Take Charge of Your Schedule in 7 Steps

March 23, 2016

Your schedule is a mess. It’s demanding, it’s packed, and it pushes you around. How do I know? Because the number one challenge clients bring to coaching, whether executives, business owners, busy professionals, or hard-working parents, is time management.

We can’t really manage time. We can only manage to make the most of the time we have. This means being intentional about what we put on our calendars and to-do lists. Here are 7 steps you can take to show your schedule who’s in charge.

Step 1: Learn Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix™ Model

One of the most widely taught tools for de-cluttering your schedule is Stephen Covey’s four quadrant model, now called the Time Matrix™ by Franklin Covey. This model divides tasks into Urgent and Not Urgent and Important and Not Important.

Step 2: Define Urgent and Important for You

When we have hectic schedules, there are a lot of competing demands. Other people regularly tell us what they think is Important and Urgent. Using the Time Matrix™ requires deciding what really is Important and Urgent to us.

Ask yourself “What really matters to me?” to define the values you want to honor. Ask “Who matters most?” and make other people’s priorities yours only if the people are your priorities.

Urgent is decided by questions like “What happens if this doesn’t get done?” and “Who does it happen to?” If missing a deadline isn’t significant, it’s not urgent. If the outcome is bad for someone else but not for you, it may not be your responsibility.

Step 3: Sort Your To-Do’s

Look at each item on your calendar for the week. Using your definitions of Urgent and Important, put each item into one of the four quadrants. Resist the urge to make someone else’s Urgent or Important your problem.

Your family’s priorities can be your priorities. Your clients’ or employer’s priorities may be, too. Just be clear they really matter to you.

Step 4: De-clutter, Discard, and Delegate

When something is Not Important and Not Urgent, you can ignore it. Take it off the list.

Not Important but Urgent usually means someone is trying to make their responsibility your priority. Hand it right back to them or delegate it. Empower others to take care of things. You’ll be glad you did.

Important but Not Urgent, like family movie night, has long-term meaning but risks getting set aside. Spend focused time occasionally tending these items to move them forward.

Step 5: Prioritize What Remains

Now it becomes clear the quadrant that needs your attention most is Important and Urgent. But what happens when you have a whole lot of Important and Urgent things to do? It’s time to dig deeper into Important and Urgent.

Return to the items in your Important and Urgent quadrant. Consider the purpose or value each represents and how it benefits you and the people important to you. Rate each on a scale of 1-10. Are there ties? Try 1-100.

Then rate the urgency of each item. Ask how soon it’s due and how severe the consequence is of missing the deadline or rescheduling. Keep the scales consistent: 1-10 or 1-100 for both. Then multiply those two numbers together. Rank-order your Important and Urgent things. If two numbers are close you can decide which item has priority.

Step 6: Plan Buffers

Even with a de-cluttered schedule, things won’t be rosy all the time. Some things take longer than expected. Unexpected demands hijack your schedule. Anticipate this and plan blocks of time that are buffers.

If a report takes two hours to complete, block out two and a half. After back-to-back meetings block fifteen minutes to catch up. If you schedule lots of short appointments, block one slot off every hour or two. Trust me. It won’t be wasted. If things go smoothly and that time is open, you’ll find plenty to do.

Step 7: Keep Your Mind Sharp

Whenever you’re organizing your schedule or handling disruptions in your day, you need your mind to be strong and efficient. This means taking good care of your most important tool: your brain.

Boost your brain power by getting good sleep, enjoying regularly activity, spending time in nature, and eating well to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Plan your most challenging thinking, including tough decisions, complex planning, and difficult conversations, when you’re well-rested and well-fed so your brain is in peak condition. Establish healthy routines and habits so you don’t have to make decisions when you’re tired, hungry, and frustrated. Click here for more tips on keeping your brain fit for duty.

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.

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