You know all those fabulously wealthy gurus who are out pushing time management seminars, books, agendas, and other devices ... it is all bullpucky to raise money from people who are overwhelmed with trivialities, or in corporate-speak, administrivia.
So let us examine the actual underpinning of time management.
The prime directive. Researchers have found that our decisions are made in the subconscious and that we use our consciousness to rationalize these decisions so they can appear to make sense to ourselves and can be explained to others.
If you are reluctant to do something, it can take the form of procrastination, mostly by diverting our attention to less troubling subject matter.
The first rule of time management is to know what it is that you want and to learn to say "NO" to those things that are unhealthy, unwise, or counterproductive.
The second rule of time management is to know the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is knowing what task to perform that advances your agenda or produces the desired result. Efficiency is knowing how to perform that task well using minimal resources, be they time, energy, effort, money, or physical objects.
To further explain this difference, let us consider the world's best rower. A powerful individual with well-developed muscles and coordination. There is little or no wasted effort in his stroke, so each movement of the oars moves them forward with minimal effort. This is effectiveness. Unfortunately, if our super-efficient rower is rowing on the wrong river, they will never reach their intended objective. So a less efficient rower can win the race and grab the gold.
The third rule of time management is prioritization. You can not do it all. And, in corporate-land, the more you do, the more you will be rewarded with additional tasks -- especially from management and co-workers who found that they can reliably exploit your capacity for work.
Therefore, you need to decide what is important and what can be deferred. This is difficult decision-making time. Do you visit your wife's family with full and focused attention or do you work on a report for your boss who is going on vacation and wants to soothe their anxiety before leaving Not quite the proverbial rock and a hard place, but close enough for significant discomfort. It is up to you and your subconscious to prioritize your life and tasks.
The fourth rule of time management is that you only need a three-by-five index card as a reminder of your top prioritized tasks. Nothing fancy and nothing that requires batteries.
The fifth rule of time management is a notebook. Okay, you cam spend as much as you want to get one that is leather bound and demanding of a $300 pen as a companion. (Family, friends, and colleagues give me grief because I have a collection of fancy, and expensive, fountain pens that make me feel good when I write.)
You place all of your scheduled activities, reminders, and other notes in the notebook AND YOU FORGET THEM until it is time to review them for re-prioritization. Incidentally, researchers tell us that this is an excellent way to prepare for bed and to fall asleep with a clear mind.
The sixth rule of time management involves dealing with other people. I have a folder for each person I interact with in my bottom desk drawer. As I go about my activities, I write notes in my notebook or drop notes into each folder. Except for real emergencies, instead of stopping what I am doing to email, text, IM, or phone an individual, I accumulate "stuff" to be discussed at our next meeting.
The seventh rule of time management involves meetings. Every meeting must have a purpose, an agenda, a list of preliminary questions or requests for information, a time limit, and a list of follow-up action steps and who is responsible for each phase of the assigned tasks. If the meeting turns into a bull session, I leave. Not so easy if your boss or other high-ranking official is present -- but doable. The key words are: "I have an important task, and if there is nothing else we need to discuss, I am jetting." Informal, but extremely important in managing your time.
Yes, there are other tricks and techniques, but they are more motivational than not. And if you are wondering how well this stuff works, one of my colleagues gave me his expensive leather planner -- because he never used it during the year after the expensive time management seminar. He refused to give me the expensive pen.
For those who want to see a funny example of anal time management, I suggest you watch the 1990 film Taking Care of Business starring James Belushi and Charles Grodin. Funny and oh so true.
Remember the arrow of time only goes one way, and you cannot recapture yesterday.