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Time Management for Young Professionals

Jan 4th 2011
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By Jeff Jardine - CPA, CMA
Member of IMA Young Professionals Committee
Senior Consultant, Deloitte & Touche, LLP

So you've made it out of school into your first job and things are going great. You've finished corporate training and you've settled into the weekly routine of work, when suddenly you're swamped. Different bosses are asking for multiple deliverables with immediate deadlines. You're trying to volunteer in the community, take care of your significant other/children/pet, keep your house/apartment clean, and maintain old and new friendships, etc. etc. etc., and what happened to that hour-long gym session you enjoyed religiously at college?

With this scenario in mind, I offer three suggestions for managing your time as a young professional:

Consider your purpose

Before a young professional can identify how to spend time, he or she must consider significant long-term life goals and then establish short-term goals to achieve them. To determine these goals, ask yourself: "Where do I want to be in 10, 20 or 50 years from now?"

The answer to that question will illuminate your understanding and drive the formation of a list of your current priorities. In this vein, to the 2010 graduating class of Harvard Business School, renowned professor Clayton M. Christensen taught:

"Over the years I've watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I've seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn't keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy."

Whether or not you have a spouse or children now or will soon, Professor Christensen's advice applies: keep your purpose at the forefront and be committed to it.

Put first things first

Each day, every person you encounter has 24 hours in his or her day - no more, no less. To get the most out of these hours, I suggest employing habit number three from Steven R. Covey's legendary tome, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (an absolute must read for all young professionals): put first things first. What does Dr. Covey mean by this? As you consider the tasks ahead of you, prioritize them based on importance rather than on urgency. 

As an example, in the early stages of a career a professional must put in the necessary time and effort to develop marketable skills and have the work experiences to propel him or herself forward; thus, work and other activities that foster excellence at work (read: training, goal setting and networking) will likely be a top priority for many young professionals.

On the other hand, while deadlines at work are both important and urgent, some things like updating Facebook status, Tweeting or texting are likely neither urgent nor important (depending on the specific situation). Use wise judgment in ordering your priorities, then stick to first things first with resolved discipline. Priorities may change over time, but for the short term, in most cases, a young professional will not need to significantly reorder these priorities.

Let some things fall by the wayside

If you take care of numbers one and two, it's likely that some things you enjoy will fall by the wayside because they do not fit within your short/long-term goals and are neither important nor urgent. Nonetheless, if you are focused on your purpose and priorities stemming from it, you'll naturally spend less time at the gym, less time on Facebook, etc. But don't panic - you don't have to set aside everything you enjoy for leisure. This focus merely results from the natural progression of your transition to being a true professional - not some stodgy, stale part of the establishment.

I urge all young professionals to consider these three pieces of advice in order to achieve a greater use of their time and resources.

Some suggested reading on time management for young professionals:
Brazen Careerist
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