The third of the thirteen virtues in Franklin’s autobiography is:

Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

I like to have order in my life, because order itself makes me happy, and often it simplifies life and boosts efficiency, in which sense I agree with this quote. But at the same time, I realized that the first half of the sentence is easier to achieve than the second half. I often wonder: why can I organize my room items, computer files, and phone apps neatly, but struggle with time management? When I was a student, I had to pull all-nighters to study for exams or finish assignments; when I started working, I had to work overtime or waste time on my phone before bed. I always had this question. Only later did I figure out why it is much harder to manage your business and time than your things and places.

Physical things and places are both solid, clear, and easy to grasp. Usually, it is not hard to list your belongings and put them in their places. Most importantly, things stay where they are unless you move them. You don’t need much continuous effort to maintain that order. On the other hand, business and time management are quite different. First, it is harder to list all your business, especially as an adult with various roles and responsibilities: an employee, a parent, a spouse, etc., and multiple interests and hobbies: reading, writing, exercising, traveling, etc. There could be endless business for one person. Second, time is dynamic and flowing. Time is lost if you do nothing. Obviously, it requires constant effort to make good use of time.

When I realized this, I felt more relieved. Since it is harder, it is more forgivable to mess it up. Also, this thought helps me find a better way to deal with the problem. I realized that, just like my things and places, I need a clear view of my business and time. I should dedicate some time to list all my relevant business and identify only the essential ones. Then I can use a calendar to assign these essential business to suitable time slots. In summary: a system based on priority and calendar is the answer to this question. The process is as follows:

  1. Collect all the things that need to be done in an inbox, and categorize them by type, such as work, personal, or leisure.
  2. Use a matrix of urgency and importance to determine the priorities of each task. Urgency means how soon the task needs to be done, and importance means how much the task matters to your goals and values.
  3. Schedule the prioritized tasks in a calendar, and assign a specific time slot for each task. Try to avoid overloading your calendar and leave some buffer time for unexpected events.
  4. Review your calendar regularly and adjust it as needed. Track your progress and celebrate your achievements.

I am trying to apply this principle to my life, and hopefully it helps “let all my things have their places; let each part of my business have its time”.