My workplace has implemented a new learning and self improvement initiative recently using a online learning website crossed with a social network, called Degreed. I’m excited to the share two extremely useful transcripts of a lesson on Time Management, specifically on the use of To-do lists (which I’m very fond of using):

You know, we talk about time management, but you can’t manage time. The only thing you can manage is yourself. I was at a conference once and found myself in a hallway talking to a billionaire, somebody whose name I had seen on the cover of magazines and things. And I realized, starting from this moment we’re here together, and starting from this moment, we’re going to both walk off and do stuff.

The stuff that that person is going to do is going to build a multibillion-dollar business, and the stuff that I’m going to do is maybe make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, if I’m lucky, I might make $100 today. And I suddenly realized that he had no more time than I did. It’s just he used that time differently. So rather than thinking about time management, think about self-management: How is it that you can use your day—how is it that I can use my day—to get the most bang for the moment that we have?

So if I put together a to-do list that has 100 items on it for today, and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to go through my inbox and consider each email message, and so on and so forth, I might get through 200 email messages. And there may be a 201st in my box.

However, if I scan through my email before I start and discover there is one—the 201st—that is absolutely critical to moving my project forward, I can handle that one email and possibly even ignore the other 200, and end up making more progress than if I had tried to do every single email. Because the secret to time management and to organizing your day isn’t do as much as possible. It’s make as much progress as possible.

And to do that, you want to start by looking over what it is that you could do and selecting only the things that will give you the most actual forward movement and the most results for your time spent. Do those first. Then, if you feel like it, do all of the rest of it. But you can’t manage time. All you can manage is your decisions about how you’re going to spend your day and what you’re going to do.

~Stever Robbins, entrepreneur, management consultant and lecturer at Babson College



How do you create the right kind of to-do list, a to-do list that doesn’t just serve as a guilt list reminding you of everything that you’re not doing, but a to-do list that actually serves to move you forward in the areas of your life that you most want to focus on?

Well, to create that kind of a list, first thing you have to do is identify what it is that you want to focus on. We very rarely do that. We just start with a list and put all the things we have to do.

Well, take a step back and say, what is it that’s most important for you to focus on? I could tell you for me, I decide five things I want to focus on. The first is do great work with my current clients. The second is to grow and develop my business. The third is to speak and write about my ideas. The fourth is creative pursuits, some kind of creative pursuit that’s not going to necessarily bring me money, but is going to fulfill me. And the fifth is to nurture myself and my family. Those are my five top areas of focus.

And I liken this to my buffet problem, because I not only have a time management problem, I have a buffet problem. And my buffet problem is that I go to a buffet and everything looks so great and so enticing and I want to eat everything. And I do a pretty good job of it. I go to the buffet. I fill three or four heaping plates of food. And sure, it has the lettuce, and the broccoli, and the tomatoes.

But it also has the brownies, and the chocolate chip cookies, and the mousses. And I bring it to my table. And my wife looks at me and says, “Are you OK? Are you OK?” And I say, “Yeah, I got this. I got this. I’m under control.” Which means [I’m not.] And then I fill myself up, and I leave the table bloated and feeling sick. And the problem is, what I want to eat in the moment is different than what I want to have eaten.

And that is our time management problem. What we want to do in the moment is different than what we want to have done by the end of the day. And so we really need to be strategic about what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do in order to make sure that we’re not eating all the wrong things, and that we have to bring back to our table—our desk—a to-do list, a calendar, a set of tasks that represent what’s most important to us, our highest priorities, the things that we most want to focus on in a year.

~Peter Bregman CEO of Bregman Partners