|The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that performance is best at|
medium levels of arousal, or stress (image source here).
Some stressors in our lives are difficult or impossible to control - a busy commute, the demands of family caring duties, etc. Therefore researchers and occupational psychologists have becoming increasingly interested in better time management as a stress reduction strategy - managing our time is a learnable skill, and something that is relevant to nearly everyone.
In an ABC analysis (not to be confused with the ABC model in cognitive therapy), the individual creates a 'to do' list, for example their work tasks for the day, and prioritises each item as:
- A: High priority - important and urgent; failing to do these would have unpleasant consequences
- B: Medium priority - important, but not necessarily urgent.
- C: Low importance - enjoyable but not essential e.g. social networking
Then the tasks are scheduled accordingly. Typically, the 'A' tasks are done first, as failing to finish these would cause maximum stress, and the 'C's last in whatever time remains.
Read more here
Pareto analysis - the '80-20 rule'
An alternative strategy is the Pareto analysis, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, whose 'pareto principle' stated that 80% of land is owned by 20% of people. This ratio was later expanded to hold true (or approximately true) for a range economic activity - e.g. 20% of customers make 80% of purchases.
In terms of time management, the key idea is that 20% of the work takes up 80% of the time, and vice-versa. By completing the bulk of quick tasks first, we relieve the pressure of a long to-do list and allow ourselves to focus on the smaller number of more complicated items.
These strategies won't work in every situation. They rely on a list of tasks, and flexibility about the order in which they are done. The ABC analysis risks leaving 'C' tasks permanently undone, while the 80-20 rule won't hold true in every situation. Nevertheless, they offer easy and motivating ways to divide up a long list of tasks.
Kahneman, D. and Tversky, A. (1979). Intuitive prediction: biases and corrective procedures. TIMS Studies in Management Science, 12, 313–327.
Yerkes, R.M. and Dodson, J.D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459–482.
External link: 10 tips for time management