priority management vs. time management

Never ask me how I survived college without having an organized system or top notch time management system in place. It leads me to believe if I did, I would have been able to get more out of my college education than I did.

Working at Six Flags as I had when I was younger didn’t require to-do lists much more than a piece of scrap paper stuffed in my pockets. Neither did umpiring baseball games, neither did babysitting – and somehow I even made it through college without really consistently using an actual calendar or academic planner. The first time I was ever even introduced to any kind of logged organization tactic was at my first internship my junior year of college.

I looked at it as part of the job I was learning and a requirement in order for me to collaborate. A good time into my internship I was covering for the Marketing Coordinator on her days out. She had laid out tasks for me and I had laid out tasks for her. Projects were long-term and rolled into additional days or weeks. So I learned the art of the legal pad to-do list.

It wasn’t complicated. It involved adding and scratching. Some days, I would start a fresh page for a new day or a new long list or sometimes I would have 2-3 lists with different objectives, but it was nothing more than a piece of yellow legal pad paper because that’s what I thought was a requirement of the job.

A few months into my second internship (the one that led into my first full-time job) I started to realize that coming to a job a few days a week would mean that not everything had to be done in one day. I also started working with social media at this point – when you need to “post” content on a schedule, you need a schedule to do it. My workplace ran on Google Apps, and though I had used Google Calendar before briefly, I had a hard time trying to keep track on my tasks on the calendar. And Google Calendar actually has a task function. I’m not sure what it is about the screen – but I hated planning on it.

I “graduated” to a paper planner that had blocks and numbers. All this did was move my yellow legal pad method to a schedule. I wrote to-do lists for each day, this way if a task needed to be done in the future, but not immediately, I could move it to the right day.

To do lists help keep track of tasks and can help you prioritize. Most people approach a to-do list doing the most important priority first and assigning (mental) importance to each task; finishing the most important and making the way through the to-do list throughout the work day. Any tasks that are not completed by the end of the day can simply get rolled into tomorrows to-dos.

That worked for a solid 4-5 years for me, even in the role of Project Manager. I was able to track deadlines and back-out tasks easily. I preached the system to all my co-workers too. (sorry for annoying you all.) I was an organization ninja. I felt in control of my workflow. I knew from looking at my to-do lists how much time I had in my day and it worked…. Up until the day I started freelancing.

It works for a 9-5 because during those hours of 9-5 you are 100% dedicated to your work. During those 8 hours, with the exception of short breaks, you just simply work on your to-do list.

It stopped working for me when I started working as a freelancer and making my “own” schedule. It would work if I implemented a 9-5 type “strict” regimen in my own home – but being a freelancer meant more freedom for me and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to do more with my day.

It also works when you are on a set-salary, but not when you are trying to grow a business. As a freelancer or someone who works a different schedule (like a Salesman) it’s all about maximizing time, efficiency and workload. How much business can I say yes to? I needed to know how long things were taking me and where I had the opportunities to take on new work and projects without overwhelming myself.

There was also the issue of efficiency. I may have finished everything on my to-do list, but could I be doing more? Most never stop to ask that question on a salary. As someone looking to increase their revenue and opportunities as a business, you ask that question daily. How do I grow? Prioritization can help me work on what is most important first, but time management can help me figure out what time I have and how to make time or make the most of my time.

In the Fall of 2016 I “hid” my to-do list planner layout from myself and purchased a Passion Planner, challenging myself to actually start assigning general time to my tasks. I started with tasks for AM vs. PM and around calls that I had scheduled. A few months later, I recognized the powerful impact that practicing time management with task allocation had on my workday and ability to grow

-Time management CREATED more time for me. Forcing myself to stay on somewhat of a schedule with my tasks made sure I didn’t “procrastinate” doing something I didn’t need to do. I knew how long things SHOULD take or how long to “budget” my tasks for. If I was behind schedule, it was because there were little things (like checking my phone) that were delaying me.

-I knew ahead of time which days were going to be tight and which days were going to be more relaxed. So I knew which days I could schedule errands or take a longer lunch break – and which days it made sense to maybe make my breakfast or lunch the day before. It helped me plan better so I felt less stress.

-I was aware of the promises that I could make on deadlines and when I couldn’t. This way if a project or task hit me, I knew exactly what adding that task would do to my time.

-I was able to have a more flexible day and a “different” day to keep me out of my routine and keep things fresh. If I noticed a chunk of time in the afternoon where I didn’t have anything going on, I knew I could re-arrange my day to slow down my usually rushed mornings by working on a blog post, case studies, emails or organizing while I was still waking up – and head to the gym in the afternoon. Or head to a Starbucks for a bit (I’m always productive at Starbucks).

-I stopped procrastinating. This was huge. With prioritization if you don’t get to a task you roll it over to the next day. Or if you can’t finish the task in the allotted time left in the day, it got pushed to the next day. But you might get to the point (like I did) where you would never finish your to-do list. With managed time, I look at the time slots for the next day. When can I fit it in? If I do fit it in, am I tightening the time on my day? It helps me make a more educated decision about whether I should finish something today or let it be that one task that puts the rush on my next day.

-I can space things out. I plan to work at the pace in which I am most productive and do my best work. Without really assigning time, I had no sense of the pace of my work. It was dictated while I was working, where with time management it can be dictated before you work and therefore can be controlled.

I can still make a case for to-do lists. And I still have a place in my planner for them. (Passion Planner does that for me). But it’s a time filler and a radar for me. I make sure I “pull” from my to-do lists so I don’t lose track of things I still want to accomplish but don’t necessary take priority over other work. If I see chunks of time where I am able to pull them into the calendar – I pull from my to-do list so I am still maximizing time and productivity.

Though my situation won’t be the same for everyone, if you see the benefits of better time management having significant impact to your stress or productivity, I would recommend slowly working toward scheduling of tasks!