Developing the Time Management Mindset

As I coach people on their time management skills, they often lament:

“My family is all disorganized, and I’m afraid that I will never be able to learn how to get organized.”


“I try to get organized, but I can only manage it in small bursts. Then everything falls apart.”


“The TRO system would help me a lot, I can see that. I’m just too chaotic to ever learn it.”

Anyone can get organized. There is no “time management gene.” You weren’t born disorganized, and you don’t have to live disorganized. To be an organized person, you need two things: the time management mindset and an airtight system.

The Time Management Mindset

Organized people are absolutely convinced that everything won’t fit. Choosing one activity disallows others, and they make choices based on this knowledge. The time management mindset is the ability to see the options and choose the best use of your time.

“But that’s too simple to solve my problems,” you say. Actually, it’s exactly the solution for your problems. A few examples will illustrate:

You have work tomorrow, but your friends convince you to stay out late. The next day, you’re rushed, late, tired. To get everything done, you have to work late. You curse yourself for being so disorganized.

You are required to submit a report by the 15th of each month. You set it aside with plans to do it on the 14th, a day early. But several deadlines creep up, overwhelming you in the days before the 15th. You stress out, afraid that you will be late with something or everything.


In each case you failed to 1) see the options and 2) choose the best use of your time. Stress comes after poor decisions. When you get behind, you panic and make worse decisions.

On the other hand, good time decisions lead to less stress and greater satisfaction. This is most obvious when you envision time as an investment:

TRO trainees spend time processing incoming tasks every day. They know that spending one hour to clear their email, answer voicemail, and empty their inbox will save them two or three hours. In addition, they will be more focused and less stressed.

“Clean people” know that they are happier and more productive when their environment is clean. They invest an occasional hour in regular cleaning and routinely invest 10 seconds to put things away when they are done using them.

These people don’t lose their habit of cleaning or processing. They want the benefits more than the things they are giving up, and consistency is easy.

People who exercise regularly feel happier, healthier, more energetic, and are more productive. One hour three times per week gives social, emotional, mental, and monetary benefits. No other use of three hours gives them as much of what they want, and so they exercise.

Runners run because they like the benefits. Deciding to do something “because you should” is a terrible reason. It’s much more motivating to do something because you want something. When you want the benefits more than what you gave up, you’ll follow through.

The time management mindset is all about benefits. You can develop this skill by learning to stop and ask yourself, “If I do this now, how does it benefit me?” You could also create a short list of your top five priorities and weigh all decisions against that list.

Learning to choose your greatest benefits is half of the time management mentality. Learning to see the options and trade-offs is the other half. This leads to the second requirement for being organized in general.

An Airtight System

Everyone needs a personal management system to track their options and choices. Everything goes in, and nothing should get lost. When it’s decision time, consult the system. Effective systems recommend the best options and track tasks you’ve given to others.

Your task list and calendar are the heart of your system. The calendar is a budget for your time, where one hour on the calendar represents how you’ve decided to spend that hour of your life. The task list records all tasks you might want to do, along with supporting information, deadlines, etc.

When you have to make a decision, you can easily consult your calendar or task list to see the trade-offs and make better decisions:

Your friends want you to stay out late. You check the calendar on your phone and see that staying out late will cause many problems tomorrow. You decline.

You get notice that a report is due on the 15th. Your task list shows several other deadlines on the 15th, and your calendar is packed. So you plan to do complete the report two weeks early.


You review your task list for the day and realize you have more critical tasks than you can complete, so you find team members to help you get the work done and meet all important deadlines.


Good tools help you see the trade-offs and make good decisions. It’s that simple.

Frankly, inventing a system by yourself is hard. Knowing when you’ve got it right is harder. Many people fail to organize themselves only because they cannot get their system right. Priacta created the Total, Relaxed Organization system to solve this problem for our clients

First Steps

Anyone can become permanently organized. To get started, here are a few things you can try on your own, right now

Time Management Mindset:

  • Fill out a calendar representing everything you did yesterday. Make sure every hour is accounted for. Identify the choices you made which resulted in that schedule. How did your choices affect your productivity yesterday? How did yesterday’s choices affect your productivity today?
  • Practice asking yourself, “If I do this now, how will it benefit me?”

An Airtight System:

  • Set up an Inbox on your desk. All new tasks go in the Inbox.
  • Use your calendar. Record appointments and plans to complete any tasks that will take longer than 30 minutes.
  • Call a Priacta coach at 1-888-PRIACTA for a free 15 minute consult on how to set up the best system for your situation.
Kevin Crenshaw
 

Kevin, our approachable CEO, is the creator of Total Relaxed Organization and author of NEVERBOSS: Great Leadership by Letting Go. He's a rapid turnaround advisor and Hands-Off Leadership™ coach for selected companies and leaders. He loves people, leadership, coaching, speaking, tackling tough problems, and physics, but rarely all at once.