Time Management: Handling Multiple Priorities

One of the many decisions we have to make on a day-to-day basis is how to manage our time. If we are team leaders or project managers, the decision can become quite complex because we are also managing others’ times as well as the project’s time.

Checklists are often inferior for time management purposes. As Peter Bregman writes in his Harvard Business Review blog, “for many of us, our to-do list has become more of a guilt list: an inventory of everything we want to do, plan to do, really should do, but never get to. It’s more like an I’m-never-going-to-get-to-it list.”

So if a checklist is more useful as your inventory, perhaps a grid can help you quickly make your decisions on how to allocate your time:

Now, this isn’t anything new or innovative, (sometimes it has been called the Eisenhower Method), but this grid can provide a simplified way to make decisions about how you spend your time on any given day or week.

The Grid in Action

  • Take a piece of paper draw a horizontal and vertical line, giving you four quadrants. As you add items to your to-do lists, gather them in this format instead of one long never-ending checklist.
  • Use the grid to create a predictable workflow. For example, spend your mornings on important, urgent tasks. Or complete urgent, not important tasks while waiting for other attendees to join your conference call or to kill time between two back-to-back meetings.
  • Use this grid to keep yourself from burning out. If you are having a particularly stressful week, set your goals on accomplishing just the items in the upper two quadrants.
  • Use it for strategic procrastination. You now no longer have to feel bad about putting off the not important, not urgent items until tomorrow, next week… or next month.
  • This grid can provide a common language for communicating with your team. You can name each of the quadrants, for example, and everyone will be on the same page about the priority of an assignment.

    Eva Rykrsmith

    Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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