At the beginning of all of my speeches or workshops, even with very large audiences of thousands, I always ask the people what time-related topics they struggle with. There's a remarkable consistency, no matter what industry or country I'm working in.

One of the top five questions is always how to effectively plan and/or prioritise.

Is this you, or someone around you?

I completely relate to the people who ask this question - 26 years ago that was me. Even though I was competent in my areas of expertise it felt as though events controlled me, rather than the other way around. A dear friend eventually gave me the kick in the rear that changed everything.

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He'd been listening to me complain about lack of time. Finally, in some frustration he said, 'For goodness sakes, Robyn, go and get a decent diary.' That was the start of my journey of discovery, the opening of my eyes, and what has become my life's work as a time management specialist.

Although I'm not using the same diary or exactly the same system as I learnt back then, the core principles are eternal. (I've simplified what I was initially taught.)

There are four core elements we need to have reasonable competence on or we'll always struggle. (It is beyond the space constraints of this column to go into detail but below I give you two places to get more help.)

1. Knowing the Big Picture - how to see and focus on our goals.

2. How to Plan & Prioritise - and there are four equally important elements.

3. Tips & Techniques - constant efficiency improvements of everything we do.

4. Sanity Gaps - how to protect our work-life balance.

For today, let's just talk about one of the key elements of Planning and Prioritising - how you use your diary.

Most people do not get the full value out of their diaries, whether electronic or paper-based. Instead of just using it to block out appointments, allocate about five - ten minutes before the week starts to plan your week. It then becomes a planning tool instead of just an appointment taker.

By turning some of the activities into appointments - with yourself - to work on high value activities you start to grab back some control instead of spending your life knee-jerking from task to task at the push and pull of others' priorities.

For a more in-depth overview, you can get my free report 'How to Master Time in Only 90 Seconds' here.

And if you're serious about mastery once and for all, have a look at the new online Planning and Prioritising course we've just launched.