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Sharpening the Axe - A Time Management Tactic

A man at his desk - A screenshot from our Time Management Training

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

A famous quote from an ex American President - and not the only President that will be mentioned in this blog!

But what does Lincoln mean when he talks about “sharpening the axe”?

Well, it’s actually a quote about efficiency - stating that it is much more efficient to work smart, rather than working hard. To achieve maximum efficiency, you have to find a balance between the two, but working smart means knowing where to best invest your time.

This brings us to one of the most famous time management methods, the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix (Time Management Matrix)

Dwight Eisenhower, who served two terms as president of the USA, was a five-star general in the US military, and was president of Columbia University, all whilst enjoying hobbies like oil painting and golf. He was a president famous for his incredibly productive life.

But how did he find the time to be so productive? That’s something that many people have tried to study for years. However, the studies seem to point back to the same method of time management - The Eisenhower Box.

His strategy for taking action and organising your tasks is quite simple. Using his iconic decision matrix, you can separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks to do immediately)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks to schedule for a later date/time)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks to delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that can be forgotten)

Take a look at an example of an Eisenhower Matrix from our Online Time Management Training course:

The Eisenhower Matrix example

This handy table means that you can have a visualisation of what tasks are actually important, and what tasks can be forgotten about or delegated to somebody else.

More than likely, you will find a lot of your tasks (around 80%) fall under the “not important” category. Once you have made arrangements for these unimportant tasks, you will probably feel like there are more hours in a day.

Other tips for Time Management

There are lots of different methods that are proven to help manage time efficiently. Some may work better than others, so you’ll have to trial and error each and find out which ones work for you. 

  1. Set a time limit for each task on your to-do list (and leave time for proofing your work)
  2. Don’t multitask. You’ll find it’s quicker to finish one task at a time.
  3. Use a calendar. This ties in well with setting time limits, as you’ll be working to a schedule.
  4. Learn to say “no”. This is arguably one of the most important things in saving your valuable time. If you’re taking on extra workload “for the sake of it'' you're shooting yourself in the foot!
  5. Be inspired! It’s difficult to work efficiently when you have nothing to motivate you. Remind yourself of your motivation and crack on with your work!
  6. Be organised. Messy desks & missed deadlines - we’ve all been there. If you take some time to put things in the right place, you’ll save more time than you would looking for misplaced things.

Online Time Management Training

According to the Pareto Principle, we spend 80% of our workday dealing with trivial tasks and only 20% on anything important.

Help your employees manage their time effectively with our Online Time Management Training course that offers employees a variety of methods in order to help them prioritise their work tasks and to avoid non-important tasks at work.

This CPD Accredited course can be completed in 25 minutes.

Claim a no-obligation free trial to the course today!

Online Time Management Training Course