The 80/20 rule applies to many circumstances, including time management. Training consultant Renee Crews, chief executive officer and founder of Metamorphosis in Chicago, advises managers to evaluate whether 20% of your time is spent on the most important tasks of running your business, and if 80% occupies the least important. If so, you probably need to make some changes.

Speaking at the Retail Bakers of America Roadshow April 15 in Chicago, Crews shared a notable quote from President Dwight Eisenhower: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

This quote refers to a now popular time management scheme called the Eisenhower Matrix. Every task is evaluated based on two axes: important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent. There are different rules for each type of task. For example, if a task is urgent but unimportant then it could be delegated to someone else.

Crises and deadlines certainly fall into the important/urgent category, while meetings and interruptions often are not important but urgent. The real culprit to managing your time most effectively are time wasters, which are neither important nor urgent.

So, ask yourself: What are your time wasters? How do you either get these time wasters off your plate or eliminate them altogether?

The first step, Crews suggests, is to create your own priority worksheet. List all your daily activities and rank them by priority. Daily activities may include such tasks as budgeting, payroll and scheduling.

Now assign a number (1 = most important) to each daily activity and then determine whether it’s urgent for today, can be completed within a week, or has a flexible deadline.

By using this exercise and assigning a priority value to each of your daily activities, Crews says, you can begin to shed valuable light on whether you are handling your tasks in the most effective and efficient manners.

You begin to identify some ways that you see employees are wasting time and where you are wasting time, as well. Creating a task checklist chart can help alleviate any problems by giving yourself and/or your employees a more realistic picture of effective time management.

In one column, list each task one by one, followed by the estimated time it should take to complete each task and the person responsible for it. Allow spaces to the side of each task to list four additional columns: target start, actual start, target finish, and actual finish.

“This holds the responsible person accountable,” Crews says.

Another useful exercise involves communicating with your staff on what they consider to be the timeframe for each of the following words: soon, now and ASAP. To one person, soon may mean tomorrow, while to another person it may mean this week. Now could mean in the next 5 minutes or by the end of today. ASAP is even tougher to pinpoint. Some people might consider ASAP whenever they get around to it.

The important part of this exercise, Crews says, is to have a healthy dialogue with your management team and employees so that everyone has a clear idea of what is expected of them, so they are not missing deadlines or failing to respond effectively to instructions. Effective time management can mean the difference between profits and losses.