How to Start Managing Your Time Better Beginning Today

why you don't get important things done

You know the frustration.

You put in a full day. You worked hard.

But you didn’t even touch that important project. 

You’ve been meaning to. You intended to do it. It was first on your list.

But the message isn’t written.

The strategic plan isn’t done.

The analysis that could turn your organization around didn’t even get started.

All of this despite the fact that you stayed late and showed up at home tired and barely in time for dinner. Okay, you missed dinner. 

So why is that?

Here’s an insight I hope can make a significant difference not only to your productivity at work, but to your life.

I think it has the potential to change not just how you lead, but how you live.

You ready?

The reason you don’t get the most important things done is:

No one asked you to do it. 

Ever notice that?

Nobody ever asks you to get the most important thing on your list done.

No one ever asks you to:

Write your message or next talk.

Plan for the future.

Take time off so you can be there for your wife and kids.

Create space in your calendar to think.

Read a book.

Accomplish your dreams.

Care for your soul.

Get eight hours sleep.

I mean think about it.

When was the last time someone stopped you in the hall and said “Hey I just want to make sure you’ve got enough time this week to do an incredible job on your talk this weekend. Oh, and I’ve take steps to rearrange your schedule to create some white space for you to pray, reflect and really work through the ideas.”

Exactly. Never. 

Or how about this?

“We’ve canceled all your weeklies and booked you into hotel room so you can work on the 18 month strategic plan uninterrupted. 

Or  “I’m going to not ask for an hour of your time at 4:00 so you can home and throw the football with your son.”

No, just the opposite.

They ask for an hour of your time at 4:00 precisely because they have no idea you were going use that time to build into your 5 year old.

To them, it’s just an hour. To you, it’s the 47th request you’ve received that day.

The slice people want of you rarely—if ever—coincides with where your true priorities need to be.

So guess who has to guard your most important priorities?

You do. 

Nobody sees what’s critical as much as you see it.

And most of us usually see our days dissipate among a string of small and large cumulative demands.

So what can you do to start managing your time better starting today?

Book an appointment with yourself to work on what’s truly important and stick to it. 

And then

Don’t answer email, texts or the phone.

Politely rebuff all interruptions.

Tell people you have a commitment and can’t meet with them.

Explain you’d love to but it will have to wait.

And then get to work.

I book an all day appointment with myself every Monday and every Wednesday to work on strategic priorities, series and messages.

I don’t go into the office (I work from home).

I almost never take appointments.

My assistant and I tell people I’m not free (which is true, by the way).

And I drill down as best I can on what matters most.

So…book an appointment with yourself today, and tomorrow, and the day after. Explain to everyone that you’d love to meet/help/assist but are not free.

It’s not their fault that they can’t see what’s most important to you or your organization.

That’s your responsibility as a leader.

And remember, nobody is ever going to randomly ask you to work on what’s truly most important.

That’s your job.

If you really want to drill down on this, here are 5 other posts and a great free resource that can help you start managing priorities better today:

Why You Can’t Have 5 Minutes of My Time.

How to Say No Nicely

7 Signs You Don’t Value Your Time

Who Wants More Time? (a guide to creating a fixed calendar)

How to Shave Ten Hours Off Your Workweek 

and don’t miss the Time Management Ninja blog by Craig Jarrow, a blog devoted to better time management.

What are you learning about time management? What’s helping you and what keeps snaring you?


  1. joshpezold on December 2, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Time management is an wonderful topic I think you should write more about it because it affects everything else. I do something called “1 Big Thing”. Every day I write down on a little dry erase board that sits on my desk 1 Big thing I must accomplish today and then I schedule my day around it. I also include a section on the board that I just labeled “Vision”. Each day i make sure to do 1 thing to cast vision… to keep the vision of what we are about in front of our team. That could be through an email, card, phone call, etc.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Josh…that’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing. Working on a post on time management for tomorrow. 🙂

      • joshpezold on December 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

        Haaaa. Not sure if that’s a joke or if you really are working on one for tomorrow. Wouldn’t surprise me either way. lol I have a few resources to recommend if that’s helpful, but no pressure. Keep writing!!

  2. Daniel Indradjaja on September 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Once again… awesome and timely reminder. When my wife and son have more of my time, and our church grows bigger and my sermons become better, just so you know you are partly responsible for them 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 16, 2013 at 10:18 am

      That’s true. Andy Stanley’s Choosing to Cheat is a classic on that principle. Way to go Daniel. 🙂

  3. Gtdagenda on August 29, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Great tips.
    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  4. Charlie Lyons on August 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Good post, Carey. I’m going to block some time out this week for this very thing. Thanks!

  5. Audette F. on August 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I am reading this during a “week” of study leave, which ended up being today and hopefully, tomorrow – plus a couple of highly ineffective hours here and there. This is a great article and I wish I had read it before this week!

  6. Rob Steinbach on August 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Carey… this was right on time. I really appreciate your blog. Keep it coming!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks Rob. And Chad you raise a good point. You have to retrain your church. 🙂 it takes a while.

  7. Jon Wiebe on August 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Carey – this is gold. Thanks for posting this. A lesson I learned a while ago, but a good reminder to continue to put it into practice. Need to make this a priority this fall.

  8. chadbrooks on August 21, 2013 at 9:59 am

    I started working off many of the same priorities and ideas around a year ago. It was a hard shift for folks in my church and my staff to understand, but was totally worth it.

  9. Charles Hodsdon on August 21, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Read a very similar idea in a book by Gordon Macdonald a few years ago and it changed my life. Great advice!

  10. Matt Brough on August 21, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Great post Carey. This is so important. I have 3 or 4 half days a week to do something similar. My key is to plan the night before by picking 5 to 8 things to work on the next day. Usually I pick a combination of important and urgent tasks. I’ve also recently started setting aside 1 full day a month for solitary prayer, plus thinking through and evaluating vision, goals and strategy. The key so far has been not to let anything interrupt those times.

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