There is a wonderful story in time management circles which illustrates the single most important thing you can do to be better at time management.

Story has it that when Charles M. Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he confronted I.V. Lee, a management consultant, with an unusual challenge. “Show me a way to get more things done,” he demanded. “If it works, I’ll pay anything within reason.”

Lee handed Schwab a piece of paper and said, “Write down the things you have to do tomorrow.” Schwab did. “Now, number these items in the order of importance from the most to the least important,” Lee continued. Schwab did. “Now first thing tomorrow morning, “ Lee said, “start working on the most important thing and keep going until it is finished. Next, take the second most important thing and keep working until it is finished. Then go to the third most important item, and so on.

“If you don’t get everything done on schedule, don’t worry as you will have taken care of the most important things and not been distracted by items of lesser importance. The secret is to do the important things before the less important things. The secret is to do this daily. Evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done, establish priorities, record your plan of action, and stick to it.

“Do this every day. When you are convinced of the value of this system, get your other staff to try it. Test it as long as you like, and then send me a cheque for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

A few weeks later it is reported that, Charles Schwab sent I.V. Lee a cheque for $25,000. Schwab was later heard to say that this was the most profitable idea he had ever learned in his business career.

I have never been able to verify the truth of the story, but whether it is true or not, it beautifully illustrates that the most important thing you can do in terms of time management is follow these easy three steps:

  1. Work out what has to be done.
  2. Prioritise these items from most to least important.
  3. Do the most important thing first.

Great time management is both as easy and as hard as that. Well, the difficult part for most of us is finding the self discipline to stick to these three steps and not be distracted by other bright shiny things that look like more fun or will only take a few minutes to do. But if you can find this self discipline and you follow the three steps, you will find yourself getting more of the important things done every day.

Getting more of the important things done in a day makes a bigger impact on your life than any other approach you can take. At the end of every day you will have used your time wisely … and the best part is you feel guilt free when you leave work to spend time with your loved ones … as the stuff you didn’t get done wasn’t important.