Ever tried to get up at 5 am every morning for a week to work out? I have, and I lasted two days before sleep deprivation took over. What can I say; I need a solid eight hours. I realized that time management tips are all very well, but not all tips will work for everyone.
Because time is the most valuable commodity we have—try buying more of it—we need to use it wisely. Whether we spend our time working, caring for others, or looking after ourselves (and all of these are important), it can improve our lives and our health if managed well.
This article explains the theory behind time management and why we should practice good habits. The article also provides some practical time management tips and explains how to implement them.
Time management is really a way to organize the activities in your life. Most people take time management to mean increasing output so that we can pack more in. That might be true to a point, but it is also important to find balance in our lives by taking time to slow down and perhaps do nothing, read a book, meditate, or go out and have fun. You cannot be “on” all the time. If you try, you’re on the fast route to burnout.
Therefore, the first step to better time management is to lay down boundaries for work-life balance. That can be difficult if you work at home where there are constant distractions like spouses, children, and a home to manage.
To learn more about integrating your work life and personal life, read, “Work-Life Integration: Gaining Control of Your Life.”
Are you wondering what effective time management can do for you? If so, consider the following examples of possible outcomes from better time management?.
No more procrastination
If any of those sound attractive, read on to learn eight ways to develop good time management skills.
As mentioned before, managing time is really about organization. But what do we organize and how? Where should we start? With our socks drawer? The kitchen cupboards? A great place to start is your workday. From there, you will have better clarity as to what you should and can achieve in a given timeframe.
When you get out of bed in the morning, you probably have a laundry list of things you need to do, both at home and work. But do you have any idea if you can actually get all those things done? Do you end up extremely stressed out when you can't get them done? It's better to have realistic expectations and to set yourself up for success. That takes planning.
First, take a step back and analyze what your day looks like. Write down what you will do and when. Let’s say you will get up and go to work. After work, perhaps you will go to the gym. Next, you need to do your grocery shopping. Next, you might be meeting friends for dinner.
Plan out your daily tasks, other events, and how long each will take you. Do you have enough hours in the day? If not, you might need to move things to another day.
At work, you should have a set plan to get things done that is separate from your plan during personal time. Your work planner will work in exactly the same way, only it will include work tasks and appointments. Again, estimate at what time of day you will do each task and how long it will take. For safety, add a cushion for time waster events that can interrupt workflow. If you don’t have enough hours in the day to achieve what you want, move tasks to another day.
As you plan your day, and probably move tasks, you will soon see that planning a week in advance, a month in advance, and beyond is necessary. Keeping an up-to-date planner allows you to schedule your time, and critically, fit everything in. Planners can be in digital or traditional paper form, whatever works best. But, remember that you will have to be flexible as life happens, and appointments will change.
Planners are essential for decision-making. They keep you organized. Pretty soon, you’ll have a system where you can see exactly what you need to be doing when. Remember that you also need to schedule downtime.
The Eisenhower Matrix (or box) can help you prioritize tasks daily, weekly, or longer by differentiating between what is urgent and important (priority) versus not urgent and not important.
A shocking statistic is that people spend around five hours a day checking work and personal email. The 2019 Adobe Email Usage Study found that people constantly check email—during meetings, while watching TV, when in bed, while driving, and when in the bathroom.
A better way to manage email is to schedule set times to read and respond to them so that you are not constantly switching tasks, or multitasking, both of which are unproductive. For example, set aside enough time in the morning to check your inbox and respond. Then, set aside another thirty minutes at lunchtime and ignore your inbox until then. Set another email period for the end of the day, etc. Manage your email by placing them in folders, deleting the ones you don’t need, and making a note of those that need to be followed up with later.
An efficient email management system is “Inbox Zero,” developed by Merlin Mann, a productivity expert. TechTarget lists some of Mann's tips for effective email management:
Don't leave the email client open.
Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
First, delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
Forward what can be best answered by someone else.
Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
Move new messages that require more than two minutes to answer -- and messages that can be answered later -- to a separate "requires response" folder.
Set aside time each day to respond to email in the "requires response" folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.
When are you most productive? Do you like to get to work early but then you lose motivation mid-afternoon? Do you like to move slowly in the morning but then have energy at night? Knowing when you are most productive will allow you to take control of your time and use it to your best advantage. For example, you can get your important work tasks done when you have the most energy and devote other times of the day to resting or doing less demanding tasks.
Mark Twain knew about procrastination. His advice? Eat the frog. Twain said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Here, Twain is saying to do the hardest task first and get it over with. The right time for a dreaded task will never come, but once it's behind you, everything else will seem easy.
Sometimes, chipping away at something works. Choose a smaller task the first day and another small task the next day. As you get faster, each task will take less time. Soon, you'll see headway and be encouraged to continue. Reward yourself as you progress.
Humans are not built to focus for too long. According to the BBC, studies dating from the 1990s suggest that we can only concentrate for 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.
Among popular time management techniques, the Pomodoro technique incorporates breaks into focused periods using a timer. It was invented in the late 1908s by Francesco Cirillo and uses a timer called a “Pomodoro timer” to set time constraints. But any timer will do.
The technique uses 25-minute focused intervals (called Pomodoros) separated by breaks. When one Pomodoro ends, you take a five-minute break. Then, set another 25 minutes and repeat. After completing four Pomodoro cycles, take a longer break.
Taking a break can often help you refocus afterward, and even a few minutes break will help. Perhaps a quick chat in the break room as you grab a cup of coffee.
Exercise revs up the brain, so consider a lunchtime workout or a walk. Meditation is an excellent option. There is growing evidence that meditators have better control over their attention than non-meditators.
You won’t be able to do everything, but are there tasks you can delegate? The best leaders delegate so that their time can be better spent elsewhere. If someone can do a specific task quicker and better than you, let them, and even pay them. Digital apps, such as food delivery services, can be of immeasurable help in helping us to achieve smart goals.
There are digital to-do lists, project management tools, and health and exercise apps that save you time planning what you will eat and how you should work out. Zoom as a conference tool saves travel time. You can build templates for documents that you use all the time so that you don't have to recreate them.
Learn to say no to anything but important tasks. Some people find it hard to say no. If you don’t, you may end up letting people down because you have taken too much on, and yourself down by practicing poor stress management.
Distractions come from many sources—social media, pop-up notifications, emails, phone calls, or colleagues who want to chat. Family members, pets, or visitors might pull you away from work if you work from home.
Try putting your phone away in a drawer so that it is out of sight and out of mind. If you have an urgent task or important project and work at home where there are distractions, consider going to a coffee shop or a library where you might have more peace. If colleagues at work are a problem, ask to use a conference room temporarily to get your work done.
For more tips on how to manage work distractions read, “How To Stay Focused at Work.”
Goal setting and time management don't have to mean getting up at 5 am to add two hours to your day. But it could mean you have more time for yourself because you are more productive when it counts.
Good time management strategies start with planning your day and prioritizing your task list. Use digital tools and apps to make things easier. When you have achieved a goal, reward yourself. Before you know it, you will be able to breeze through a work week with less stress and more energy!