The plain truth is that we all need to work and will spend a huge chunk of our life working, and so we’re better off working smart. Working smart – being productive, efficient and effective – means that we’re going to have more time to do more of what we love, whether that’s more work or more play.
That being said, I don’t buy into the whole, almost cult-like, “work smart so you don’t have to work hard” rhetoric. Working smart is hard. It requires a lot of time spent getting to know yourself, and a good dose of tough love. On top of that, it’s something that will evolve throughout your working life. We need to be honest with ourselves each and every day – on those days you want to work less and on those you want to work more.
One of the key skills to learning how to manage your stress, workload and get to know how you like to work is figuring out time management. It is one of, if not the, most crucial part of living a productive life. It allows you to structure your time in order to fit in everything you want and need to be doing, and is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress.
When you can feel the stress tidal wave coming over you – you have 352 things floating around in your brain in no particular order, all of which are a top priority, and none of which make sense – you need to be able to know how to effectively write it all down and sort it out. Time management is a form of stress management after all.
In order to do this successfully, you need a method – how to work out what to do first, where the important things go, how to stay sane. The first rule is prioritisation. The simple truth is that if you choose not to do something, it is not a priority. That’s the first bit of tough love. Substitute saying, “I don’t have time” with “it’s not a priority”, and you’ll instantly get closer to the self-accountability needed for discipline and progress.
Something not being a priority is absolutely fine: you just need to be able to acknowledge that. This is a lot harder than it seems. Once you’ve understood that something hasn’t been a priority, the next thing you need to decide is whether you’re going to change that, or whether you’re going to accept it. Both are acceptable, and tied to where you want to be next week, next month and next year.
The Eisenhower method
If you’re struggling with working out what you should be doing, let alone when, I strongly recommend the Eisenhower method. This focuses on differentiating between “urgent” and “important” tasks on your to-do list, so you can decide whether you need to do them, and if you do, how much of a priority they are compared to other tasks.