First Things First

May 2017, Do you know that feeling? When you’re looking at your to-do list, trying to decide where to start. Your eye catches a specific item, but you don’t really feel like doing that one right now. You decide there’s still plenty of time to do it later and put it aside. Besides, there are several urgent items on the list which can be completed much more efficiently. So you decide to complete these first.

The next day, you still haven’t gotten around to it. Things simply didn’t go the way you planned them. Luckily, there’s still time. But then again… there are still a few urgent tasks that take priority. And before you know it, a whole week has gone by. And the item is still on your to-do list.

These tasks are often put on the backburner because they make you feel uncomfortable. Or because they force you to really think about a difficult problem, to which you might not know the answer. But by now, the original task has snowballed into a much bigger one. What’s worse, it’s going to require even more effort.

So, what happened? You probably didn’t set the right priorities, but where did it go wrong? Just know this: it wasn’t your fault. You were probably just adhering to one of the many different time management structures that are out there.

Picture of todo list

But what do these methods actually teach you? Most of them help you to set goals for yourself and establish long-term achievements. Once that’s done, you can start defining smaller steps, metrics, or KPIs which you can keep track off in a dashboard or similar tool. In turn, these tools help you to evaluate your progress and help you set short-term priorities.

At Coolblue we employ a time management tool called Remember the Milk (RTM) a training that is taught at the Coolblue University (our in-house academy). But there are plenty of other helpful books and techniques. Like Getting Things Done, by David Allen; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey; and Busy, by Tony Crabbe.

Do these strategies actually help you to finish your work in time? Well, only partly. They advise you to take multiple steps in order to structure your assignments, which looks great on paper… but adds more items to your to-do list. Nevertheless, these steps do help with cleaning up irrelevant/obsolete tasks. While these techniques can be useful, I believe that 1 important aspect is often overlooked. The most difficult part of time management: discipline.

By optimally utilizing the available hours for each available day you automatically become more effective at achieving your goals. But with so many distractions, like e-mail, interesting colleagues, and smartphones, this is far from easy. Then how we deal with these issues? Let me share 2 of my favorite tips with you. First, you can eliminate multiple distractions by simply turning them off. Like Hangouts, Slack, or Skype. If this isn’t possible, try to schedule dedicated time slots for them. Checking your inbox, for example. Do you really need to immediately read all incoming mail? Probably not. For most jobs, reading your e-mail twice a day is sufficient.

For my second tip, if you’re really busy and don’t feel like doing any of the things mentioned above, always start with your least favorite task. This is usually the item on your to-do that gets completed last. Don’t think about it, just do it. Trust me, it’ll make your life much easier. Why? Because completing this task will make you feel good about yourself. You’ll have more energy, which allows you to get more work done. Postponing it will only make things worse; both in your mind and in real life.

Plus, there’s an added bonus to this approach. People tend to postpone things they don’t like. Especially when these things take them out of their comfort zone or greatly affect their long-term goals. However, if you make sure to start out with your least favorite tasks, chances are that you’re making good progress on your priorities and feel good about completing them. You should try it sometime.

Hope this helps!

Anneke Keller

Picture of Anneke Keller