Prioritization and time management using a zero-based approach

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with news, social media, emails, text messages, phone calls and information. All too often we fall prey to this onslaught of distractions that inevitably interferes with the quality of our work and the direction of our attention, lives, families and ultimately businesses endeavors. That said, one of the most consistently reported traits of the world’s most successful people is that they are ruthless about time management, so perhaps we can apply some of these principles in our lives.

Prioritization and strategic focus have practical applications to benefit us both personally and professionally that we need to consider carefully. Namely, prioritization allows us to take action, action produces results, results reduced stress. Stress is generally present when we either a) don’t have control or b) when we have not done the things that we had planned to do. Even though most of us know this, the majority of us have never taken the time to take inventory of all of the information and communication that we consume that may be contributing to the drag, inefficiency or stress in our lives or our businesses. When a business is in dire need of reconsidering its cost structure, one method typically used for getting things in order is to take a zero-based approach. The zero-based budgeting methodology effectively starts the budget at zero and allocates resources explicitly on what is necessary to achieve the financial goals of the business. This approach can be very effective in improving financial efficiency, but can also be applied to time management and goal setting.

There are several ways to approach using a “zero-based time budget”. First and foremost, its necessary to define the period we are taking inventory of i.e, day, month year etc. The best place to start is with a single day, where we all have 24 hours to “do it all”. From there, you can look to extrapolate or plan by week, month, year or more (adjusting as needed). Then, we have to look at the time allocation variables, such as business, fitness, family, news, social media, recreation, free time. Etc. Each of these buckets can be further broken down as appropriate.

Now, starting at zero-time allocation, begin with your priorities and “build the core”. What are the most important things to you in achieving the life you want to live and how much time do you feel is necessary to allocate to each of these priorities. This can be done on a daily or weekly basis. For example, using a daily budget to start and assuming 16 waking hours; You could allocate 8 hours a day to dedicated work hours, 1.5 hours per day to dedicated family time, 1.5 hours per day to dedicated fitness time, 1 hour per to dedicated reading time, 30 minutes per day dedicated to catching up on the news, 15 minutes per day dedicated to social media and the remaining time can be dedicated to free time. The key word he is “dedicated”. Which is to say, when you are working, you are not fielding texts from friends and perusing websites. When you are with your family, you are not checking work emails and taking calls…you get the point. While this is a very simply budget outline, it’s a great starting outline if you are unsure of where to begin. From here, I would encourage you to be as specific as you can be, even breaking down those priority buckets into more granular time allocations as needed.

What’s particularly amazing about this approach is that it spurs complete and undistracted focus on the task at hand. It has the power to increase work efficiency, improve work quality, improve familial relationship, improve fitness. Plain and simple, it allows you to have the time to get done what you need to get done and achieve the goals you set out to achieve, whatever they may be. We all need fewer distractions, more focus and less stress, I hope you’ll give it a try and see how it benefits you.