The Simple Formula of Time Management

Do you have time management challenges? Do you read a lot about time management, but don’t make much progress?

If you answer yes to those questions, you’re not alone. I was exactly at the same point until I came up with my own system.

Time Management Is a Complex Problem

We treat time management as a simple problem. It isn’t. It’s a combination of several problems. Let’s divide time management into two problems. Then, we’re going to divide each problem into smaller parts.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

If you have a time management problem, you either have a planning problem, a willpower problem, or both. Don’t worry if you have both. I’ve been there as well.

Now that we have the formula, we can work on each component separately. In this post, I’m going to discuss the first two parts of the planning component. I’m going to discuss the third part of planning and willpower in future posts.

Divide and Conquer

Dividing a complex problem into smaller problems and solving each part separately is called divide and conquer. It’s an effective problem-solving method.

Solving its small parts separately is much easier than aiming at the big problem. When you solve the small parts, the big problem is solved automatically. Let’s start with the planning part.

Planning

I’m going to divide the planning problem into three parts.

Planning = Analysis + Prioritization + Scheduling

In this post, I’m going to discuss the analysis and prioritization parts. I’m going to discuss the scheduling part in future posts.

Analysis

The analysis part involves dividing a big project into smaller tasks. You can consider your life as one big project and divide it into life areas.

  • Family
  • Work
  • Finances
  • Social Life
  • And so on…

The list above is to give you an idea. Everybody has a different list. Some people have a few items on their lists, others a lot.

I’m not here to tell you how to divide your life into its components. It’s a decision you have to make. But I recommend dividing your life into areas and focusing on each area separately.

Divide Each Life Area into Projects

Once you have the main areas of your life, it’s time to divide them into projects. For example, your job might involve more than one project. Again, work on those projects separately.

Now, go over each project and break it down into tasks. Some of those tasks will be one-off tasks. Others will be repeating tasks.

Ideally, you should divide each project to a point where you can complete a task in a single sitting.

That’s a Lot of Work!

I can hear you screaming “that’s a lot of work!” Yes, it is! But you don’t have to do all of it in a single sitting. Moreover, you don’t have to go into detail for each area, for each project, or for each task.

Simply focus on the most urgent and important areas, projects, and tasks. That already involves some prioritization.

If you can’t divide a life area, project, or task to the point of single sitting activities, you won’t be able to schedule them in a specific timeslot on a given day.

If you can’t schedule a task, you won’t be able to complete it. As a result, your time management challenges will perpetuate.

What gets scheduled, gets done.

Which Tool Should I Use?

There are a lot of planning, scheduling, and to-do list tools out there. For the analysis part, keep things simple. Use MS Word.

MS Word has some less known features that make it more than enough to do an analysis like this.

  • Use heading styles to divide your plan into its parts.
  • Collapse and expand headings to focus on the sections you’re working.
  • Use the navigation pane to have an overview of the headings.
  • Use bullet points to jot down tasks.
  • Insert page breaks between life areas and projects if necessary.

In the navigation pane, you can use the following functionalities.

  • Click on a heading for quick access to it in the text editor.
  • Drag and drop headings.
  • Promote or demote headings.
  • Add a new heading or subheading.
  • Expand or collapse a heading or a subheading.
  • Adjust the level of headings to be shown.
  • Adjust the width of the navigation pane.
  • Move the navigation pane.

MS Word Life Plan Template

Adjust the Width of the Navigation Pane

The overview of your planning is as important as the details of it. For that reason, you can increase the size of the navigation page up to 50% of the screen.

Move the Navigation Pane

I prefer the working space to be on the left and the navigation space to be on the right of the screen. You can move the navigation pane if you want to try a different setting than the default one.

Prioritization

This step is a critical part of scheduling. Which tasks are more important than others in your analysis? Which tasks are less important?

In a previous post, I explained the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a method to categorize tasks. It has two dimensions, importance and urgency.

Prioritization means categorizing your tasks according to their importance. The Eisenhower Matrix has two categories in the importance dimension, important and not important.

The ABCDE Method

Today, I want to introduce the ABCDE method. As the name suggests, the ABCDE method has five categories. Each letter stands for a category.

  • A. Critical task. Serious implications if not addressed timely.
  • B. Important task. This task has significant benefits in the long run.
  • C. Nice to do.
  • D. Delegate. Someone else can do this cheaper, faster, better than you.
  • E. Eliminate. No benefits. Even harmful.

Now, you have to go over your plan and assign a letter to each task.

Resources

I first read about the ABCDE method from the book Focal Point by Brian Tracy. I came across the Eisenhower Matrix for the first time in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

The ABCDE method focuses on the prioritization of tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix also branches out into scheduling with the urgency dimension.

Delegate

Don’t underestimate the letter D. It is the most avoided letter in this system. There are two counterarguments against delegation.

  1. Lack of money
  2. Lack of trust

Lack of Money

In some cases, lack of money is a legitimate argument, but not always. Think about it from another perspective.

  • What’s your hourly rate, your hourly income?
  • What’s the hourly rate of the person that you’re going to delegate the task at hand?

If your hourly rate is higher than the person you’re going to hire, then it’s only logical to delegate.

Moreover, some people complete a task faster and better than you. There’s a person who helps me with household once a week. They complete the task in half the time that I do. They do a much better job than me. I’m grateful for their work.

Lack of Trust

Some people want to do everything themselves. You can’t scale your life and business by doing everything yourself.

As I explained in the post, A Buddhist Monk’s Take on Business, employees are one of the four stakeholders of a business. If you want to get to the next level in your life and business, you have to start delegating some tasks.

If you have a difficult time trusting others, start slowly. Start delegating small tasks to freelancers.

Come up with clear requirements in advance and verify the work against those requirements. Once you build trust with your freelancers, you can increase the amount of work you delegate.

Conclusion

Time management is a complex problem. It can be divided into two parts, planning and willpower. Planning can be broken down into analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.

In the analysis part, we come up with an overview of all the areas of our lives. Then we divide each area into projects, tasks, and action items. In prioritization, we assign different priorities to each task.

Delegation is a critical yet avoided part of time management. If you avoid it because of lack of money, compare your hourly rate with the hourly rate of a freelancer.

If you avoid delegation because of lack of trust, you can build trust by delegating small tasks and following up on them.

Stay tuned for my posts on scheduling and willpower. They are also critical parts of time management.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.