There is an old hunter’s saying that you must throw off the monkeys before you can shoot the elephants. The image behind it is a man on a mission, aiming his rifle to shoot his prize, but every time he goes to squeeze the trigger a monkey jumps down from a tree into his face, spoiling the shot.
Managing our time works in much the same way: we try desperately to fulfill the important goals in our lives but an abundance of little, time-stealing things keep cropping up and getting in the way.
Until we take control of all the little tasks and objectives, we will continually miss our goals and end up shaking our heads and muttering, “too many monkeys, too many monkeys!”
If you were to write down all the things on your to-do list right now, some of the items would be elephants. These are the things that you give top priority to, things are most important to get done. However, you will also have lots of little monkeys. These are the devious time-burglars who arrest you with “can I just grab you for a minute,” or “can you just fill this in for me” or – possibly the worst – “‘bing!’ – inbox (1).”
Here are four easy steps to take control of your time again and get. stuff. done.
Step 1. Set Achievable Goals
Write down all the things that you have to do in achievable language. ‘Clean the whole house,’ or ‘land that million dollar deal’ are not examples of achievable language. However, ‘vacuum the stairs’ or ‘make a followup phone call to a client’ certainly are.
Identifying and naming goals and tasks as achievable is the first step towards taking control of them.
Step 2. Break Your Day Into Workable Units
We all have different tolerances for different styles of work at different times of the day. Spend some time looking over your average workday and identify what times you’re better suited for different tasks. Then break up the day into those units and organize your work to suit them.
For example, you can be best dealing with habitual administration like emails and report writing first thing in the morning from 9 to 11am – so that’s your first unit. After you’ve had lunch and don’t feel like staring a laptop any more, you can be on the phone and having short meetings – so 12 to 3pm becomes your second unit. The latest hours of your working day are perhaps when you feel the most creative – so 3 to 6pm becomes my third unit where I focus on brainstorming and idea development.
You might break your day into more or fewer units than this. It is an important exercise though, to find what times of day work best for you to execute your various tasks. Stick religiously to them and you will be more productive!
Step 3. Rank Your Priorities
Take your list of goals and tasks from step one and give them a number from 1 to 5 (highest to lowest) to signify how important they are.
Now give them a second number (1 to 5, highest to lowest) to signify how urgent or time-sensitive they are.
Add up the scores for each item and rank them. Those with the lowest number will need the most attention as they’ll be either be the most important, most urgent or a balance of both.
You can use an app to keep track of your to-do list and add a star to your most important tasks. I personally use Wunderlist.
Step 4. Throw Off The Monkeys
Now place each task from the scored list you made in step 3 into the most suitable unit of your day, which you identified in step 2. Now get on with it and see the monkeys clear from your sights so you can aim for the goals you were put on this earth to achieve!
How do you manage your time / priorities and get stuff done?