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Time Management for the Busy

Busy people can get more done, but are we doing what's most important to us? Here are 3 ways to balance that to-do list with your priorities.

Most people would classify me as "busy." By that, I mean that I get a lot done in a day and am known to be reliable for getting things done when I say they will be.

But it doesn't come easy.

Those of you who are like me understand this: getting things done and building a reputation for honoring commitments takes skill.

It's a skill everyone can develop but few choose to.


I believe it is because most people don't know how to balance their to-do list with their priorities.

How does one manage the expectations at work, at home, and personally and feel like they are successful? Here are my top three ways to balance that to-do list with our priorities:

1. Identify and rank your priorities in order of importance.

  • Most of us allow the demands and priorities of others to determine what we do in a day. I believe this is because most of us have never thought about identifying our own priorities in a concrete manner.

  • When we list out our priorities, including things like taking care of our personal health, participating in our marriages and parenting, and building fullness into our lives with hobbies and fun in addition to the work we do, we get a clear picture of what is most important to us.

  • Ranking those priorities in order of importance helps us to make to-do lists that fulfill every part of us, not just parts, therefore making us more balanced.

To Do: Make a list of the areas of priority in your life and rank them from most to least important.

2. Say "yes" and "no" strategically.

  • Too often we utter reactionary answers when someone else requests our time, talents, and skills. We most often behave this way because we are afraid of letting someone else down, feel obligated in some way, or just don't pause to think about it.

  • Being strategic in our response is what keeps us focused on our priority list. Take the time to answer these questions before answering: Will that yes take us away from one of our most important priorities? Will saying no cut us off from one?

  • When you do, you build balance into your life because you are focused on maintaining your priorities and not on people pleasing, letting guilt drive you, or being reactionary.

To Do: Practice saying this phrase before giving an answer: When do you need an answer by? I need some time to check my other obligations before giving you an answer.

3. Build a routine that nourishes you rather than drains you.

  • Getting things done gives most of us a rush of adrenaline and dopamine: we are moving forward, therefore we are successful, which makes us feel good.

  • Too many actions required to make us feel this way actually drains us though and adds to our anxiety and increases our fear, especially when we don't get everything done in a day that is on our to-do list.

  • Using our list of priorities to build routine; a framework for how we move through our day, actually helps us remain balanced because it helps us focus on what's most important to us.

To-Do: Examine the current routine of your day and begin to add in things on your priority list that nourish you while removing things that don't.

Here is how all this plays out in my life:

My priorities (in order) are:

  1. My relationship with God

  2. My relationship with myself

  3. My relationship with my husband

  4. My relationships with my kids

  5. My relationship with my house

  6. My relationship with my work

When I am asked (or when I see a need) to participate in something, I first think about whether it fits my priorities list:

  • Organizing a team fundraiser does not fit my priorities.

  • Sitting with my son to watch a movie fits with my priorities.

  • Adding a project to my work fits my priorities, but I need to examine my current obligations.

  • Taking a yoga class fits with my priorities, but I need to see if it fits into my routine.

Next I go to my planner and examine my current list of responsibilities and my routine to see A) if it will fit and B) what I will need to say no to in order to make it work.

  • In the case of the work project: I determine I can make it work once another project I am working on is completed. To stay in balance I let the requester know I can only say yes if that timeline will work for them. If I must say yes, I will need to either delegate the previous task, or negotiate due dates for both projects.

  • In the case of the yoga class, I determine that in order to say yes, I will have to say no to spending time with my family. I look to see how much other family time I already have in my regular routine as well as how much self care time I have and determine if there is balance with the two. I learn that I am lacking in self-care but have an abundance of family time. To stay in balance with all my priorities I say yes.

Balancing our to-do list with our priorities is the best way I know to manage my time effectively so that my busyness nourishes my life and does not derail it.

How do you manage your time?


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