The 4 Main Principles of Effective Time Management

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Time is one of our most valuable resources in life – you don’t want to waste it. What’s more, if you know how to manage your time better you would also be able to do more of what you love. This article gives you the 4 main principles of effective time management, as stated by me.

Time-Management 101

Managing your time is one of the most important skills you have to develop in order to live the life of your dreams. Even more so, it’s essential for having any sort of freedom or agency over your experience in this world. All around, you would want to master time management so that you could get what you want faster, have more fun while doing it and to spend more time on the things you love doing.

Effective Time Management Definition: the ability to prioritize your efforts and allocate enough time to certain tasks as to accomplish as much results as possible with the least amount of time and effort. It’s about working smarter to enhance productivity not harder to keep yourself busy.

The benefits of time management are immense:

  • Greatly increase your productivity and effectiveness
  • Feel less stress and worry
  • Control your schedule and the way you spend your time
  • Achieve more with less time
  • Have more time for fun and the things and people you love

There are many effective time management strategies and tactics that allow us seemingly to manipulate the sands of time according to our own will. The main principle is not doing more stuff but doing it better.

Principle #1
Prioritize or Be Made Posterior

The most fundamental premise of time management is prioritization – focusing on what’s most important. It all comes down to knowing what you want to accomplish and then directing the bulk of your efforts to achieving that.

Habit 3 from Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Putting First Things First. It’s about doing the activities that contribute to your greater cause in a state where you have the most resources. For me, it tends to be in the morning when I try to tackle my most important tasks of the day.

Whenever you’re in a situation where you get to choose between several action paths, then always keep your priorities in mind and run a short mental analysis. Ask: “Which of these activities contributes the most to what I want to achieve and allow me to be a greater person to myself?”

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle

In a 1954 speech, the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” That was his most fundamental principle of time management.

The distinction between important and urgent tasks:

  • Important – activities that yield outcomes that lead to us achieving our goals – the meta-pursuit
  • Urgent – activities that require our immediate attention because of the consequences being immediate – the enemy fighter jet on your radar

Think of the difference between them as the difference between having a fire in your kitchen versus making a fire in the fireplace. Urgent things force you to put out that fire ASAP but it’s still important to stoke the furnace to heat up the house.

The Eisenhower’s Principle in order of importance:

  1. Urgent and Important: DO IT NOW. This is the point where you yourself have caught on fire and need to put it off immediately – mucho importante. Crises, deadlines and other pressing problems right in your face. To handle this quadrant better, leave a bit of room for uncertainty and chaos in your schedule. Try to think of ways how to prevent problems from arising in the future as well.
  2. Important but Not Urgent: These are the activities that contribute to your meta-purpose – the goals you want to achieve. It would be best for them to be less urgent because this way you can be calmer and remain focused. This is where you want to spend the majority of your time – improving yourself, strategizing, thinking of ways how to become more effective etc.
  3. Urgent but Not Important: Most of the time, urgent tasks are urgent for someone else. This quadrant includes all of the distractions, interruptions, and meetings of other people that don’t contribute towards the achievement of our goals. Delegate them to someone else – just get them out of your kitchen.
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important: Finally, at the crux of this matrix, there lies the final quadrant, which is equally as essential as the first one. It’s not about how much important stuff you do if you still continue to do the unimportant ones. These activities include procrastination, checking social media, watching TV or any other distractions. If you value your time and want to reach your potential, then you have to ruthlessly cut these things off.
Effective Time Management - Urgent/Important
Effective Time Management – Urgent/Important

Quintessentially, this tool will already set your priorities straight and allows you to determine the tasks that are most important to you.

Principle #2
Be Efficiently Effective

There’s also a big difference between effectiveness and efficiency.

  • Being effective is about doing the right thing – i.e. your micro-focused actions leading to your macro-purpose.
  • Being efficient is about doing things right. This is pure resource management. You can be very good at putting out fires but it doesn’t mean you’re getting any closer to what you want.

Effectiveness and Efficiency can also be laid down on a 4 quadrant matrix:

Low Efficiency High Efficiency
High Effectiveness Doing the right things Doing the right things right
Low Effectiveness Doing something Doing things right

The core idea is that you have to focus on doing the right things – the things you want to accomplish – as well as possible as to save time and energy.

Once you’ve figured out your priorities, you would want to spend the majority of your efforts on the top of your list because that’s what feeds you the most.

Principle #3
The Principle of Least Effort

This principle is a universal theory which states that living organisms and complex systems are naturally inclined to choose the path of least resistance. Energy is a valuable resource because it determines the quantity as well as the quantity of your life.

And this is so true for time management and productivity. Why would you want it to be extremely hard and difficult if there’s a much easier way that doesn’t involve major suffering? There’s a lot of merit to doing things the hard way as it builds character and develops willpower. However, for your success to be sustainable, you would want to reduce turmoil.

What this premise entails is doing the least amount of things for the highest yield of return. The trick to being more productive is to learn how to get more done in less time, without sacrificing quality.

The most important questions you have to ask in here are:

  • What is the minimum I can do to achieve the maximum amount of results?
  • What is the ONE activity that would make everything else a lot easier or insignificant?
  • How much time would I save if I did X and where could I put it to greater use?
  • Which of these activities grants me the highest rate of return? But is the effort required to achieve those results worth it?
  • How can I reduce the amount of energy I exert while still maintaining the same amount of quality? Do I have to optimize my work process or improve my skills?

The Pareto’s Principle

The Principle of Least Effort can be applied to the Pareto’s Law as well.

Wilfred Pareto was an Italian economist who in his 1859 paper postulated that 80% of the effects are derived from 20% of the causes. He analyzed the distribution of land ownership in Italia and discovered that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. This pattern began to emerge in everything else as well – 80% of the car accidents are caused by 20% of the drivers, 20% of Wilfred’s peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

Pareto Principle Time Management
Pareto Principle Time Management

The 80/20 rule applies across many domains. Whether or not it always holds true doesn’t matter, as you’ll still be achieving more results. By concentrating 80% of your efforts on the 20% of possible activities, you’re optimizing your potential outcome. You can accomplish more by committing more, but eventually, you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns, after which you’re not gaining a whole lot and can actually lose.

Principle #4
Addition Through Subtraction

How come successful people are so damn productive? How on earth do they manage to achieve so much whereas others can’t even overcome their own inner feeling of resistance? Have they managed to find a way to bend time and space according to their own will? Or have they created a wormhole where time stands still?

The truth is: everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week and 12 months a year. Although time is experienced relatively, presence is always absolute and all-encompassing.

To get more done, you shouldn’t focus solely on doing more. That’s what effective time management is supposed to protect you from.

It’s not the daily increase, but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential. – Bruce Lee

The principle of deduction entails you approaching your activities VIA NEGATIVA. It’s the art of addition by subtraction in which you’re supposed to first remove the downside before attempting to increase anything.

In the context of time management, you would want to via negativa your activities like in the example of the Principle of Least Effort. Don’t pick up the newest and coolest productivity tricks and tools if you still have loopholes in the fundamentals i.e. the principles mentioned in here.

Via Negativa Time Management

Via Negativa everything else in your life as well for better time-management and greater happiness:

  • Your habits: drop all of the bad habits that are robbing you of your time or require too much investment to get a significant return. Would you be better off on your path to glory if you either stopped this one habit or replaced it with another one? Are there certain bad habits that are slowing you down? Get rid of them.
  • Your activities: stop participating in activities that don’t have an optimal balance between the time you have to invest in them and the potential gain you can get.
  • Your connections: cut off the bad relationships in your life that are dragging you down. Quit responsibilities that don’t serve you and don’t go to random events anymore.
  • Your environment: declutter your household from items or objects that are distracting you and making you spend more time getting things done i.e. if you have the tendency to light things up in your kitchen then don’t put your fire extinguisher in the basement but keep it closeby.

About Being Busy

You never want to be too busy. Being busy means you’re not in control of your time. Instead of you directing the sands of time according to your will, you’re being the one who gets smothered by them.

Don’t think that being busy means you’re being productive – the two aren’t mutually inclusive. Instead, you would have to shift your focus from the activities you’re doing to the results you’re getting. Being busy isn’t the same as being effective.

Start deducting from the point you want to reach by asking: “What can I do to make everything else that much easier?” It’s not meant to be a constant hassle or struggle. Your success cannot be achieved by sheer effort alone. You would have to direct it to the right channels as well.

Being busy also means you’re doing more rather than being more. The difference is that one is about aiming for getting specific outcomes and results, which is perfectly fine and not always a bad thing, whereas the other is about following a system of who you are as a person.

Master Your Time, Master Your Life

Time is the currency of life that’s constantly weighing down on us. Every moment we experience is already in the past and fading away. Therefore, you would never want to waste this invaluable resource. The importance of that statement is self-explanatory and profound for its own sake.

Efficiently Effective Tim Management will improve the quality of your life drastically because you’ll be able to achieve more with less time and effort. The 4 main principles mentioned here are the pillar stones to any great achievement and lay the foundation for long-term success.

If you want to master your time, then you need to be focused enough on doing the right things as well as possible. Being all over the place prevents you from getting that necessary boost needed to make the leap from good to great.

Check out my Morning Routine Course on Udemy that teaches you how to get your priorities straight and not be made posterior. It includes information on time management, productivity tips, energy optimization and other useful triggers for success.

The Empowered Morning Routine Course Siim Land
The Empowered Morning Routine Course Siim Land

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