The Real Secret to Time Management

Steve August
November 16, 2020
Real-Life Leadership
5 Rules for Rocket Ships

Last week, I wrote about how I discovered that the root of my lifelong scarcity complex was my uneasy relationship with scheduling and time.

The root problem of scarcity wasn’t actual scarcity. It was that I wasn’t truly owning my calendar.

This apparently resonated with people as I got a number of replies back empathizing and asking follow up questions.

One of the common questions was, “What time management system am I going to use to get control over my calendar?”

This is one I get from a lot of Founders. There are so many to choose from:

GTD (Getting Things Done)
Pomodoro Technique
Time Blocking
Stephen Covey
Bullet Journal
Best Self

So which one would I recommend? The answer is, it doesn’t matter what system you use.

That’s because the real challenge in time management is actually figuring out what’s most important.

None of those systems will do a bean of good if we are doing an amazing job of managing our time to achieve things that aren’t our highest priority.

And once you know where to put your focus, pretty much any system will get you where you need to go. Just pick one that you like.

So how do you figure out what’s really important?

One of my favorite coaches and people, Mark Silverman, wrote in his book Only 10’s: Confront Your To-Do List and Transform Your Life that we don’t have a time management problem, we have an honesty problem.

What he means is that we need to take the time to figure out what is truly important or what will move us forward. These are our 10’s.

Then we should only focus on our 10’s. Not 9’s, 8’s or anything else below 10.  

It sounds really simple in theory, but as we know, it’s a lot harder in practice.  A lot of things sound and feel good and seem important. It requires two important steps to make it happen:

  1. Getting ruthlessly honest with ourselves about what is truly important and is a 10.
  2. Saying no to really good things that aren’t 10’s. (After all, it’s easy to say no to a 3).

This is especially hard for visionary types whose best idea is always their latest (guilty).

Whenever I have a new idea, it’s PERFECT. In my head, I can see how it’s all going to work, and it’s going to be amazing. But the reality often turns out that it’s yet another shiny object that distracts and diffuses my focus.

So I’ve identified a couple of hacks that I now use to figure out where something fits on my calendar.

Hack #1: Consider the idea of something and the execution of it separately.
I love new ideas, and every idea I encounter is exciting and I wanna do it. Now I break off the idea of something - it’s most likely going to get a 10 - and then consider what it will take to implement.

Then I give the implementation a number. If what it will take to execute the idea is not a 10, it fails the screening. If it is a 10, we have a winner! We’ve passed the first screening.

Hack #2: Don’t say yes to anything until you’ve figured out where it fits on your calendar.
The next step is to actually put it on my calendar - BEFORE I say yes to it. Saying yes to anything without putting it on your calendar means you haven’t really taken the time to figure out if it’s important.

When something goes on your calendar, it’s either filling open time or replacing something. If you don’t think it through, you are committing more load for yourself without making a call on priority. Do that enough times and you’ll be underwater.

All of this is especially important right now as the last few months of any year are when we make the plan for the year to come. I’ll be doing this in the coming week for myself as well as helping several clients do the same.

I’ll be writing about my process, so look for that to come next week.

Until next time,


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