Ten tips to help manage your time and set priorities

Every spring I plant several tomato plants. By mid-summer, they are sprawling 8-foot giants. Even though I know pruning produces the best crop, I hate to do it. Theoretically, each tiny white blossom on each branch is a potential tomato. The bigger the plant, the better, right?

Unfortunately, no. They just don’t have the necessary resources to turn each blossom into a prize specimen. In order to produce the firmest, juiciest, tastiest tomatoes, I have to choose quality over quantity by aggressively pruning stems so the plant can direct its limited resources into producing fewer, but better tomatoes.
What do tomato plants and busy CEOs have in common? Like tomato plants, they also tend to spread their own limited resources too thinly through overcommitment.

How are some tips and techniques to help you prune your commitments and optimize use of your valuable time:

1.  Use the Stephen Covey quadrant — It forces you to recognize the difference between urgency and importance.

2.  Use the Rule of Five — Make a list of all your commitments and list them in order of importance. Focus on only the top five. You may add another priority only when a previous one is completed.

3.  Schedule planning time — David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” recommends reviewing your lists as often as necessary to determine what to do next.

4.  Do a meeting audit — Evaluate all scheduled meetings. Attend only those that support your highest priorities.

5.  Hire a great assistant.

6.  Plan for the unplanned every day — Instead of planning every minute of your day, allow an hour in your schedule for the inevitable unplanned occurrences.

7.  Use Cheryl’s “closet rule” — To avoid an overcrowded closet, whenever I buy a new piece of clothing, I force myself to get rid of an old one. Managing priorities is similar; for every new priority or commitment you make, delegate or eliminate another one.

8.  Schedule time for focused work — Block out 90 minutes on your calendar when your energy and creativity is high for your most demanding work.

9.  Only read your email at specific times, not as it arrives.

10.  Plan for some downtime — Your brain requires adequate downtime. Research shows that mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.

Tomato “suckers,” or side shoots, are sprouts that grow in a space between a stem and a branch. If left to grow, each becomes another large stem with branches, flowers, fruit and more suckers of their own, continuously stretching the finite resources of the plant. Prune your “priority suckers” early by saying “No” to all but your most important requests. You will be rewarded with increased focus and a welcome sense of accomplishment.

Cheryl B. McMillan is the Chair, Northeast Ohio, at Vistage International