January 28, 2016

A Stitch in Time

Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to have enough time to do everything that they want to, whereas others are always rushing from task to task, and never seem to finish anything? Is it just that the former have less to do? No, it’s much more likely that they are using their time more effectively and practicing good time management skills. Time management is not very difficult as a concept, but it’s surprisingly hard to do in practice. It requires the investment of a little time upfront to prioritise and organise yourself. But once done, you will find that with minor tweaks, your day, and indeed your week and month, fall into place in an orderly fashion, with time for everything you need to do.

You should have a reminder system to tell you of when and what you need to do including appointments and deadlines. However, we need to understand the difference between Urgent and Important so as to inform our list. ‘Urgent’ tasks demand your immediate attention, but whether you actually give them that attention may or may not matter. ‘Important’ tasks matter, and not doing them may have serious consequences for you or others. For example..

  • Answering the phone is urgent.
  • Getting regular exercise is important
  • Picking your children up from school is both urgent and important.
  • Reading funny emails or checking Facebook is neither urgent nor important.

We can see below how this simple method of categorisation will inform our list of actions and focus our energy on what is essential for us.

Keeping a to-do List

A daily list of tasks that need to be done is an essential part of action planning. Prioritise items on the list into important/not important and urgent/non-urgent. Update your list daily, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks that need to be done. Urgent or important tasks can be highlighted with an asterisk.

Advantages of using a to do list

  • Focuses your mind on important objectives
  • You are less likely to forget to do tasks
  • Writing a list helps order your thoughts
  • It helps show the bigger picture
  • It helps you decide on priorities: the most important and the most urgent
  • You are less likely to become sidetracked
  • You get the reward of ticking off your achievements
  • You feel more in control
  • You have a record of what you’ve done


Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same. Someone who works hard and is well organised but spends all their time on unimportant tasks may be efficient but not effective. To be effective, you need to decide what tasks are urgent and important and to focus on these. This is called prioritising. It’s important to list the tasks you have and to sort these in order of priority, and then to devote most time to the most important and urgent  tasks. This avoids the natural tendency to concentrate on the simple, easy tasks.

Setting Goals

Set yourself specific and clearly defined goals, and make sure that these are realistic and achievable. To do this, you first need to examine your present situation and assess what goals are important to you and what action you need to take to achieve your target.

Breaking down tasks

Break goals down into their components so that you can accomplish them one step at a time. Write these steps down, and try to be as specific as you can when you do this. Try to complete one task before you go on to the next. Reward yourself for achieving these goals to maintain your enthusiasm. Regularly review your progress towards your goals and revise plans as appropriate to take account of unforeseen changes.


Inevitably, things will not always run smoothly as you progress towards your goals. Mistakes are a crucial part of any creative process and each is a lesson leading you towards the right solution. Fear of making or admitting mistakes is a major handicap to taking effective action. Try to be aware that satisfaction comes as much from pursuing goals as from achieving them. Work at effective strategies to deal with pressure – these can vary from taking exercise, to relaxation techniques such as Yoga, to simply sharing problems with friends. Being assertive can also help here, for example, politely saying no to the demands of others when you are pushed for time. Sharing tasks and problems with others will spread the burden and will bring a fresh perspective to them.

Stay Calm and Keep Things In Perspective

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks can be very stressful. Remember that the world will probably not end if you fail to achieve your last task of the day, or leave it until tomorrow, especially if you have prioritised sensibly. Going home or getting an early night, so that you are fit for tomorrow, may be a much better option than meeting a self-imposed or external deadline that may not even matter that much.Take a moment to pause and get your life and priorities into perspective, and you may find that the view changes quite substantially!

Another way to save time, is to work from home, using a virtual office or perhaps you rather be based in the hub town of Maynooth, Kildare.

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