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Time Management

Chapter 18: Time Management

Tools for Personal Growth

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is time management?

Time management is an endless series of decisions that gradually change the shape of your life. Inappropriate decisions produce frustration, low self-esteem and increased stress. They can result in the following symptoms of poor time management:

  • Procrastination; deadlines constantly being missed
  • Chronic vacillation between unpleasant alternatives
  • Fatigue or listlessness; many hours of unproductive activity
  • Rushing from one project to the other; no satisfied feelings of accomplishment
  • Insufficient time for rest or personal relationships
  • The sense of being overwhelmed by demands and details; doing what you have to do instead of what you want to do most of the time
The methods of time management can be learned by realizing that:
  • You can establish priorities that highlight your most important goals, allowing you to base your decisions on what is important to you and what is not.
  • You can create time by realistic scheduling and by the elimination of low priority tasks.
  • You can learn to make basic decisions.

Take a time inventory

How do you spend your time?

  • An easy way to find out is to use the Time Inventory Chart which you can download from this site. At the end of each day write down the time spent on each of your activities. The total amount of time for all activities should equal the total number of hours you were awake.

  • Keep this time inventory for seven days. At the end of seven days, note the total amount of time spent in each of the categories.
Set goals for yourself

Using your Time Inventory (which form you can download), compare your current use of time to your achievement of goals.


First: Imagine yourself as very old and aware that your days are numbered.

  • What had you hoped to accomplish in your life?
  • What makes you most proud?
  • What is your biggest regret?
Put down anything that comes to mind. Don't think about it or analyze it if something occurs to you, write it down. Use this list for your long-range goals.

Second: make a list of one year goals, those that stand a reasonable chance of being accomplished within the next twelve months. Use this list as your medium range goals.

Third:  put down your goals for the coming month, including work priorities, personal growth, recreational activities, etc. Use this list as your short range goals.

Fourth: You have created three lists of goals: long, medium and short range. Prioritize each list by deciding the top, middle, and low priority items:
  • Top priority: those items ranked most essential to you.
  • Middle priority: those items that could be put off for awhile, but are still important to you.
  • Low priority: those items that could be put off indefinitely with no harm done.

Once you have prioritized your lists, choose four top priority items from each list. You will have twelve top priority items representing your current goals.

Time Management Goal Planner 

Lifetime Goals (long range)





One year goals (medium range)





One month goals (short range)





Pick two top priority goals from each of the above categories. Enter them here. These are the goals you will begin to work on now.







These six top priority goals should occupy your time for one month. Next month make a new list. Some goals will remain top priority, others will drop off. The goals will always be accompanied by a list of specific, easy to accomplish steps. Set aside a certain time period each day to work on your top priority goals. Emphasize results rather than activity. Try to accomplish one step toward your goals each day, no matter how small.

Use “to do” lists
If you find it hard to keep focused on top priority items, you will need a daily “to do” list. Use the My Daily Planner which you can download from here.  The “to do” list includes everything you would like to accomplish in one day. Each item is rated top, middle, or low priority. If you find yourself doing a low priority item with some of the top priority items unfinished, you can be almost certain that you are wasting your time.


Work your way down from the top items. Only when they are completed should you work on the middle priority tasks. Only when everything else is done should you work on the low priority items. You will find that it is often acceptable to ignore the low priority items.


It can be easy to let top priority goals slip to the back of your mind and say, “Not today. I'll get to it later.” One solution to this tendency is to make signs describing your six top priority goals and post them conspicuously around your house, office, or car. You will be reminded of your priorities often.

Remember to cross each item off from My Daily Planner as it is accomplished.

Make time for yourself
Study each of the following rules for making time:
  • Learn to say “No.” Keep away from commitments that force you to spend time on low priority items. Be prepared to say, “I can't do this now.”
  • Banish low priority items unless you have completed all higher priority items for the day. The definition of low priority items is “they can wait.”
  • Build time into your schedule for interruptions, unforeseen problems, unscheduled events, etc. You can avoid rushing by making reasonable time estimates for activities, then adding on a little extra time for the inevitable crises.
  • Set aside several periods each day for quiet time. Arrange to be interrupted only in an emergency.
  • Focus on deep relaxation using any of the techniques you have found useful.
  • Keep a list of short, five-minute tasks to do whenever you are forced to wait or are “between things.”
  • Learn to do two things at once: organize an important letter in your mind while driving to work, or plan dinner while vacuuming.
  • Delegate low priority tasks.
  • Get up 30 minutes or an hour earlier each day.
  • Television is a huge time waster. If you watch, make an agreement with yourself to write a one sentence summary of each commercial.
  • Cut off nonproductive activities as soon as possible, e.g., socializing on the phone when top priority items are begging to be done.
  • Throw away all the mail you possibly can. Scan it once and toss it or file it.
  • Stop perfectionism. Just get it done. Everyone makes mistakes.
When you have a top priority item to do, block off your escape routes:
  • schedule daydreaming for a later time
  • stop socializing
  • put away the books and the newspaper
  • put away tiny, unimportant tasks
  • don't run out for ice cream or other sudden indulgences
  • forget errands or sudden bursts of house cleaning

Make a decision to not procrastinate

Every minute of your life you are making decisions. Even if you decide not to decide, it is a decision. If you let yourself daydream for five minutes, that is a decision.


The important choices in life are usually composed of one or two early, original decisions, and hundreds of little decisions thereafter. For example, you might have decided early in life never to suffer embarrassment. That decision could be supported by choices to procrastinate or relinquish any task in which you might fail or look foolish.  


Many people have great difficulty in making any decision. This can be because they were blamed and criticized for choices they made as children. They decided very early to leave the decision making to others. The problem is that other people don't know exactly what you want or need, and they usually aren't worrying much about it. Even though the early decision not to decide made sense at the time, it becomes a liability as you develop into a helpless adult. Tracing back to the point of that initial decision can be the first step in remaking it.


Awareness can help you recognize that poor decision at work in your life every day, and you can begin to discard it Here is a list of earlier decisions that may lie behind your current choice to procrastinate:
  • Not to suffer more than a minimum amount of pain.
  • Not to ever become really tired or work too hard.
  • For everything to be easy.
  • Nothing should be easy, but should be earned with hard work.
  • Never to hurt anybody.
  • Never to feel guilty, angry, or competitive.
  • To be punished for having pleasure or fun.
  • To be liked and accepted by everybody.
  • Always to be taken care of.
  • Always to “look good”

How do you overcome Procrastination?

Here are some specific ways to overcome procrastination:
  • Know what you want to do, and realize that you will pay later for not acting now.
  • Recognize the unpleasantness. Any correct decision is often a little more difficult than an incorrect one, or making no decision at all. Face the prospect of how unpleasant the right decision may be. Examine the greater unpleasantness of putting it off or doing it the easy way. Look squarely at the cost and risks of delay. Use this information to create enthusiasm for getting something done in a time frame that will result in less overall unpleasantness.
  • Examine the real payoffs for not deciding or taking the easy way. For example, you avoid being anxious if you procrastinate. You won't call attention to yourself or have to face the possibility of failure.
  • Examine the advantages of avoiding whatever changes might follow from making a decision. You might have to face up to the difficult task of revising your self concept upward. You might have to give up your depression, or the secondary gain of attention that you get from being chronically unhappy.
  • Exaggerate your resistant behaviors. Exaggerate and intensify whatever you are doing that is putting off the decision to begin a task. If you are staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror in the morning instead of getting to work, draw it out. Really study all your pores. Go over each quadrant of your face minutely. Keep it up until you are really bored, and getting to work seems much more exciting.
  • Take responsibility for each delay. You are the one wasting your own precious time. Make a list of each procrastination or escape activity and note how long it took.
  • Decide everything now. Include in the decision when you will set aside all escapes to begin the task.
  • Prime yourself with lead-in tasks. Lead yourself into the activity gradually with a small but related task. If you have to mow the lawn, decide to go as far as filling the gas tank on the mower, then wheeling it out to the edge of the lawn.
  • Finish things, Avoid beginning a new task until you have completed every segment of your current task. The satisfaction of finishing a task is one of the greatest rewards in decision making.
  • Don't think about it. Just Do It. (Like Nike says!)
Some solutions for time wasters


Time Waster: Lack of planning
Possible Cause: Failure to see the benefit of planning Solution: Recognize that planning may take time but it saves time and effort in the long run.
Possible Cause: Action oriented Solution: Emphasize results, not activity.
Possible Cause: Success without it Solution: Recognize that success is often in spite of, not because of, methods.


Time Waster: Lack of priorities
Possible Cause: Lack of goals and objectives Solution: Write down goals and objectives. Discuss priorities with coworkers and family members.


Time Waster: Over commitment
Possible Cause: Broad interests Solution: Learn to say no.
Possible Cause: Confusion in priorities Solution: Reassess your goals
Possible Cause: Failure to set priorities Solution: Develop a personal philosophy regarding time. Relate priorities to a schedule of events.


Time Waster: Management by crisis
Possible Cause: Lack of planning Solution: Apply the same solutions as for lack of planning.
Possible Cause: Unrealistic time estimates Solution: Allow more time. Allow for interruptions.
Possible Cause: Problem oriented Solution: Be opportunity oriented
Possible Cause: Reluctance of others to break bad news. Solution: Encourage fast transmission of information as essential for timely corrective action.


Time Waster: Telephone, Cell Phone, Texting, E-mail
Possible Cause: Lack of self-discipline Solution: Screen and group calls & messages. Be brief.
Possible Cause: Desire to be informed and involved. Solution: Stay uninvolved with all but essentials. Manage by exception.


Time Waster: Meetings
Possible Cause: Fear of responsibility for decisions. Solution: Make decisions without meetings.
Possible Cause: Indecision Solution: Make decisions even when some facts are missing.
Possible Cause: Over communication Solution: Discourage unnecessary meetings. Convene only those needed.
Possible Cause: Poor leadership Solution: Use agendas. Stick to the subject. Prepare concise minutes as soon as possible.
Possible Cause: indecision Solution: Lack of confidence in the facts. Improve fact finding and validating procedures.
Possible Cause: Insistence on all the facts; paralysis by analysis Solution: Accept risks as inevitable. Decide without all facts.
Possible Cause: Fear of consequences of a mistake Solution: Delegate the right to be wrong. Use mistakes as a learning process.
Possible Cause: Lack of a rational decision-making process. Solution: Get facts, set goals, investigate alternatives and negative consequences, make the decision, then implement it.


Time Waster: Lack of delegation
Possible Cause: Fear of subordinates' inadequacy.  Solution: Train. Allow mistakes. Replace if necessary.
Possible Cause: Fear of subordinates' competence Solution: Delegate fully. Give credit. Insure corporate growth to maintain challenge.
Possible Cause: Work overload on subordinates Solution: Balance the workload. Reorder priorities.


Time Waster: Haste
Possible Cause: Impatience with detail Solution: Take time to get it right. Save the time of doing it over.
Possible Cause: Responding to the urgent Solution: Distinguish between the urgent and the important.
Possible Cause: Lack of planning ahead Solution: Take time to plan. It repays itself many times over.
Possible Cause: Attempting too much in too little time. Solution: Attempt less, delegate much more.


Time Waster: Paperwork and reading
Possible Cause: Knowledge explosion Solution: Read selectively. Learn speed reading.
Possible Cause: Computeritis Solution: Manage computer data by exception.
Possible Cause: Failure to screen Solution: Delegate reading to subordinates. Ask for summaries.


Time Waster: Routine, trivia
Possible Cause: Lack of priorities Solution: Set and concentrate on priority goals. Delegate nonessentials.
Possible Cause: Over surveillance of subordinates. Solution: Delegate; then give subordinates their right to do it their way. Look to results, not details or methods.
Possible Cause: Refusal to delegate; feeling of greater security dealing with operating detail Solution: Recognize that without delegation, it is impossible to grow. Forget perfectionism.


Time Waster: Visitors
Possible Cause: Enjoyment in socializing Solution: Do it elsewhere. Meet visitors outside work setting. Suggest lunch, if necessary or hold stand-up conferences.
Possible Cause: Inability to say no. Solution: Screen. Say no. Be unavailable. Modify the open-door policy.


Now that you have read about these time wasters, answer the following questions in your journal:
  • What time wasters prevent you from getting your work done on a typical day?
  • Identify activities this week that were ritualistic and relatively ineffective.
  • Identify tasks this week that could have been delegated.
  • What tasks did you do this week that could have been simplified?
  • What single activity or habit wastes most of your time?

Study your answers, and take the steps necessary to eliminate your time wasters.

Some ways to save time on the job
  • Write down your ideas. Do not trust your memory, however good it might be!
  • Set your priorities first thing in the morning, before any work gets underway.
  • Use your high productivity hours for your high priority projects.
  • Do not overschedule. Leave two hours of the day free from appointments.
  • Tackle time-consuming projects in stages.
  • Concentrate on one item at a time.
  • When a day's work is overtaxing, get out for lunch. Plan to have lunch with a friend or do something recreational.
  • Use your low productivity hour(s) for easy to do projects and casual reading.
  • Work on the appointment system as much as possible.
  • Carry a 3 x 5 card in your pocket to jot down ideas when you are away from your desk.
  • Carry reading material with you at all times. Use waiting time to read.
  • Use travel time to listen to or to dictate material on audio recorders. Utilize a cellphone if possible.
  • Set reasonable deadlines for yourself and others.
  • Make decisions now whenever possible. If further information is not likely to change the ultimate course of the decision, do not wait.
  • Batch items for discussion and talk at scheduled times. Do not make contact every time you have a thought or an item for discussion. Encourage others to do the same.

Get self-oriented to manage your time

Answer the following questions in your journal:
  • What is my time worth? How much do I get paid per hour? If I could save one hour a day, what would this amount to in the course of one year?
  • What is my job? What results are expected of me? Am I meeting a predetermined, definable purpose, or am I just drifting?
  • What have I been doing? At the end of a day, am I able to account for my time, or do I say to myself, “Where did the day go? I don't feel I have accomplished anything.”
  • Have I been doing the right things? Am I involved in work activities that rightfully fall under the responsibility of my subordinates? What are the five most important tasks I have to do?
  • How am I spending/investing my time? What results do I see for the time I spend on each activity? What would happen if some of these things were not done?
  • Am I goal oriented? Am I working toward quantified objectives? Have I established performance standards for myself? For my people?
  • Have I done any planning? When I arrive on the job in the morning, do I know what it is I want to accomplish during that particular day? Have I established priorities? Have I determined a hierarchy of importance?
  • Have I tried to manage, schedule, control my work and time? Is the job running me or am I running the job? Am I suffering from “brief caseitis” i.e., bringing more and more of my work home?
  • Do I delegate all possible tasks? Am I able to hand over more tasks to my coworkers or staff at work and to my spouse or children at home?
  • Does the time I spend on the job affect my lifestyle? Am I enjoying life and having fun, or am I so stressed from the pressures of poor time management on the job that the tension carries over into my everyday life?
Steps in making a time budget
The use of The Time Budget (which form you can download here) can help to organize daily and weekly activities for a more effective use of time. Complete Steps 1 through 5 in order to make maximum use of your time.


Step 1:  List in your journal the things you do during one week's time according to the following schedule:
  • Daily activities.
  • Those done at definite, stated intervals.
  • Those that you must do, but which come at unpredictable times and require unpredictable amounts of time.
  • Those you would like to do if you had the time.
  • Allow time for planning and thinking.
  • Allow time for emergencies, the unexpected.


Step 2:  Determine the time you now spend on each job or duty, the average time under normal circumstances.
  • Spot duplications of effort.
  • Determine those activities that could be delegated to a subordinate.
  • Determine those activities that could be done in less time.


Step 3:  Prepare a time table based on the above factors for each day of the week.

  • Try to fix a time of day to do each job.
  • Allow time for special and creative work.
  • Take into consideration when budgeting activities those periods in the day in which you are at a high for energy level.
  • Budget activities requiring less energy when you are at a low energy level.
  • Plan your work so that you complete similar activities in the same block of time. This eliminates excess time in setting up and orienting yourself to each new task.


Step 4:  Use the Time Budget, revising it when necessary. Make copies of this form so that you can revise it as often as you need to.


Step 5:  If you are still unable to manage your time wisely, review the material in this section, return to Step 1 and begin again.