First Thing You Should Prioritise for Successful Time Management

Successful time management is about forward planning, having foresight and being organised.

- Alice Dartnell

First Thing You Should Prioritise for Successful Time Management

So why why are time management gurus 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 with this. I have always been a huge fan of the author and businessman, Dr. Stephen Covey’s famous self-development management book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. My first encounter with this book was almost two decades ago when my dad bought me this book at Bangkok Airport when I was just 16 years old! Stephen Covey teaches us that you should be doing the most important things first in your day. These important but non-urgent tasks include, relationship building, long-term planning, personal growth and recreation. After all., you shouldn't be doing the most urgent, because if you have taken time to invest and plan ahead then not too many things should become urgent. If it is urgent, you have left it too late.

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Covey’s Matrix described in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a box divided into ‘quadrants’.


Schedule Your Non-negotiables First

Successful time management, after all, is about forward planning, having the foresight and being organised. Running around in a panicked frenzy doing the urgent things and ‘firefighting’ is not great time management and great for your blood pressure either!

I like to take this one step further when it comes to forward planning to maximise my time and efficiency though. When I hold workshops and speak to 1-2-1 coaching clients about time management, I always surprise people with this one essential tip.  Schedule your non-negotiables 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, exercise, 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).  

Here are some of my  non-negotiables are:

  • Two date nights a month with my husband
  • 20 minutes of Japanese study a day 
  • Reading a personal development book every day
  • A daily meditation
  • Exercising four times a week. 

These are essential 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 stusdy every day. 

Alice Dartnell Life Sucess Coach Yoga Galle Fort Hotel Sril Lanka

My habit of exercise 4 times a week happens because I block out the time in my diary first

What is Important to You? 

By scheduling your non-negotiables first and taking the time to put a few things ahead of your work, you are making sure you can continue looking after your health, relationships and other essential things for the future. 

As I explain in my article, Burnout – What it is, What the Warning Signs Are and How to Prevent it, 602,000 people in the United Kingdom suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018. In the article, I talk to Dr Eleanor Akaho about her personal experiences of burnout. As a doctor, she has a professional understanding as well as a personal experience of suffering from Burnout. As Dr. Amie M. Gordon explains in her article Is Stress Killing Your Relationship? Why You're Not Alone published on the Psychology Today web site, stress also affects our physical and mental health and places additional strain on our relationships.

Schedule your non-negotiables first will enable you to schedule that all-important gym session, the date night with your partner and time to read that relaxing book that has sat on your shelf for so many years. This will help you look after your health, relationships, and other important aspects of your life and reduce the risk of ill-health, stress or Burnout. 


Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach London UK visits Kyoto Japan planning her week ahead in Kyoto café

I've developed the habit that every Sunday, I plan my week ahead to make sure I stay organised & productive all week.

How I Plan my Week and Why it Works This Way Around 

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.

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!


Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach London England reading Stephen Covey Seven 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Alice reading Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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. 

Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach London England Time Management ideas advice written in ink on her hands

In order to achieve a perfect work-life balance you need to learn to manage your time

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.


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In this FREE 20-minute Time Management Review I am going to support you by helping you assess where your time management could be improved.  Think of this as a "health check-up" for your time to give you the low down of where you would benefit from making tweaks! 

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What My 1-2-1 Clients Are Saying

Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach London Oonagh English DipNT mNTOI - Life Coach and Nutritional Therapist

I initially signed up with Alice to help me with my time management and productivity in my business and everyday life. Alice is a fantastic coach. She is very supportive and kind. I love her honest and straightforward approach. Since working with Alice, I have discovered so many new ways of doing things. She has helped me uncover the root of some of my habitual tendencies and transform them. The amount of care and support she offers is priceless. I highly recommend working with her. 

Oonagh English  - Life Coach and Nutritional Therapist


So, whether you are interested to learn more about how I can help you or you are curious about what coaching is, let’s have a virtual coffee and a friendly chat to see if 1-2-1 coaching is for you!

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If you are serious about wanting to make life-long changes and positively transform your life, then I would love to hear from you to see how I can support you.

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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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This blog is published solely for educational and entertainment purposes. The author and publisher are not offering it as legal, accounting, health care or other professional services advice. While best efforts have been used in preparing this blog, the author and publisher make no representations or warranties of any kind and assume no liabilities of any kind with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be held liable or responsible to any person or entity with respect to any loss or incidental or consequential damages caused, or alleged to have been caused, directly or indirectly, by the information contained herein. Every person and company are different, and the advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. Alice Dartnell or Alice Dartnell Limited is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised in this blog. You should seek the services of a competent professional as appropriate. You are responsible for your own choices, actions, and results. Always consult your own General Practitioner if you're in any way concerned about your health.