Time management seeps into every part of life, from work and plans to hobbies and relationships. It may seem counterintuitive to take time out to learn about time management, but just as with so many tasks, taking time at the beginning to effectively plan will reduce overall time spent, improving your efficiency.
Also, by learning about different time management techniques and refining and practicing them, you will find that these techniques begin to filter into many parts of your life. So if you’re looking to get ahead, read on for some great ways to manage your schedule and boost your productivity.
What is time management and why is it important?
Managing your time effectively, or having good time management skills, is key in the success of any project. Project time management can mean the difference between having a successful career and happy home life, or always being behind which comes with a range of added stress.
Thankfully, there are many ways an individual can improve time management. These include basic time management skills, such as writing lists, using time management tools, such as apps, or even employing an assistant.
Getting serious: Time management tips and hacks
Given the value of time management for work and life, let’s take a look at the time management tools and strategies that can help one to stay ahead.
1. Make a “To Do” list: The notecard system
Lists can be a very clear and comprehensive way to structure your day and can help you organize and group your tasks so that you can get more done in less time. In addition, they can help you appreciate how much you actually got done.
One recommended listing system for time planning is the notecard system. Before going to bed, write down 3-5 things that you aim to get done the next day on a 3×5 card. The following day, work to get those tasks done — if you manage it, then it was a successful day. The magic, however, is that during that same day you should write everything else that you did that day (useful stuff only) on the back of the card. At the end of the day, look at the list and the back of the card to see how much you actually got done that day. This will help you stay motivated, as even if you did not complete your “To Do” list, you accomplished many other things.
2. Break it down: The Swiss cheese method
After writing a list, prioritizing and grouping the tasks together, and getting ready to start, you may still feel an urge to procrastinate. This is often because a task seems too big to handle, creating an urge to avoid it. To stop this from happening, break it down into simple small tasks.
The Swiss cheese method encourages workers to look at a task as a block of cheese, which they start poking holes into by finishing the quick and simple actions related to that task. Before you know it, the cheese will be full of holes (like a Swiss cheese) and the task will be completed.
3. Prioritize: The Eisenhower Matrix
Invented by President Eisenhower of the USA, this four-sectioned graph allows workers to prioritize and allocate their time wisely. The Eisenhower Matrix provides four categories:
- Important and urgent: Tasks here should be done as a priority, but it is important not to add too many tasks here as the other categories also need time.
- Urgent but not important: Also known as the “delegate” box, this category is for those tasks that are urgent, such as replying to clients, but not important in the sense that they may not be that productive. These types of tasks can be delegated, if that is a possibility.
- Not urgent but important: These tasks can be deemed the most productive, as you can take the time to get them right. However, don’t leave them until last thinking that they are not urgent, as otherwise they will invade your “important and urgent” category.
- Not important and not urgent: These tasks should be listed to help you see where your time is not being used in the most effective way. There will be some necessary tasks that might not seem that important, such as team bonding sessions. These can be scheduled, however, one should ensure they take up a smaller portion of one’s time.
4. Set time limits with breaks: The Pomodoro technique
A relatively simple time management strategy that works well for tedious tasks, the Pomodoro technique consists in working in blocks of 25 to 30 min for uninterrupted work followed by short 2 to 3 min breaks. Each time a block is completed, it is marked with an X in a notebook. This technique not only helps individuals be more focused, but it also helps to work out how much time certain tasks take.
5. AI help: Apps to block out distraction or block time off
For those in need of some helpful apps to help turn off distractions and so improve time management, Be Focused Pro, Self Control, and Freedom are options that help by disabling your access to certain applications for a set period of time. For those looking to block time, with alarms and reminders, then Toggle Track and the Pomodoro timer are good options. Using apps can stop you from checking your phone under the pretense of “just seeing” if someone has messaged, or simply “checking the time.”
6 Don’t answer right away
A lot of time can be lost if you answer every message or email as it comes through. Answering continuously throughout the day will disrupt your work flow, meaning you are more prone to procrastination and you will have to get back into the workflow each time. To avoid this, schedule two or three batch checks for your emails a day, adding your new tasks to your list, or the back of your card if using the notecard system.
7 Before meetings, determine your desired results
Keep your meetings concise and avoid losing time to unnecessary lengthy meetings by establishing your desired results before going in. Note them down first and then tick them off as you go, and if you feel you are veering off track, consult those desired results again and bring the meeting back to topic.
8 Make the most of waiting times
It may seem obvious, but think of all those times you’ve spent waiting — couldn’t you make better use of that time? Next time you’re waiting in a doctor or dentist’s waiting room, for a train, for a friend, on a bus, and so many other instances, tick off a couple of things from your list — this could even just be catching up on some reading.
Time management: The foundations
Before paying for time management apps or gurus, it is important to first try to create some basic structure in your day-to-day life. No time management tool can help if you aren’t sleeping or eating properly. So it’s also worth reviewing some of the more foundational aspects of productivity and time management:
1. The early bird catches the worm
Everyone has heard stories of how superhuman CEOs, such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, all get up early. This narrative is mirrored by many successful individuals, with the most notable perhaps being Apple CEO Tim Cook, who rises at 3:45am every morning to do his emails and work out. Don’t despair, as there is no need to be quite so drastic, but it is clear that getting an early start is key to success. Rising before anyone else means you have more time in a day, allowing for a healthy balance of work, exercise, and down time. A key note, however, is that rising early should not mean sacrificing sleep — a tired mind is a slow and unproductive mind. So, rising early means going to sleep early.
2. Don’t strive for perfection, just start now
The biggest challenge is starting, whether due to a lack of confidence, tools, or motivation — but all this time spent waiting to start is time wasted.
The simple act of starting is what will prepare you and get your creativity flowing; a work ethic and a perfect plan will not just come as you sit on the sofa. Success is only accomplished with hard work and perseverance — things that come with good time management skills and practice.
3. Exercise often
Exercise helps keep an active mind as the blood is kept moving around the body. Additionally, ensuring your body is a little tired allows you to focus your mental energy without feeling so restless — thereby helping you use your time effectively. Exercising also helps you have a better night’s sleep, which is rule 101 of efficient time management.
4. Learn to say no
Saying “no” is one of the hardest things to do, but time is precious and it should be prioritized. Don’t take on a project or make commitments to something that will not benefit you or your business if there is something that you could be doing in that time that would benefit you more — and that can be downtime. Saying no is key to success, not only for time management at work but also for your mental health.
5. Making time for you
Time planning is not all about work. Maintaining good time management skills is also about improving quality of life. For this reason, it is important to schedule in time for self-growth, such as time for your hobbies or learning (and this doesn’t have to be related to work). Additionally, scheduling “unstructured time,” dedicated to thinking or following your instincts can be a great way to come up with new ideas. Scheduling in at least 2-4 hours for your self-growth or simply as time to do nothing is vital for your personal and career growth.
Time management is vital for everyone, whether working or not. Structuring your time wisely and prioritizing your workload or general day-to-day tasks will help free up more time for you and increase productivity. Whether simple listing and prioritizing is enough for you, or if time management tools and time management strategies are more your calling, finding good time management skills in the workplace or at home can be easy (and fun!), and will help you to get more out of each day.