Having a well-prioritized to-do list doesn't guarantee that you'll actually accomplish any or all of the items on your list. Think of your day as a road trip and your to-do list as a map. A map will show you how to get to your destination, but it won't factor in unknown hindrances like traffic, roadwork or car trouble. Likewise, a to-do list, as helpful as it is, won't help you through the day if you are unprepared for the unforeseen.
Don't assume that the items on your to-do list are the only things that will come up during the day. You will likely face unexpected requests and tasks. If you don't make time for those little surprises, you probably won't be able to accommodate all of the important things on your list, either. So, when you're writing your daily to-do list, don't forget to factor in these time thieves. Of course, you must leave in enough time to accomplish your top-priority items, but don't over-commit your day. Whether it takes shortening your priority list, or purposely adding in an extra hour for unplanned emergencies or distractions, make sure your schedule has some built-in contingency time.
While you should make time for the unexpected, try not to allow yourself to be distracted by every new e-mail or phone call. To deal with small but immediate time consumers, you should consider taking the following steps when you're able to:
- Learn to say "no." If you have too much on your plate already, taking on more will only put you further behind.
- Don't be overly accessible. Make sure your work, personal, family and social time are well-defined, and make others aware of when it is and isn't acceptable to contact you with unrelated requests.
- Delegate. Often, we can pass on some of our tasks to others, but we don't.
- Give each task the time it deserves. Multitasking is a desirable trait in today's world, but sometimes not giving something enough attention the first time around means spending more time on it later on.
This covers how to deal with unexpected time wasters, but what about those you dive into willingly? If you're prone to procrastination and trivial distractions, the first two steps of time management -- prioritization and schedule adherence -- aren't going to do you much good. Keep reading to find out how to conquer one of the biggest obstacles to time management: procrastination.