How to Do It All – The Time Management Question

“I figure there are 24 hours in a day: 8 for family, 8 for sleep, and 8 for work,” Clint Black.

Clint Black in Concert

image credit: jvh33

When I look at problems or frustrations people (including myself) are having I try to look for the common sense or simple solution.

Too often we search for solutions to our problems by looking for complex answers.

Cory from Outdoors International asked about the problem of Time Management [from the post What are your Questions?].

Time management is something all of us can relate to. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full time parent, a kid in school, or a hunting business owner – everybody is busy doing something and managing time is a struggle as we all work to fit everything we want to accomplish or experience into our short days, weeks, years, and ultimately years.

So for a possible solution I’d like to take a common sense approach to my thinking regarding Time Management.

Priorities

The fact that we all need to prioritize our daily activities has been beaten to death into our brains our entire lives. To say the very least…prioritizing has become cliché.

But as is usually true with clichés – they’re usually true and simple fact.

Do you have a mental picture of what is most important in your life?

Does your priority list begin with your significant other, your kids, your parents, yourself, your work, or anything else?

There is no right answer for everyone, but there is a right answer for you. The trick is that only you can correctly answer the question for yourself.

Create your own priority list. It doesn’t have to be long. Try to create the list so that each of the lower priorities builds value for the priorities above it.

For example, if family is your number one priority, you are your second and work is your third, your work should provide value to you and your family. Everything you do when you work should add value to your own life and happiness, which should add value for your family.

It’s a simple concept and once you have you have an understanding of what really makes you happy it will be easier to make decisions only as they affect your top priorities.

Complete Understanding of Tasks

I’d like to go back to the Clint Black quote about time management:

“I figure there are 24 hours in a day: 8 for family, 8 for sleep, and 8 for work.”

His philosophy seems fairly simple and I think managing your time can be this simple. You just need to have an understanding of what makes for a valuable task. What I mean by “valuable task” is that you should understand how everything you do throughout the day affects your priority list and where it fits in your day and whether each task is truly valuable or not.

Side Note: Clint Black’s 8/8/8 rule is not universal. Your life may include similar priorities or completely different priorities. Your life may also require a different ratio. The point is to understand your own ratio and make sure you understand how your daily tasks affect your life and happiness.

8 Hours for Family

One memory I have from my childhood is sitting in the living room and looking out the window waiting for my Dad to come home. He was a commercial airline pilot and he often left for a trip on Sunday night and would come home later in the week – usually later on in the week.

As soon as he would come through the door I’d give him a big hug and then (as most young sons do) I’d beg him to play catch or shoot baskets or play an inside game of some kind.

I’m not sure where he got the energy, but he was always willing to put his things down, kiss my Mom hello and then spend an hour or two with me and my younger brother before we would fall asleep.

This story is a reflection of my Dad’s priority list. When I was growing up, his family was on the top of his list (it’s important to remember that priority lists will change throughout your life).

His days didn’t fit the perfect 8/8/8 ratio. However, throughout the weeks and months he would spend just as much time with his family (and sleeping) as he did with his job.

His tasks that related to my family may have included things like tossing a football around with me and my brother, cleaning up around the house, mowing the lawn, having a nice dinner with my Mom and his two boys.

The tasks for family may seem ordinary and sometimes wasteful, but I hope you understand the importance of tossing a football to your son or daughter. It’s something valuable for their lives (and hopefully yours as well).

Understand the tasks that truly add value to your family’s lives and focus on making the most of the time you have with them.

8 Hours for Sleep

There is not much to say for this period of time. We all need to sleep – some of us more than others. Lately I’ve been doing well and feeling healthy with about 6 hours a night. I’m sure this will change with time and I’ll get back to the normal 8 hours.

Spend your days getting things accomplished as they relate to your priority list and you’ll rest easy with a feeling of ease and success each night.

8 Hours for Work

For most of us work is something we do to earn a living so we can enjoy live ourselves and provide for our family. For most it is really nothing more than this. And this is fine. It might not be fulfilling as some see, but the fruits of working hard at a job so you can spend quality time away from work can be very beneficial and lead to happiness.

For some of the luckier (or more motivated) ones, a job or work is simply an extension of our passions in life. These people find fulfillment in accomplishing great things through their work and passion.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

I enjoy many things in life and a few of those include marketing, the Web, hunting, and writing.

With the job at Mason and this blog I am able to enjoy these passions. While I do consider both to be work, I also consider them to be part of the legacy I’m building for myself. I work to continuously build my knowledge of the world around me and my work encourages and challenges me to continually learn and innovate with new ideas.

Each day I look at the tasks I want to accomplish as they relate to my work and I try to make sure each is something that is adding to my (hopefully) expanding knowledge base.

Most Important First

After you have your overall Life Priority List setup, you’ll also have your daily to-do list. It doesn’t have to be written down (although it can be – I use lots of sticky notes). Mental lists work just as well.

The simple thing to remember is to always start your day with your most important tasks.

It doesn’t matter if these tasks are simply or difficult. Determine what is most important for you to accomplish today as it relates to your live priority list and focus on finishing them completely and competently.

There really is nothing more to say about it. Work on your most important tasks until they are complete each day. Clear out all distractions and you’ll find yourself getting more things done. More importantly, when you accomplish the big things on your task list, you’ll sleep better knowing you had a successful day.

For more on this concept, see Purpose to your Day: Most Important Task (MIT).

Bonus Time

Now, if you go through the process of developing a priority list of what is most important to you in your overall life as well as creating daily task lists, you will find yourself with some bonus time.

As a quick example, in high school I had a job at a local country club. I started by working in the bag room, cleaning the golf members’ clubs and eventually moved to the pro shop. A few of the club members would comment to my boss, the club pro, that I always seemed to be standing around looking for something to do. It’s a simple observation and as most of the club members were successful professionals they had a right to question my idleness. The thing was (and my boss even told this to a few of the members) was that I always tried to get daily tasks done during times when the pro shop was busy (usually early morning after the regulars teed off). I did the most important tasks thoroughly and efficiently when everyone else was busy as well. This way I had time to converse with the members and tend to their needs when they came back from their rounds.

Now, the trick I’ve tried to learn over the years is how to fill the “Bonus Time” that comes with efficient use of early day time.

When you truly get through your tasks for the day as they relate to one of the priorities on your list, you can simply move on to something that makes you happy and adds value to the aspect of another one of your priorities.

Did you get your daily work tasks done earlier in the morning than you thought? Why not surprise your kids and take them out of school for an early brunch. Or why not surprise your wife by taking her flowers.

When you finish your tasks (and you will) take some time to focus on the things that make you happy. Don’t waste it with meaningless things. Do things that truly impact your life and more importantly, the lives of your friends, family and those around you.

Understand Waste and Eliminate

Our lives sometimes seem like we’re moving from one task to the next without any time to sit and think about if what we’re doing is getting us closer to accomplishing our goals for life.

The truth is that our lives are usually full of wasted moments.

It’s sometimes tricky to understand which moments are important and which are wasteful because it’s unique for each individual including you.

A simple example from my own life was TV. I canceled my TV when I caught myself watching TV shows for no reason at all. Sure they seemingly fulfilled the entertainment aspect of my life, but now that I have canceled cable I find myself focusing on tasks more appropriate for my priorities.

Do you have waste you can eliminate?

Summary

Time management is an issue for many professionals. It’s difficult focusing on what is truly important at work as well as what is important in ourselves as well as for our families.

Create your own priority list. Develop mental or physical daily tasks starting with the most important first. Use your bonus time effectively.

You’ll find yourself sleeping better at night knowing you’ve had a fulfilling day when you are accomplishing things that meet your vision for life.

It’s a wonderful feeling when you can go to bed with a smile each night.

Side Note: I have to say that many of my recent thoughts on life and productivity come from the blog Zen Habits and Leo Babauta’s book The Power of Less.

Also: If you have a question you would like answered please use the comment section on What are Your Questions? I can’t wait to hear from you.

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Dayne Shuda

I'm a blogger and hunting enthusiast. Follow me on Twitter.