In truth, all time management techniques are used to manage ourselves. Because there are only 24 hours in a day, there’s not much that can be done to manage the time. But here's the good news: we can choose how we spend our time, and learning how to set up systems and habits that make the choices easier is what we refer to as time management.
The most effective time management strategies are those that you implement with consistency. We’ve gathered a list of the tried-and-true recommended time management tips and productivity hacks. Not only are these strategies easy to apply, when incorporated into your life over some time, they can also bring real results and changes.
Keep Track of Your Tasks
Generally, when we think of keeping track of our tasks, a simple to-do list comes to mind. Lists and notes are much more reliable methods of remembering everything you need to do than relying on your brain. However, there are multiple ways you can keep track of everything you need to do:
- To-do lists
- Cloud-based project management software
- Online note-taking software
Many people are well-served by using one primary method of keeping track and keeping another as a backup. For example, if you use Google Calendar to keep track of everything you need to do both in work and life, having a small whiteboard on the fridge to catch tasks that fall through the cracks can help.
However, you should commit to keeping all your to-do lists, notes, and tasks in one place for the best results.
By implementing a single place to keep track of all your tasks, you’re giving yourself a place to put all the ideas and thoughts that come to you so you won’t forget them. The next time you’re in the middle of an important task, and you think ‘I need to get the car washed’ or ‘Did I remember to email that white paper’ you can turn to your list as a way to clear your mind. With a clear mind, you can devote more focus and attention to the task at hand, being more productive and less stressed.
The Easiest Time Management Technique: Pace Yourself
Part of learning how to manage your time is learning how you use your time. How long does a typical work task take you? How long does it take you to get ready for the day each morning? Take a moment to assess how long the tasks you do every day take you. This information can help you learn how to pace yourself.
Pacing yourself is the act of giving yourself enough time to get everything done that needs to get done without unreasonable stress. If you’re trying to fit 12 hours worth of work into your 8-hour workday, feelings of falling behind and pressure to overachieve will follow. By being able to recognize how your time is typically eaten up, you’ll be able to find space in your day for optimization and prioritization.
Learning how to prioritize your tasks will help you determine what order they should get done in. How you prioritize your tasks will depend on your situation. When trying to determine how urgent and necessary a job is, ask yourself how it fits into your larger goals. You should also consider the time it will take, whether or not the task itself has a deadline, and if there is someone else for you to delegate the job.
Take Tasks Off Your Plate
There are two main ways to shift time-wasting or unimportant tasks off your plate to free up your time for more important tasks:
- Start delegating. Knowing how to delegate effectively is a crucial time management tool for everyone. Even if the only thing you delegate is household chores or errands, you’ll still be giving yourself time to focus on more urgent houses.
- Say ‘no’ more often. One of the most often repeated pieces of time management techniques is to say ‘no’ more, however, determining what opportunities or tasks to turn down takes time and practice. Refer back to your priorities when deciding what tasks you should say no to.
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Hone Your Focus
However much we would like to convince ourselves that multitasking is productive, it causes you to lose your focus and spread your efforts too thinly. To truly be productive and manage your time, you should focus on one task at a time.
A great way to do this is the popular Pomodoro technique, also known as the ‘tomato timer’ technique. The concept is simple: set a 25-minute timer and work on a single task with our entire focus. Once the timer is up, take a five-minute break. After your fourth timer goes off, take a longer break of up to twenty minutes.
Not only is this a great way to get things done, but it’s also an excellent way to retrain yourself to focus on a single task. If you find that 25-minute chunks are too short for you, there’s no reason you can’t use extended time periods. Just make sure you remember to take the occasional break; most people begin to work less efficiently after working completely focused for more than an hour or two.
Between social media, shopping apps, and the endless amount of content on the Internet, there’s a treasure trove of ways we can find ourselves distracted and procrastinating when we should be working. Not only does this ruin our ability to focus, but it prevents us from getting the most out of the workday.
The easiest way to handle these distractions in a time management sense is to eliminate them. Learn how to set boundaries between yourself and your favorite distractions — constantly scrolling Facebook when you should be writing briefs? Log out on your phone and block the webpage in your browser using an extension.
When you set boundaries, you’ll notice that the things you once turned to as a distraction can now be checked with intention. You’ll find yourself satisfied with one video, or you’ll be satisfied with five minutes on your social media feeds. The more you take back control from your distractions, the more time you have to be genuinely productive.
Creating systems is one of the ultimate productivity hacks. When you create systems for your time management techniques, you can rely on them to automate tasks or decisions. You’ll find yourself with more headspace to worry about the essential things.
What kind of tasks and decisions can you make systems for? The list is nearly as endless, but here are a few common examples:
- Setting up an automatic email response for busy periods and vacation
- Automate payments for reoccurring expenses
- Creating a to-do list at the end of every workday to cut down on decision-making the following day
Use Your Downtime
We all have small periods of downtime every day. Getting creative about how you use your downtime can be a useful time management strategy. While you shouldn’t rush to fill every moment with tasks, consider how you can make use out of the dead space in your day.
For example, if you have an empty fifteen minutes during your commute, there are so many ways you could make better use of that time than by scrolling through your social media feed. From listening to an informative podcast to answering work emails and taking notes, you can create a small habit that fills your regular downtime in a way that helps you feel like you’ve gotten something done.
The fantastic part about nurturing the feeling of ‘getting things done’ is that often, once you’ve finished one small task, you give yourself momentum to continue and keep being productive.
Stop Humoring Perfectionism
In the same way, one of the most difficult to master time management strategies is letting go of perfectionism. Often, those who focus on always “being on” or on delivering perfect work can feel immense pressure or even burnt out.
This is the way that perfectionism makes it difficult for you to manage your time correctly; you’ll spend so much time trying to do everything on your to-do list perfectly that you don’t get past the third bullet point.
Implement Your Changes Consistently
The most important part to remember about implementing effective time management techniques is that you must be patient and consistent. No article or book can take you from poorly managing your time to a stress-free time management master overnight. Time management is a skill that must be put into practice over some time to see any results.
To make lasting change, you have to commit to making small changes over time. Start implementing one time management tip at a time and give it 100% of your focus.
Once you’ve turned one time management tip into a habit, you can start adding another technique into your life. While it may be tempting to download a time management app, start using tomato timers for every task, and delegate every non-essential task, you’ll often do yourself more harm than good if you try to change too many habits at once.
Start with the area of your current time management that is causing you the most trouble - if you always feel like things fall through the cracks, for example, it’d be best to work on making to-do lists or schedules until you get the hang of it.
Take A Moment to Breathe
Above all, remember that our brains need time to rest and breathe. Our minds can only handle so much information at once. Especially in today’s always-on digital age, you must give yourself the space to breathe at least once a day.
Think about how you feel when you have fifteen different things on your plate - and they’re all due tomorrow. That level of stress isn’t sustainable, but if you never take a moment of quiet reflection to let your brain sort itself out, it’s the level of stress that will eventually build up even when you have your to-do list under control.
The next time you start to berate yourself for procrastinating or poorly managing your time, take a moment to take a step back. Redirect your focus to your physical body and allow yourself to calm down and refocus physically. After a few minutes, you can return to your calendars and to-do list with feeling a little less overwhelmed.
Effective Time Management is A Skill
Over time, the more you practice your time management techniques in a way that helps you reach your goals, the better you’ll become. Every one of us works differently; what may be an effective time management technique for you may never work for one of your coworkers, no matter how often they try it. Always be working toward making your life easier and more efficient with time management tools, software, and techniques.