Be Ruthless And Focussed - Time Management Tips

By Nick James Smith: 

Time management can be defined as the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities.

I would suggest that it is more of a process since it is rare that a single act will suddenly revolutionise your use of time for the better. Instead, it is the disciplined enacting of a set of measures which together buy back hours for you to use. Individually each step might be small but collectively they make a detectable difference.

It is also a conscious process. Winning time does not simply happen. Instead a choice is made, and remade on a daily or hourly basis. I choose to do this instead of that. Every time you make the choice it becomes more of a habit until it finally becomes an unconscious way of working.

Finally, it is about specific activities. There will be some things that you already do well and efficiently. There are others however that you can target which to save yourself time. Some of them will be reasonably common to you and the majority of the populace. Others might be a little more specific.

Some of time management is about becoming more organised. That is discussed at length in other places. This article looks at some of the non organisational things you might want to consider.

Be ruthless

One of the best ways of gaining time is by cutting out things that you don't have to do. Whether it is the tasks that for some reason you feel you ought to accomplish or other activities that you want to do, as well as those that you know you don't want to do but still get embroiled in, you need to stop something. No-one gets more than a standard 24 hours in a day so to do more of something you need to balance it by doing less. For this you will need to be ruthless and determined, willing to take the axe to things that are less productive. Once you have decided on the best course of action, stick to it, not allowing yourself to lapse back into the easy old ways

Be motivated

In order to get started and keep working you will need to be motivated. You can wait for someone on the outside to give you a poke or provide a reward. Alternatively you can get on and push yourself to accomplish things, motivated by the satisfaction of completion, the sense of mastery that comes from doing well.

Sometimes the jobs will be hard or unpleasant and it is tempting to put them off until later. Don't. Likewise, you might want to split it into bite size chunks to lessen the pain. Don't do that either. Research shows that whilst an enjoyable job can successfully be split up to spread your enjoyment, a bad job needs to be done in one chunk, finished and forgotten.

There is also the idea of eating your frog first. Mark Twain apparently said that if you eat a frog (or do a difficult task) at the start of the day then you can rest assured that nothing else that comes your way in the remainder of your hours will be as bad as that. Getting a hard or unpleasant task out of the way first is the main premise of Brian Tracy's book 'Eat That Frog' although there many other useful ideas in it to help you accomplish more.

Another good idea is to recognise your achievements. Some people are very good at noticing what has not yet been accomplished and drag themselves down with those ponderings. If instead you can look at the ground you have already covered in pursuit of a job or task then you will be more motivated to carry on to the finish. On top of that, rewarding yourself for completing tasks serves to drive you forwards as well. Obviously this needs to be done with care because a reward and incentive strategy will lose its power over time and cannot be your sole method of motivating yourself. It is good though, to recognise your achievements in some way, to remember the positive feelings that flow from completion.

Be focussed

One of the biggest time wasters is distractions that drag you from your priorities into backwaters of inconsequentiality. Cutting these out is key for many people. In fact, Jim Collins suggests that instead of a to-do list you should first write a stop-doing list for all the things you want to actively excise.

Another suggestion is to have a calm hour in a day, or even a calm time in a week, when you deliberately and consciously ignore the distractions in order to focus on the important things. I know of people who have booked a meeting room and then left their phone and laptop on their desk. Other people will choose to get outside where the abundance of nature seems to help us focus rather than the opposite. Write it in your diary and then keep to it, no questions asked. Once you start ignoring it or even rescheduling it (for when you have more time!) then its power is gone. To start with at work, people might still interrupt you but once you have politely told them to go away on a few occasions they will get the message. Once they see the benefits you reap that filter through to them too - you'll be easier to work with or for - then they will find it easier to recognise and respect and the distractions will lessen. Insulate and isolate yourself and the calm will become very productive.

Learn to say 'no' to other people's distractions or urgencies. Alternatively if you feel that this is too harsh then try saying 'not yet' and diverting them to a better time to approach you or suggest a better person they could talk to. This comes back a little to the idea of being ruthless.

Of course chief amongst the distractions are the phone call and the email. However, voicemail will allow you to not miss the messages and emails will always be waiting for you. Check for messages less regularly than you currently do. Whilst this will result in a greater number of unread or unheard items, it will also allow you to deal with them as a chunk rather than piecemeal.

A suggestion from Emma Donaldson-Feilder, an occupational psychologist, is to use the 4Ds method with emails. Around 50% of them can simply be deleted. Then you should Do the urgent or quick items, Delegate as many as possible by forwarding them to someone else and then Defer the remainder to a later time when you will action them all en masse.

Spending larger blocks of time certainly helps you to think solely about the job in hand and become immersed in its intricacies. Every time you get distracted from a thought task, it takes you time to get back to where you were, time that you shouldn't need to waste. Instead, work at one thing at once for a time. This means that small jobs might be combined into a single block but this is better than interrupting yourself in the middle of a concentrated piece of thinking.

One suggestion along these lines is the Pomodoro technique. Work in a deliberate and focussed way on a task for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. Do this three more times and then allow yourself a longer pause from the task, maybe to tackle a completely unrelated challenge. The secret to success is to be rigorous in the 25 minutes and only focus on the main task. No interruptions, no distraction, no stray thinking about other important thoughts that are trying to muscle in on your job.

You can read about this and other techniques on the Mindtools website.

Be healthy

Finally, look after yourself. You will not work effectively when you are tired, hungry or under the weather, whether mentally, physically or emotionally. Getting enough sleep is important but for that you might need to ration the amount of work you do. It is true that working longer does not make you more productive. In fact the opposite is true that your performance level drops the later you continue.

Likewise, pay attention to what you eat and how regularly. Fuel your body with more quality items and your performance will be more likely to rise. On top of that exercise will stimulate you and promote your thinking abilities. Making time for this is not counter-intuitive.

Get started

Do something now. You have spent enough time reading and need to put something into action. Maybe you need to analyse what your time-use weaknesses are. There are a variety of resources around, some free on the internet such as the one at the University of Kent's questionnaire for students. Whilst it does mention exams and studying a few times, it can be a quick and easy assessment of where you need to focus. Another option would be the comprehensive Time Management Profile from persolog. Through your self-assessment in 70 questions it rates you in 12 different sub-divisions of time management and gives you helpful advice and suggestions for improving in your areas of weakness.

Perhaps you need to put together a better plan of what you are required to accomplish, or take an existing list and prioritise it better. Possibly a stop-doing list has caught your attention and that will be your first and most urgent job.

Other specific tips that might be even more motivating for you can be found in Brian Tracy's book 'Eat that Frog' or John Swift's practical eBook, 'Where did time fly?' You'll need to set aside time to read them but if improving your time management is important then plan to read them soon. If it has become a matter of urgency then do it now.


Good time management is vital if you want to be more effective and all of us can improve in some little ways. It needs to be a conscious choice and will require a process of improvement over a period of time. Being more organised will help; make plans but then focus on them and motivate yourself to stick to them. With all this though you need to be disciplined and ruthless and stick to what you know is the better way.

You can put off making changes or instead you can implement something small today. Then carry on that forming habit to make a difference into the future.

Nick Smith is an Outdoor Life Coach and Trainer. Within his company, Square Pegs Coaching, he uses outdoor experiences to help people develop themselves. By walking and talking together, people discover how they can take further steps in their journey of life. Although working mainly in Glasgow and the West of Scotland where he is based, Nick also travels around the UK - if you want to be coached by him then get in touch through his website at There is more information there to help you understand the concepts of outdoor life coaching, background on Nick and the opportunity to book coaching when you are ready. The articles Nick writes appear first in his regular newsletter - to sign up to receive new articles and other offers, go to He also posts other thoughts and challenges on his blog on the website.

Date Posted: 
2 Mar 2015 - 1:15pm