Personal Time-management System 3: How to Make a Plan (2/3)

By Elisi Studio

Last week we introduced some rational ideas of what a plan can provide us and what we can learn from Google’s OKR system. This week we will continue to discuss more methods we can use in making a plan.

First, the SMART Principle.

This was proposed by the management master Peter Drucker and first appeared in his book “The Practice of Management” in 1954. Since the SMART Principle was proposed, it has been regarded as the classic rule of goal formulation.

What is the SMART Principle?

1.The goal must be Specific. To achieve a goal, your plan needs to be clear. Sometimes an uncompleted plan is not due to weak implementation, but because the goal itself is not clear enough. Only a clear indication of the target you want to achieve can be an appropriate goal. For example, someone who wants to lose weight needs to change “I want to be thin” to the specific “I want to lose 20 pounds.” That clarifies the goal.

2.The goal must be Measurable. Your goal should be observable, objective, and measurable. For example, people who write articles can use reading volume or their fee as a measurement, rather than simply say, “I am very satisfied with this article,” to comfort themselves.

3.The goal must be Attainable. This is quite easy to understand. For example, for a new graduate who has just begun to write, the goal of producing a bestseller within a month is likely not practical. Of course, we must also be alert to the drawback of this principle, as moderate challenges are also necessary.

4.A goal must be Relevant to other goals. In general, a big goal for most of us is to be a better “self.” Learning some general life skills, such as time management and personal finance management, are basically goals common to everyone. Other more professionally relevant or specialized knowledge, like advanced mathematics, though important for some, are not things everyone needs to learn.

5.The goal must be clearly Time-bound. When does the work start? What time should it end? When do you reach the key point in the plan?

The above five characteristics are indispensable in making a SMART plan.

Another method we will introduce is especially useful in dealing with unplanned tasks.

A colleague asks for help to print a document. A supervisor suddenly assigns an urgent task. It seems that whenever we want to stay focused and eager to continue and advance as planned, there are a variety of intrusions on our time. Some of these sudden tasks are really important, but we can say that probably 80% are trivial and irrelevant.

First, we need to gain an understanding of the unplanned tasks: how many are internal disturbances and how many are external disturbances?

For example, after working for 10 minutes, we suddenly need to use the bathroom. Or after less than half an hour, you suddenly feel thirsty and hungry.

These are internal interferences, and we can simply address these needs by setting aside time in our plan to be disturbed, so that we will not feel upset once our schedule is broken up by a small change.

But for external interference, when things involve other people, it is not as simple.

Here we introduce the Four-Quadrant Working Method, a time-management theory proposed by American management scientist Franklin Covey.

Covey divides work into two dimensions—important and urgent—and then further divides these into four quadrants:

First quadrant: both urgent and important, such as essential tasks that carry an expiration date or time.

Second quadrant: important but not urgent, such as establishing a relationship with someone.

Third quadrant: urgent but not important, such as an unexpected visit.

Fourth quadrant: neither urgent nor important, such as surfing the Internet and watching videos.

Don’t rush to complete sudden unexpected tasks. Use the four-quadrant rule to first classify them and put them into your plan or to-do list: If it is urgent, do it; if not urgent, then wait until you finish your planned work. It’s like setting up an early-warning mechanism so that these tasks won’t knock you off course when they come. Instead, you prioritize issues that are really urgent and important.

We are unconsciously caught in the trap of “low-level effort” sometimes, spending a lot of time dealing with chores and being led by them. Use the four-quadrant rule flexibly to get rid of inefficiency. See you in next week’s Elisi Inspiration!