Because time is our most valuable and limited resource, everyone should make it a top priority. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and people continue to take this resource for granted. But, the truth is, time management can be obtained with relative ease by improving upon the following skills.
Clearly state your goals.
You can easily find a million time management hacks. But, they’re not helpful if you don’t know what you want to accomplish. To know exactly what goals you’ll achieve, you’ve got to know what goal you’re working on.
Goals guide and keep us motivated when you need it. And, most importantly, goals let us see the bigger picture. As a result, we won’t spend time on anything that isn’t driving us towards the personal and professional goals we want to achieve — like getting in better shape or acquiring new skills to make you a more valuable asset at work. Instead, we focus on the daily tasks that will.
Of course, it’s never easy to stay motivated to reach your goals. But, you can improve the odds by having a more positive mindset, while still being honest that challenges will arise. Also, make sure that you clearly understand why you want to reach a specific goal. And, break down those larger goals into smaller, more attainable ones.
Finally, make sure you track your progress and revisit your goals so that you can revise them if needed.
Make lists and set deadlines.
Our brains love ordered lists. That’s because they can reduce anxiety, provide structure to our daily and chaotic lives, and shows us what we’ve accomplished. At the same time, lists can become overwhelming.
To prevent that, keep your lists lean and mean. In other words, only jot down what you would like to accomplish today. Ideally, these would be your two or three “MITs” — “most important tasks.” You could also try out strategies like “if-then” planning or SUG” method, meaning “seriousness, urgency, and growth.”
You can choose whatever technique you use. The key is focusing on what needs to be done and when. When you know this information, you can place your most essential list items on your calendar and assign them deadlines. It’s an effective way to keep you focused and motivated. And, it ensures that you won’t schedule anything else ahead of your priorities.
Conduct a time audit.
For the next couple of weeks, keep a time log. You don’t need to overthink this. Just grab a pen and notebook and jot down how you spend your time. For example, how long is your daily commute, and what do you usually do? How much time do you spend on email, social media, meetings, or completing daily tasks?
Keeping track of your time lets you realistically block out time so that you no longer over-or-underestimate how long something tacks — which can help you better meet deadlines and avoid being late.
It also allows you to see where you’re wasting. For example, you spend downtime, like on your commute or when waiting for an appointment, catching-up on the latest Twitter feud or whether or not Spider-Man will appear in the MCU again. Instead, you could have spent that time cleaning out your inbox, reading a book, or preparing for the rest of your day.
I should also note that in addition to the good ole’ pen and paper method, there are several tools like Toggl, RescueTime, and Timely that tack your time on your electronic devices.
Use the Important-Urgent Matrix to prioritize tasks.
Also known as the Eisenhower Matrix, this encourages you to only spend time on tasks that are important and urgent, aka your top priorities. What about everything else that you need to get done? Well, they’ll have to be scheduled for later, delegated, or scrapped altogether.
Schedule your days.
How you schedule your day is totally up to you. Just remember, it’s about knowing what your priorities are and how much time needs to be allocated to them. But, there’s also a little bit more to that when scheduling time.
When creating a schedule, also take note of when you’re most productive and spend that time on your most important task. For most of us, that’s in the morning. But, for night owls, that’s not going to be the case. Also, consider the Pareto Principle, meaning that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the efforts.
In regards to time management, that means identifying which 20 percent of your efforts are producing your best results and focusing on them. Remember to schedule in some free time for best results with your time management goals.
Despite what you may believe, multitasking does not work. It may even cause you to spend more time on a specific task or activity since you aren’t giving it 100 percent of your attention. As a consequence, you’ll end up making mistakes and having to go back and fox them.
So, focus on one thing at a time. Then, you can move on to whatever you need to do next. Find ways to get back to work faster after you have been distracted.
Block out bad distractions, but embrace the good ones.
Distractions are one of time management’s greatest foes. And, that shouldn’t be all that shocking. I mean how much work can you get done if you respond to every smartphone notification or chat with every co-worker when they pass by?
Determine what distracts you the most and then find ways to thwart it. For example, turning off your phone and closing tabs will block out pesky electronic notifications. You could cope with a loud office by investing in noise-canceling headphones. And, keeping your workplace clean and organized prevents your mind from worrying about that stack of papers on your desk. Learn how to overcome the procrastination all people face.
On the flipside, distractions can be beneficial. The reason? When our minds begin to wander, it’s often a sign that we need a break. Don’t resist it. Instead, stop what you’re doing and distract yourself in a healthy way, like going for a walk, meditating, reading something inspiring, or sit there and do nothing.
You’ve got a deadline fast approaching. Knowing this, you’ve cleared your calendar so that this is your top priority. Then Janice in accounting pops-in and asks if you want to grab lunch. That sounds great, and you gladly accept. Here’s the thing, you’re not getting pulled away from work not just to eat, but also the time it takes to get there and back. That travel time could have been spent on something more productive.
Time management is all about self-discipline and knowing when to say “no.” If not, you’ll continue by putting less critical items ahead of what you really should be spending your time on.
Time management isn’t about doing as much as you can in the least amount of time. If you go all in like that, you’re going to burn yourself out. Instead, it’s doing the best work possible and taking frequent breaks. That may sound counterproductive. But, we need these breaks to help rest and recharge so that we have enough energy for the entire day.
Stop sweating the small stuff.
I’m talking about things like perfectionism here. You want to do your best work. But, obsessing over it’s “perfect” isn’t just time-consuming, it’s also unrealistic. After all, there is no such thing as perfect.
Give everything you do 100% and move on. You don’t have time worrying about things so small that no one will ever notice.
Get a little help from tech.
Like your to-do-lists, you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself by relying on too many tools. Instead, find tools that help address a problem area.
The most obvious place to start is with an online calendar. It can be used to create and maintain a schedule, as well as send you reminders on upcoming tasks or events. A calendar can also be used when scheduling a meeting or appointment since it helps determine when those in attendance are available.
There are also apps like Todoist that can allow you to create and manage your to-do-lists. Project management software like Trello can keep teams on the same page. And, SelfControl and StayFocused block out distracting websites.
We’ve all experienced procrastination. And, as I’m sure you’re well aware, you can’t simply tell yourself to snap out of it. So, how can you overcome procrastination?
One way is to give yourself a more substantial reward then procrastination — we delay starting something because it feels good. If that isn’t effective, you could also try:
- Identify the root cause of your procrastination so that you can take action against it.
- Do the most challenging or least enjoyable task first.
- Become more mindful of reducing anxious feelings or becoming overwhelmed.
- Stop making mountains out of molehills.
- If something takes under five minutes to do, do it.
- Practice self-compassion.
- Change your mindset from having to do something to choose to do it.
- Put tasks in your calendar as a commitment to get them down.
Get into a groove.
Establishing routines and habits are one of the most important things that a person can do. It reduces the number of decisions that need to be made. In turn, this preserves mental energy and makes us more efficient.
Additionally, routines reduce procrastination, provides structure, and forces us to focus on our most important tasks. Add all of this together, and having a routine is one of the best ways to improve your time management.
I’m sure you’ve come across this Ben Frankling quote before, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Might be a little played out. But it’s true.
While you can’t plan for literally everything, time management masters do things like preparing their meals and wardrobe in the evening so that they don’t have to do this in the morning. They look ahead at their calendars, so they are prepared and not caught off guard.
Take care of yourself.
Finally, you can’t improve your time management skills if you’re not in the best of health. You’ll want to make sleep and exercise a priority so that you have the energy to power through each day. You also need to eat healthy snacks and find productive ways to cope with stress. And, you also need to take the time to do the things that you enjoy so that you have a happier and more fulfilled life.