First Thing You Should Prioritise for Successful Time Management

Average reading time:  6 minutes

The time management gurus are wrong… 

A lot of time management gurus advocate putting the most urgent things you need to do at the top of your to-do lists for effective time management. I have always disagreed on this one. I have always liked American personal development author and businessman Stephen Covey’s school of thought that you should be doing the most important things first in your day. You shouldn’t be doing the most urgent, because if it is urgent, you have left it too late. 

Successful time management

Successful time management after all is about forward planning, having foresight and being organised. Running around in a panicked frenzy doing the urgent things and ‘firefighting’ is not great time management (nor great for your blood pressure!).

I like to take this one step further though when it comes to forward planning to maximise my time and efficiency though. I always surprise people when giving my workshops and coaching people on time management with this one essential tip. 

First things first…

Non-negotiables. The first thing you have to put in your diary is what I call your “non-negotiables”.

These are the things that are so important to you, whether that is your relationships, work, health etc. Life simply is not your life without them. Your non-negotiables are your core values. These are things that make you, you. They make your life.

Everyone has their own non-negotiables, so I cannot tell you what yours are, you’ll have to decipher that for yourself, but they will often be linked to your long-term goals and values. (Note that I said long-term goals because we’ll touch on that again). 

What is important to you? 

For me my non-negotiables are: two dates nights a month with my husband; 20 minutes of Japanese study a day on average; my daily reading/personal development; daily meditation and exercising four times a week. These are core to my life because I place a high value on things like my health and wellbeing and the belief that to be successful you have to learn every day.  

How I plan my week

Every Sunday evening when I sit down to plan my next week ahead, I put my non-negotiables in first, then around that I fit everything else – work/business; social activities; travel/commute; hobbies etc

For you it might be a weekly relaxing bath because as a busy mum of two this quiet time is precious. Or it might be your twice weekly morning jog because you vowed to run the New York marathon next year. Perhaps it is learning Spanish as you want to live in Barcelona one day. Maybe it is the weekly call to your mum as she means the world to you. 

Why it works this way round 

At first this might seem odd as most people expect that successful time management comes from doing the most urgent or weighty tasks first, therefore scheduling them in your weekly plans before anything else. 

“But surely Alice the weekly sales meeting with my team is more beneficial than scheduling in date nights and exercise first?” I hear you cry… But in a word, the answer is no. 

We will always finish our week having done the most urgent and important things – like feeding the kids and meeting project deadlines at work – and the things we will sacrifice because “we don’t have enough time” will always be the things you want to do. 

Think back to the last five things you bumped from your schedule or to-do list because you ‘didn’t have time’… I bet they weren’t urgent, deadlines or classically important. I bet they were things you’d like to have done and place a lot of value on!

Long-term thinking

We kid ourselves that we don’t have time for self-care, spending quality time with our partner and exercising (or whatever your non-negotiables are) as there are “more important things to do”. Whilst in the short term this might be true, you need to think long-term. Remember I told you that your non-negotiables are often related to your long-term goals. 

Sure, for me a successful business is really important, but to be blunt, I also think what is the point of having a business that helps people reach their potential if it costs me my beautiful marriage or my health? But I also 100% believe I cannot have a business and be an effective life coach, trainer or consultant if I don’t do things like look after my health. 

This is why you have to think long-term not short term. Successful time management is not about getting the most urgent things done first and rushing through a never-ending to-do list. Successful time management is about having enough time to do the things you want to do, so you can fit everything in to have the life you want to live. 

Make it work for you 

It is so simple, the hard part is just the act of committing to it. Especially at the beginning when you’ll feel pulled back to your old, traditional time-management ways, but just try it. When you are planning your week ahead, rather than being tempted to put in the most ‘important’ things first, put in your non-negotiables first. It goes without saying of course that your first thing before implementing this is to know what exactly your non-negotiables are! And do make sure your non-negotiables are a blend of the things you want to do and the things that are good for you. I am not sure “four hours of non-stop gaming and nacho eating” is really a non-negotiable?!

Schedule your non-negotiables first

So what do you need to do?

Simply schedule your non-negotiables in the diary first and make a complete commitment to stick with these no matter how hectic things get and how busy you get. Also make sure you tell who needs to know what they are, even if it is just for accountability! 

When you give this a go, get in touch and let me know how it goes, or feel free to write a post on my Facebook Group. 

If you are looking for a daily planner, download my FREE one which I personally created for my use, which chunks the day up into effective and efficient 30-minute slots.


Time Management and Non-negotiables Video

For more information, ideas and tips then pleases watch my video!



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This article is written by Alice Dartnell, life and success coach of Alice Dartnell Limited. Alice empowers busy professionals to be successful, transform their lives and achieve more by improving their confidence, mindset and time management.

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