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Three Tips to Effective Time Management: Categorize Your Activities

Time management. The two words get us caught up in excitement! You, too?

Okay, feeling punchy here on a Thursday.

The key to time management is that we can always learn something new, right? Although some people are better at it than others, we can always strive to streamline our work in order to be more productive.

According to a post by Elizabeth Grace Saunders on Harvard Business Review, we should approach a task by categorizing it into an investment, neutral or optimize activity.

Investment activities are essentially items with a focus on amped up time and higher quality of work. Efforts can lead to a huge payoff. She writes in her post, “For instance, strategic planning is an investment activity; so is spending time, device-free, with the people you love. Aim for A-level work in these areas.”

Neutral activities need to get done so devoting additional time and energy doesn’t equate to a bigger payoff. So, maybe you need to attend a meeting. Sure, it needs to happen but she says you can “aim for B-level work.”

Lastly, optimize activities are slated for additional time which doesn’t add any value and also prevents you from doing other work that’s more valuable. Her advice? “Aim for C-level work in these — the faster you get them done, the better. Submitting your timesheet and expense report falls into this category.

As you determine which tasks on your busy calendar fall into the appropriate bucket, you can minimize the time spent on optimize activities and pour the bulk of your time into investment ones instead.

She adds in the post, “I’ve found that this technique allows you to overcome perfectionist tendencies and invest in more of what actually matters so you can increase your effectiveness personally and professionally.”

Okay, as for the quick tips:

1. Define the most important investment activities at the start of each week. Block out time on your calendar and literally schedule it early in the week and early in the day.

2. Identify if the activities are an “I,” “N,” or “O.” Allocate your time accordingly based on each category. She suggests four hours for the “I,” three for “N” tasks and one hour for the “O.”

3. Determine as you’re working if you need to recategorize. Self-awareness is critical to this step. Let’s say you’re working on something and it’s taking longer than anticipated. Simply stop and ask yourself what’s the value and/or opportunity in continuing to work on it.

She writes, “If it’s an I activity and the value is high, keep at it and take time away from your N and O activities. If it falls into the N category and there’s little added value or the O category and spending more time keeps you from doing more important items, either get it done to the minimum level, delegate it, or stop and finish it later when you have more spare time.”

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