and supporting their work-life balance that I realized time management isn’t about protecting your time, scheduling your work or being more efficient.

The real secret to time management is being able to master prioritizing how you use your time.

Prioritization vs Time Management

Part of my work reputation is being militant about my time. My meetings start and end on time, and I always get things done—all within a standard 40 hour work week. This is something that I learned when, in another life, I was working an office job to support my stone sculpting.

Because sculpting was my highest priority, I had to learn to prioritize my work within my work day. Otherwise, every extra minute that I spent at work was a minute that I couldn’t be sculpting. And because of the neighbourhood my studio was in, and how early the sun set in the winter, there were only a few hours when I felt safe in my studio after work.

Once I applied this filter to how I spend my day, it became obvious that what I did during the day was really just a reflection of what my priorities are.

What are your priorities?

Take a moment to ask yourself what your priorities are.

How many priorities do you have? If it’s more than a half dozen, you probably have more than you can realistically support. As an example, my priorities are:

  1. My health
  2. Spending time with my husband
  3. Kicking ass at work
  4. Enjoying the lifestyle I have earned
  5. Volunteering and giving back to the community
  6. Re-establish a vibrant blog

I will be the first to admit that there is an invisible line between #4 and #5, where, as much as I want to resume volunteering, my other four priorities are more important. The last blog post I published was in February, which coincided with the time I was promoted to Manager. It was more important for me to build and support a strong team before I returned my attention to my other priorities (as I am now).

Decompose your week

The interesting thing about looking at time management as priority management is you can start to see where your actual priorities are.

Again taking my list of priorities as an example, as much as I want to say that volunteer work is a higher priority than blogging, in reality, how I spend my time betrays my actual priorities. In the time that I take to write this and other blog posts, I could be reaching out to the Not For Profits that I want to volunteer at. But I’m not.

Once you have your list of priorities, it may be worth comparing it with how you actually spend your time over the course of a week, month or year. For every time you say “I don’t have time for that”, what you’re really saying is “That’s not important enough to me for me to fit into my day”.

When you start to really pick apart where you spend your time, you can start to see where your real priorities are, regardless of what you want them to be. For myself, I have to come to terms with the fact that although I want to be more altruistic, the truth is my priorities right now are myself and my family.

From Priorities to Time

After you develop a better and realistic view of your priorities, it will become much easier to manage your time. This easily flows through to the time you spend on work. Look at what you are responsible for, and what is priority. Focus on doing things that support the top priorities, and come to terms with the fact that some things will never get done because they actually aren’t all that important.