The one thing you never learned about effective time management is the most important of all the steps. Let me review quickly the five steps of time management and in the process, I will explain in detail this most important, but never taught step.
Step #1: Plan the time to Plan. If you do not make a conscious effort to plan every single day, then you will eventually discontinue planning altogether. Find a place free from distractions, typically the same place every day. Do your planning the same time or the same time period every day.
It generally works better, for example, if you plan for the next day at the end of the current business day, regardless of what time that might be, or plan in the morning as soon as you arrive at work, regardless of what time that might be. Personally, I plan my day the night before, prior to going to bed. It doesn't matter what time I go to bed, before I retire, I plan for the next day.
Step #2: Make a list of all the things that need to be completed for that day, and all the things you want to complete in order to stay ahead of the game. Don't forget to make a list of those things that pertain to your personal goals. If you don't plan the achievement steps to your goals, your goals will never be reached. Make sure to plan those things that are important to your own interests, hobbies, dreams, and also include family related items. I often refer to this step as a "brain dump".
Step #3: Prioritize all of the items on your task list. Complete this activity in two distinct steps. First give each item an alpha ranking. For example, "A" would be given to tasks that must be completed today or it will cost your business embarrassment, and money. A "B" priority might cost your business embarrassment or money if not completed. A "C" priority should be done, but if not, can be completed on another day. A "D" priority would be nice to complete, but it has no impact on your success and may more closely resemble a want versus a need; there is no harm done if it is not completed.
Next, decide which task is the most important "A" and give it a numerical classification beginning with the number "1". List all of the "A" priorities in order of importance, A1, A2, A3, etc. When you have finished with the "A's" move on to the "B's" and "C's". The most important "B" will have a numeric number following the least important "A". When you have completed this phase of prioritizing, you can forget about the alpha designation and just follow the numeric priority. The alpha ranking followed by the numeric ranking makes it easier and more effective to prioritize your list of tasks.
Step # 4: Determine how much time you will spend on each activity on your task list. This is the step that was never taught. This is the one neglected aspect of time management that is so profound and yet so simple that virtually no one does it! There is a principle that states, "An activity will consume all the time we give it." This is certainly true with salespeople. When I first started to plan my days, I thought I was doing a great job by just identifying what needed to be done. In essence, I made a list and would then proceed to work first on those things I had the most interest in doing, or were the easiest. I soon learned that I needed to prioritize. I was completing tasks each day, but often was not completing the most important tasks.
I was now completing the most important activities each day, but was not getting as much completed as I could. I found that I spent far more time on an activity than it really required. I was feeling a sense of accomplishment by getting the important things done, while at the same time I was wasting time by spending more time on an activity than it deserved. This principle is the number one time-waster for salespeople. Spending more time on an activity than it requires. The average salesperson wastes on average four hours each day by doing unimportant activities and by spending more time to do a task than is needed. If you will take the time to pre-determine how much time you will spend working on the activities on your task list, I will guarantee that you will be at least two hours more productive each day.
Step #5: Move each activity on your task list to a time slot or a block of time. Once you have filled all the time slots with the activities on your task list, all you need to do is follow the time. You will know what to do when, and how much time to spend on the activity. Some activities may take more time than you estimated and some might take less. You will find yourself working much harder at your tasks in order to complete them in the allotted time. It might make sense to leave a couple of time slots open just in case you need more time. If you find that you don't need the extra time, then fill the time slot with other tasks.
An example of the effectiveness of the principle of determining how much time we will allocate to specific tasks can be found in this real-life experience. One Saturday I had planned to attend a BYU football game. The ticket was purchased and I was planning on leaving for the game about 10:30 am to catch the front of the wave of traffic heading to Provo from Salt Lake. I mentioned the game to my wife Peggy on Friday evening, and told her of my plan to beat the traffic. She immediately became very upset and asked how I could feel good about going to a football game when I had more than a half dozen projects she had been pleading with me to complete for the past several weeks. She had officially shamed me into doing the jobs, but I still planned to go to the game.
I asked Peggy to remind me what the jobs were, and I promised that they would be completed before I went to the game. I made my list, they were all "A" priorities, and I then determined how much time each job would take, being very optimistic and planning to work like crazy. Knowing that I wanted to leave for the game at 10:30 am, I determined when I would need to start in order to complete all the household tasks. My optimistic estimate had me starting at 6:00 am and finishing by 10:30 am. I have to admit that I have never worked so hard and efficient at "honey-do" projects. Some of the jobs took a little longer than I had estimated and some took a little less time. I backed out of my driveway to go to the game at 10:40 am. As I drove to the game, I pondered what I had accomplished. I had completed more work that morning than I had done in any four Saturdays combined!