Using Your Scarcest Resource Wisely

Using Your Scarcest Resource Wisely

What is the most precious resource you have? There are approximately 190 days in the academic school year, including those days where students take exams, so by far the most important and scarcest resource at our disposal is time. If you constantly feel that you don’t have enough time or that you spend most of your day firefighting, then this one tip may help you manage your time much more effectively.

Urgency vs. Importance

Urgency vs Importancy - Time management

Most people tend to get urgency and importance confused. Urgency is the degree to which the issue has to be addressed promptly; importance is what matters the most to you.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously divided every situation into one of four boxes, as demonstrated in this diagram.

Planning next week’s lesson falls in Box 1. Planning tomorrow’s lesson would probably fall in to Box 2. Watching funny videos of cats being surprised on YouTube fits nicely into Box 3 and working towards someone else’s deadline may fall into your Box 4.

How Should I Divide My Time?

At first glance, Box 2 seems like the most valuable box, as it is both important and urgent. It is for things that matter and matter right now; however, if you spend all of your time and energy on things that fall into Box 2, this leads to panic: everyone rushing around and everything being last minute (as well as lots of late nights). This is a perfect breeding ground for mistakes to happen and for the quality of your work to suffer.  

Boxes 3 and 4 may not seem like particularly significant boxes, as neither of them are high on your importance scale; however, Box 3 is often where fun distractions and breaks can occur, which can help you to feel happier, more refreshed and even more creative. Box 4 represents the trap of busy people, filling their time with urgent things that don’t matter, thus working hard but not working smart. It is important to remember that just because it is important or urgent to someone else, doesn’t mean it is important for you.

Box 1 provides a chance to plan, to prepare to set strategies for the things that are going to make the biggest impact. It is where you can often do your best work and where you can leverage your time most effectively. If there is a bottle neck in Box 1 and you fail to manage these tasks, they can quickly spill over into Box  2, which is where the quality and accuracy dips.

Perhaps the four boxes can be most accurately described like this:

Importance vs Urgency - Where to place your focus

Managing Your Time Better

  • Work out what’s important to you – In his excellent book, 'Will It Make The Boat Go Faster', Olympian Ben Hunt-Davis details how many of the decisions that helped them to win gold at the Olympics were preceded with the question, ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’. If the answer was yes, then it was important to them and they would do it.
  • Delegate Diligently – Time is precious and in short supply at schools. There are many students and only one of you. The more you can delegate tasks that are important, the easier it is to avoid the bottle neck that can take tasks from Box 1 into Box 2. Don’t be too proud to ask others for help.
  • Don’t neglect Box 3 – Things that are not important and not urgent are often fun or relaxing. It’s a long year. It can be demanding and full of pressure. Doing things in Box 3 every now and again can keep you sane, keep you refreshed and enjoying your environment. The better you feel, the more positive your mood, the more refreshed you are, the higher the quality of your work. Don’t dwell on this box, but cut it out completely at your peril.

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