Time is a powerful tool for your life- Part III: Prioritise and use time wisely

Key takeaways:

  • Many people are driven by emails and tasks, but they may not be important;
  • Urgent things may not be important and important things may not be urgent;
  • Think about how you may prioritise your tasks and works;
  • Then use your time accordingly.

I am a heavy calendar user. I use iCal on my Mac to organise all the things I want to do including my social activities and rest time. I wrote about ‘booking an afternoon walk with yourself‘ in last July. In a separate blog post, I also talked about why we should prioritise the important things in our lives, not the urgent things. If you missed those, then it’s a good read for you; trust me!

Work performance and productivity is all about using the same amount of time (or even less), but generate higher outputs. However, many of us are getting driven by endless emails every day, and some spend a lot of time on emails. That may cause a delusion on work prioritisation because many things, all of a sudden becomes ‘urgent’. This person asked for A and that person asked for B through emails. They all seem important and urgent, but in fact, they are just urgent and may not be important.

I book my training and paper writing slots on my calendar so I know what’s the focus of the week. Other things can wait.

Important things are those things that contribute to your work success. For me, as a university professor, important things are doing research, talk to industry partners for funding, publishing papers and teaching. Other things may help my career but they are not important; they are good to have or just helpful. If you are a sales representative, for example, then talking to clients, working with potential clients and doing paperworks regarding orders are important. Others are just helpful and can wait.

Important things may not be urgent. It takes me on average 2 months to finish preparing a paper for submission to a journal. I don’t have the luxury to work on a journal paper every day for the 2-month time; I roughly have 1.5 working days per week that I can dedicate to paper writing. So, this paper writing task for me is important but it’s often not as urgent compared with other tasks coming through emails or people knocking on my door.

It’s this ‘confusion’ between importance and urgency that makes people prioritising the ‘wrong things’ in their daily works. Urgent things may not be important and important things may not be urgent. If one focuses too much on urgent requests, then by the end of the day when he thinks back, he may not be able to recall what exactly he did or accomplish today! We always heard people saying: “I was busy today but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Time just flew quickly.”

Yes, you dealt with urgent things but not important things. That’s why.

Did you ‘mis-use’ your grit and overwork?

To make sure your career is successful and your life is a happy one, then you need to mind those important things and make sure they get done. It’s good to book yourself in your own calendar in which you ‘quarantine’ yourself from other things and focus on important ones.

Time is something that is impossible to regain once it’s gone. You can try harder to make money but you can’t do the same to time. So, make sure you know how to manage your time and how to prioritise tasks. This rule does not only work for a working career. It also works for your social and family life. Family is important to you? Then, on your calendar you should put family events first before you put other commitments. Did you do that? Many people failed to do so, although they always think family comes first. That’s why knowing is sometimes different from doing.

When was the last time that you watched your kid playing soccer? Go with your kid and enjoy some fun time. It’s worth it!

Important things should be prioritised and get your attention and time. However, it’s gonna be a boring life, if one only thinks about improving efficiency and a successful career. We all kinda ‘waste time’ here and there. The key is that important things still need to be done, or we will just have more regrets when we get older. I should have done this, I should have done that … I know, I should have but I didn’t! >_<

Dr. C. Richard Wu @ REEAConsulting.com

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