There are a few assumptions that I want to make right off the bat:
Before Making Commitments
The genesis of time management problems is the commitments you make to others.
Before you make another promise today, just think about all the other promises that you have already made and see if you are stretching yourself too thin.
For instance, your manager may say something like Can you take a look at this proposal by this evening and give me your comments? That particular task may take only two hours and it may seem like a request easy to fulfill.
However, if you look at all the deliverables that were due today (based on promises made yesterday or last week), this may still be a stretch on your time. If that is the case, you may need to negotiate and re-prioritize to set the right expectations on this or the other deliverables.
The Promise to Yourself
While you are stretching on your job, things are falling through the cracks in your personal life. The biggest excuse? No time.
For example: You want to read one good book a month, but a few months pass by and you have not completed a single book. The reason? Project deadlines, go-live, travel, etc.
I want to argue that the real reason is different. I believe that the biggest reason why you slip on your personal projects is that you dont really care about the promises you make to yourself. I have seen people making such promises, breaking them and justifying with statements like You know what, nobody in my position could have made it work. With so many things that were happening in the project, I didnt even have time to think about reading.
Well, if you want to find an excuse, I can guarantee you that you can find one and if you think hard, you can find a few. Unfortunately, life wont reward people with the best excuses. Results are what matters.
Knowing that a promise to yourself may not always work, why not start making promises to others and requesting their help to hold you accountable?
The Important Question
I have always believed in the importance of asking the right questions more than looking for the right answers. Every time, we have a task at hand, the most important question is How can I get this done? and we scramble to find the answers.
I think the question is wrong. The right question should be What is the right configuration of all my resources to execute this task in the most optimal fashion?
In the first question, there is an inherent temptation to find an answer that involves you as the doer of the task. In the second question, you are opening up for help from resources other than yourself. There is a world of difference in the two questions and, of course, in the answers.
If there is one keyword in your mind, that word should be leverage. There are enough resources out there that can help you make your work and life easier. What is common among all these resources is that you need to invest first before you get a return.
It seems logical but its hard to put into practice. Invest in resources (i.e., relationships) for the long haul and keep configuring these resources for projects with a win-win approach to get the highest leverage.
Building Future Capacity
As you progress in your career, your job responsibilities will change and you will need new skills to excel in your roles. While you are very busy with sharpening your skills that are required to flawlessly execute on your current job, it is extremely important to carve out time to acquire the necessary skills required for your future roles. In essence, you need to invest in building your future capacity.
In summary, rather than trying to check off more items on your To Do list, start thinking about getting higher leverage from every hour of your life.
Rajesh Setty is the chairman of CIGNEX Technologies, an open source consulting services and software solutions company, which he co-founded in late 2000. Settys latest book is "Beyond Code: Learn to Distinguish Yourself in 9 Simple Steps!" (Select Books - 2005). Setty speaks and writes frequently on topics that include entrepreneurship, leadership and open source.