In my last post, I discussed the Action Priority Matrix as a solution to discovering which of your tasks had value and which didn’t. The Action Priority Matrix also considered the level of effort required per each value item, so that moving forward you can filter future tasks into each quadrant. Getting into this habit at the start of each day, or at the onset of a project request, can really help you determine which efforts are worth your time – and which are time wasters.

“Chunking” Your Schedule

On the subject of time wasters, the second law of time management is known as “time blocking.” Time blocking involves dividing your day into chunks so that each chunk of time accounts for a high priority task that needs your attention, with some lesser frame of time remaining for smaller, lower priority tasks. The chunks of time also account for interruptions and phones calls, along with any meals that would be taken. It’s also recommended to have a small window of time that has room for flexibility. If someone asks for help, drops in, if you’re asked to take on another task or if you’re called to make time for a meeting – then there should be a dedicate small window of time everyday where you can make these accommodations while still respecting your prime working time.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Another reason time blocking works is that it counters the myth of multi-tasking. As more and more experts are finding out, multi-tasking doesn’t work. It doesn’t allow you to focus the level of attention you need to perform well; it triggers an increase in errors; and it adds to the stress of the individual. Your best work is done when you’re allowed to focus on something fully. When you’re allowed to focus your time and energy on a singular task at hand, you’re also able to get into the rhythm of the project – or the flow as many have called it.

What We Can Learn From Children at Play

Think of children at play, drawing or building as they always do. You don’t see children multitasking – switching between building an epic Lego fort or drawing from inspiration. They focus on the task at hand with complete concentration. The result is something that has the best of them put in; it is a reflection of their complete focus and the highest quality work they can do. Your work should be the same.

Why One Rule Doesn’t Fit Them All

Time-blocking takes discipline and time to master, but try to start practicing it today. Think of what tasks need your attention the most and where they fall into the Action Priority Matrix. Time management is also a very personal thing. Some of the heralded techniques you’ve heard won’t necessarily fit everyone. That said, these two laws of time management are universal. Once you’re set up to think in terms of the AP Matrix and you’re able to create blocks of time in your schedule for specific needs, you should then prioritize your day based on those two factors. You may also find that you can modify these laws to suit your needs, for example, by setting 4 hours in your day for major projects, and one hour each for the other three quadrants and then one hour for lunch or interruptions.

What I Realized When I Applied These Laws to My Own Schedule

In reflecting on these laws, I’ve realized that my mistake was allowing a lot of “fill ins” into my workload, and making the mistake of giving those fill-ins a higher priority on the task list because I was mistaking them as “quick wins.” That said, I also realized that this pattern of behavior kept taking time away from major projects, and that even though I had scheduled chunks of time for them, the lesser fill-in work or thankless tasks took priority – because again, I mistook them for high-priority quick wins.