Skip Navigation

Time Management - Lesson 6: Decide What Tasks Can Be Left Undone to Save TIME

Time Fact #6:

Fewer than 25% of UMAINE students study twelve hours per week. (University of Maine Quality of Life Survey -1998).

Most of us fall victim to doing too many unimportant activities at the expense of more important tasks. Let us look at ways you can shrink your “To Do” List and/or keep tasks off it to begin with.

The Art of Saying “No”
The most direct way to lighten your workload is to say up-front you’re not going to do something. Just say NO! Of course there are limits to using this technique. You can’t tell a professor you’re not going to do a term paper! This shouldn’t be said mean spiritedly but should be said early, firmly, and politely. Saying Yes you will do something and then not doing it is the worst situation of all. And you can often soften the use of “No” by saying:

  1. “I can’t do it all but I can help.”
  2. “I can’t do it now but I can tomorrow.”
  3. “I can’t do it but think I can get Bob to help.”

The ability to say NO to less important activities becomes much easier when you know your priorities!

Don’t Be a Perfectionist
It is true we are judged by our work, but we need to know when perfection is required and when something a little less precise is acceptable. Obviously a letter of application must be perfect in every way, but a letter home to a parent asking for a little financial assistance to tide you over until the end of the month could contain a crossed out word or two without jeopardizing your request or having to reprint the letter.

Don’t Shuffle Paperwork
Handle all pieces of mail at once. Here are your options:

  • Throw it away
  • Answer the request immediately
  • File it where it can later be found
  • Route the request to someone appropriate to reply to it.

The 80/20 Rule
Often when one complains about being overworked, it is because they will not let go of the “C’s” or lower priority tasks. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in.

The 80/20 Rule says, “If all items are arranged in order of value, 80 percent of the value will come from only 20 percent of the items, while the remaining 20 percent of the value will come from 80 percent of the items.”


If time is very limited when reviewing a textbook for an exam you may find that 20% of a chapter (introductions, first and last sentence of each paragraph, charts and graphs, and conclusion) contains 80% of the chapter’s value.


With a newsmagazine 20% of the articles may produce 80% of the benefit for you personally. So, rather than going through the pages one by one, go to the Table of Contents, select the articles that most interest you, and go directly to them. Your interests may be national news, science, and books, and not economics, film, and the arts. Why spend time thumbing through every page and risk becoming distracted?

Back to Time Management