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Time Management

“Eating the Elephant not Stomping on Ants”

Imagine that you are hungry, possibly starving and the only two food sources available are Elephants and Ants! Which is going to satisfy your hunger most? (Putting aside – just for a moment – all thoughts on protective species, animal cruelty etc.)

Answer: An elephant, since you'd need to capture a large number of ants to satisfy your hunger!
Now think of that scarce source called time. Many of us “are starved” of time, yet we can be very busy being ineffective. So how can we be more effective? After all, we cannot create more than 24 hours in one day!

Step 1. Good time management starts with asking yourself:

  • “What am I here for?”
  • “What is the biggest contribution I can make to the organisation?” or
  • “For what do they value me?” 

Once you can answer these questions, you can identify how to improve your effectiveness. Effectiveness starts with making sure you focus your time doing the right thing, not just doing things right. You need clear goals and objectives.

You should be spending your time on things that help you achieve your goals – what we will term important things. These are your Elephants. The other things that demand attention and often “eat” into our time are the ants and these are unimportant, trivial items. 

Step 2.  Next, you need to recognise the difference between importance and urgency.

Just because something is urgent, does not necessarily mean it is important. This means you can analyse your time into four categories:

  • Important/Urgent
  • Not Important/Urgent
  • Important/Not Urgent
  • Important/Not Urgent

Consider keeping a diary for a week to track where you are spending your time.

Step 3. Ask yourself what percentage of your day you spend on important and urgent matters.

Hopefully it's less than 50%, since this is the stress zone.  Spend too much of your time in this zone and you'll be heading for a heart attack!

Step 4. Eat the elephant – one chunk at a time – with suitable time for digestion!

The most effective managers spend the majority of their time on important but not urgent matters. However, recognise that if it is a large important matter, you may need to divide it up into easily digestible chunks.

Step 5. So, what can you do about the ants?

If it is urgent but unimportant – do it now, but limit the time you spend on it (possibly set yourself a limit and stick to it).

As for the non-urgent ants – try ant killer or even pest control!

© Birch Consulting Group