In the last issues of this column I continued our discussion of Time Management, one of the strategies for Reduce, the fourth line of defense against stress. In this column I’m going to give you a simple, easy to use tool, the ACT Method, to help you manage your time by prioritizing tasks more efficiently.
There are several ways to prioritize what you spend your time on. The ACT Method is an approach to time management that revolves around making priority lists of things that you need and would like to accomplish during any given day. Each activity is assigned a different priority status and is acted upon based on its priority. In other words, activities with the highest priority (called A-List Activities) are acted upon first. Activities of lesser priority (C – and T-List Activities) are acted upon only after A-List demands are met.
A-List Activities— activities that absolutely must be done today or you will suffer immediate, severe consequences. This is very subjective and personal. I cannot assume that my A-List activities and severe consequences would be the same as yours. Let me give you a personal example from when I was in my 30s and raising two elementary school-age boys with my wife. My wife and I arranged flexible job schedules that allowed one of us to be there to walk the boys to the bus and put them on and the other to be there when the bus returned after school to take them off and walk them home. For a decade we planned our schedules so that on the days I went to work early and returned home early she went in late and came home late. On these days she got the guys on the school bus and I got them off the bus after school was over. On the other days we reversed our schedules, so she went in early and came home late and I went in late and got home late. The reason we did this was because we both felt that the immediate consequences of not being there for them was severe and unacceptable to us.
I’m sure some of you reading this are rolling your eyes and saying, “ugh, come on, that is not a severe enough consequence to make this an A-list activity.” I told you this stuff would be very personal and subjective. I’m not trying to sell you on the virtues of changing careers so you could schedule a decade of your life to be there for your kids to get them on and off the bus. Behaving this way was consistent with our values related to parenting. It might not fit with your child-rearing values. That is perfectly OK.
Remember; your use of time revolves around your goals and your values, not mine. This is why my books and courses devote so much time to values clarification and goal setting.
Other examples of A-List Activities are things such as going to work or school, completing projects on time, paying bills, and meeting other personal obligations and responsibilities like walking your dog. Oh, and remember, playtime (aka self-care) is essential. Do not neglect to schedule some in as an A-list activity.
C-List Activities— activities that could get done when your A-List tasks are finished. Working on a project that is due next month is an example of this kind of task. Although you would like to begin the project, failure to do so will not result in any unacceptable consequences today. This project (and all of your C-List Activities) will automatically become A-list activities in time as their deadlines approach.
You might ask, “What’s the big deal with working on C-List Activities before my A-List Activities are finished?” I’ll answer that in one word, STRESS! If you don’t get your A-List Activities done first they become potential stressors and lurk in the background of your consciousness. They prey on your mind and as their deadline gets closer and closer your mind is more likely to start telling you that you can’t cope with them. Remember, as soon as your mind says, “this is threatening” and ” I can’t cope,” it will trigger a stress response. This is much more likely to happen if you fool around with C-List and T-List Activities before finishing up your A-List.
T-List Activities— activities you could try to do if all of your As and Cs get finished. Things such as shopping for a new car or looking at travel brochures for a vacation you’d like to go on are examples of T-List activities.
- Put some time aside at the end of the day to work on your lists. The best time to make up these priority lists is at the end of the day in anticipation of tomorrow.
- Start by writing down tomorrow’s A-List Activities.
- Look at which C- and T-list activities remain from today current day. Move up the unfinished C-List Activities that will be due tomorrow and add them to your A-List.
- Keep the other unfinished Cs and Ts on their lists and get to them after you finish your A-List.
- Cross off your activities as you finish them.
Some people use legal pads for their list and tape them to their desks and check things off as they are finished. I like to use a # 2 pencil and a grocery list type sheet of paper. If I have a heavy A-List or some really important items on it that I must pay attention to I tape my list to my bathroom mirror or the toilet bowl cover. These are two places I usually see first thing in the morning:)