A time management conundrum: How do you manage everything you have to do right now with important goals you want to achieve in the future?
You have a demanding job already, but you want to explore elsewhere (different role, different company, different career). You run your own business and need to serve current clients but also sell more work. You have requests coming at you now, but you know there are critical projects due in the next few weeks.
Step 1 is something I just teased out above: By naming separately the immediate issues (current job, current clients, daily requests) and the future issues (new job, new clients, long-term deadlines), you are already aware you have two separate buckets competing for your attention.
Step 2 is to decide how much time overall you want to devote to the immediate vs. the long-term. To get any traction on a job search, you really need to spend at least 10 hours per week on your search. To grow a business you need to spend at least half, if not more, of your time on future clients. For any other future projects, work backwards from the deadline to confirm what you have to do and the time required.
Ten hours, 50% of time, what specifically the future project demands – these are the ideal amounts of time in the long-term bucket. If you decide to do more or less than this, then you are prioritizing a slower search, slower growth and possibly missing a deadline. This might be the best option for you at this time – sometimes there is too much going on in the immediate term to do anything else. But there is a difference between a one-time exception and an ongoing habit.
Step 3 is to divide your weekly schedule into activities that satisfy immediate needs vs long-term goals. A weekly overview often makes more sense than a daily list for a first cut – you may decide to devote two full days to existing clients and three full days to business development. You may want to work in half-day chunks.
Some people do well by switching focus every hour, and therefore can plan day by day. But a longer timeframe helps give clear direction for which activities make sense for each hour to avoid meandering into things that aren’t ultimately important.
Step 4 is to check your progress each day, each week, and each month. On a daily basis make sure that you are working on important things. On a weekly basis, make sure there is a balance between immediate needs and long-term goals. On a monthly basis, make sure you are making inroads into both your immediate and long-term objectives.
You might need to shift your time allocation. You might need to reassess what activities you are doing. You might not be executing at your best. It’s not just about getting the time allocation right, although this is important. You also want to make sure you have selected the right action steps to fulfill your goals and are executing them well.
A version of this post originally appeared in my column for Forbes.com.