Simplify your life {Week fifteen: Time management – priorities}

Time management is not about fitting more into your already overfilled days or trying to get done everything you think you “should” do. Instead it is about using your time wisely and efficiently so you can create enough down time, more white spaces, more room to breathe and live and enjoy.

When you reduce how much you are trying to cram into a single day you leave room to focus and therefore tackle what is really important or necessary that day.

time management and priorities

One tool  for prioritizing that has stood the test of time is Stephen Covey’s time management matrix commonly known as the “four quadrants”. It is used to break down your task list based on level of urgency and level of importance. Ideally you would live your life mostly focusing on things that are important and not urgent (thus catching them before they become urgent). These things would shift down in our priorities only when overtaken by important tasks that have presented urgently or were overlooked long enough to become urgent. Your prime, high energy hours should be spent “above the line” focusing on what is important. Below is an example of where some activities and situations may fall in a matrix like this.

Stephen Covey four quadrants time management matrix

Another way to think about how you break these things down can be found by reviewing Stephen Covey’s  famous talk about big rocks, pebbles, sand and water that I covered in week four when we talked about balance. Your big rocks should be your highest priority, followed by your pebbles. Only after those things have been covered do you add sand and water to fill in the gaps. All too often we spend time on these filler activities while ignoring things we have identified as of high value to us (our rocks). Some filler activities are of our choosing  and some are put upon us by others, but do not reflect our values and goals. It is not to say there should be no filler in our lives (like TV, internet surfing etc), but rather that they be a lower priority and be of our choosing.

Things to identify as high priority (big rocks or quadrant 2)


If you do not currently have enough time to achieve all you want you need to draw a line and make choices. The fastest way to “gain time” is to let go of things and people that do not meet the above criteria and instead drain you of energy or bring you down / hold you back.


The biggest challenge is often the battle between important and urgent as things creep up that need to be dealt with “right now”. Sometimes there are genuine emergencies and these will always trump even the most important tasks on our lists. You get a call from school that your child is ill and nothing else matters until he is taken care of.

Sometimes they are other people’s urgent needs that we feel obligated to handle, but need to learn when to say yes and when to say no (rather than an automatic shift into help mode). Your next door neighbour drops by and asks you for the fourth time this month to watch her kids. To do so means you have to cancel yet another workout / planned session for your etsy business / your “sacred” monthly catch up with your best friend. Is it more important to meet her “urgent” need or stick to your “important” plans? That is the decision we are called on to make many times over the course of our week.

Deciding what is retained as a high priority is completely subjective and depends on your stage of life, your home or work situation, what you value, how many of your rocks and pebbles have already been taken care of and many other factors.

The difference between managing our time or not is whether we are intentional with it – do we stop and reflect and decide on our priorities or do we allow life to go ahead at full steam and happen to us. “Time flies when you’re having fun”, but it also flies by when you simply let the urgent take over.


Challenge for week fifteen:  Conduct a time audit. Have a look at what you currently have on your to do list, what is in your calendar, what activities you are involved in, commitments you have made. Do these reflect the values you identified and the goals you set? How much of your time is spent “above the line”? Think about what might need to go to make room for what you really want in life – to achieve the vision you have set for this year – or what changes can be made to your routines and activities to make room. In the next few days I will post about both how to free up time and how to say “no” in order to say “yes”. Time management ultimately comes down to commitments and choices – living with intention. Priorities need to be reviewed regularly (at least quarterly) to allow for changes with the seasons, stages of life, interests and needs.

While you don’t necessarily need to sit down and create a matrix for your to do list I recommend at least setting your daily agenda to include “most important tasks” (and limit them to 2 -3 so you can truly focus on your “above the line” items first).


As an example of prioritizing I will share my own recent shifts in terms of Simplify your life. Since it is one component of the blog I realized I could not devote all my available time to it. Within SYL I have broken down the related tasks and prioritized them. Planning the 52 weeks and writing posts have been prioritized highest while commenting on linked up blog posts had to be shifted to a lower priority. This has allowed me to keep delivering the content while also working on my other goals related to my family, the blog, my health etc. Some weeks I took care of my highest priorities in several areas and had more time for commenting and other weeks (like school holidays and when my husband is working insane hours) it has fallen far down the list. I could either comment or keep new challenges coming. In this case I knew I could catch up as time and energy allows. Often this is true for many tasks – they can be downgraded without having to actually give them up.


Find your simple,



Image credit: Clock by flickr user joelk75


Link up for week fourteen {Planning} 

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