The internet is full of “time management tips.” Everything from personal blogs to peer-reviewed papers provides tips on how to save stress and increase productivity.
Even though some of these techniques sound great, others aren’t. As a result, the right approach will depend on the type of people, preferences, tasks, and teams involved.
What’s more, the process of learning how to manage your time can be complex and different for every individual. But what if you have tried every time management method under the sun and they have not worked for you? Well, you might want to give these eight time management alternatives a try.
1. Stop trying to actually manage time.
“While this may sound counterproductive, if not unconventional — you can’t actually manage time itself,” says productivity and time management expert John Rampton, co-founder and CEO of Calendar. “As such, it’s futile to even try. Instead, you should be focusing on addressing what you have control over. The only thing you have control over is yourself, so how will you make the most of it?”
So, instead of homing in on time management, work on these items instead:
- Energy. “Instead of bulldogging through tasks, take a break if you’re drained,” John suggests. It might be necessary for you to do this now and then. It will, however, sap all of your energy reserves if you do it continuously.
- Priorities. Put your priorities on your calendar before anything else. Make sure they come first. After all, it’s not worth it to waste time on tasks you could have delegated, rescheduled, or deleted.
- Brain. “Neuroplasticity is the concept that the brain (even the adult brain) can build new pathways,” clarifies Ted Deshane over at the Enterprisers Project. “Each time you train your brain to eat the frog, it gets easier to do next time. That’s because you’re building a pathway and retraining your brain to do something that’s challenging.”
- Focus. The author of Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, Chris Bailey, believes it is much more important to manage your focus than managing your time. “You can show up to meetings when you’re supposed to and are fully capable of keeping your calendar on track. Most of us are good at managing our time,” he writes. “What we’re not good at is managing our attention.” Monique Valcour, an executive coach, recommends taking time to reflect on your performance every day. By doing so, you can identify what is working and what isn’t, as well as how to tackle the next day at a more efficient level
- Emotions. The effects of negative emotions can be both exhausting and distracting. Schedule time for self-care or fun, as both are essential for your health.
2. Not all urgent tasks need to be accomplished first.
It feels good to accomplish simpler, more urgent tasks first because it builds momentum before focusing on what matters most. However, you may miss out on strategic planning and creative thinking opportunities if you succumb to what researchers call the “mere urgency effect.”
Time management requires that you filter and order tasks critically, avoid prioritizing based on what causes the most stress, and set long-term goals.
“If you haven’t clarified your A-item priorities, or if you are trying to take on too much, it’s hard to avoid getting sucked into the black hole,” writes Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days. Keeping a few clear outcomes in mind will help you stay on top of your game. “Devote some time to clarifying and getting buy-in for them. Write them down. Put them up on the wall. Look at them every day and ask yourself, ‘How does what I’m doing help to advance these?’”
For minimizing stress-based prioritization, rounding up time estimates is one of the best time management tips. “Assuming a project will take between 10% and 25% longer than you expect is typically a good place to start,” notes the University of Texas at Austin professor Art Markman. “It’s basically just a way …to make room for your mental blind spots in the time-management department.”
3. Write a stop-doing list.
There are psychological (and productivity) benefits to keeping a to-do list, and it can help you manage your time better. However, it might not be right for everyone. If you find the structure of a to-do list stifling or uninspiring, or if you can’t stop yourself from writing 20 items, you might want to give it up.
“Some activities benefit from not being reduced to tasks, says communication expert Judith Humphrey. For example, writing down “take a walk.” Now, “that activity would instantly lose its appeal. When the idea of going for a stroll remains in my head, I can look forward to it expectantly–because it’s a choice, not a duty.”
The best thing you can do, however, is to remind yourself to stop buying things that don’t bring you joy or add little to your long-term goals. As a result, you’re less likely to spend a lot of time doing time-sucking, non-rewarding tasks, freeing up your time to focus on the work that has long-term benefits. And you can accomplish this by writing a stop-doing list.
4. Replace decisions with principles.
“Continually facing decisions with important consequences and imperfect information can lead to what scientists call cognitive overload, in which the demands from the mental work we need to do outstrip our abilities to cope,” explains Dane Jensen, CEO of Third Factor. “Cognitive overload both increases the likelihood that you will make errors and contributes significantly to feeling overwhelmed.”
By replacing decisions with absolute principles, you can reduce the cognitive load you are under, he adds. As an example, weight loss science has found that it is much more effective to say, “I will not eat after 7 PM” than “I will limit my snacking after 7 PM.” The latter decision creates an infinite number of further decisions: “Can I have this cup of yogurt?” How about some fruit? By saying no food after 7 PM, the door will be shut permanently. Suddenly, the decisions are gone.
In the words of Tim Ferriss, a successful author and podcaster, this means “finding the one decision that removes 100 decisions.” In his case, this meant not reading any new publications in 2020. With this blanket principle, he was able to free himself from hundreds of book-by-book decisions after being deluged by eager authors and their publicists for years.
“Steve Jobs famously decided to wear the same thing every day to remove the decision fatigue of choosing an outfit every morning,” states Jensen. It was Jon Mackey, the managing director of Heidrick & Struggles’ Canadian operations, who established the rule of no meetings on Fridays. “After failing to protect time for deep work through individual decisions on which meetings to accept or reject, he created a day a week in which he can focus.”
5. Go with the flowtime technique.
You can use the Pomodoro Technique to get through chores that you do not enjoy or require little thought. It can also enhance your sense of value, improve your planning, and break your multitasking habit. Additionally, it can assist you in dealing with distractions, maintaining motivation, and overcoming fatigue.
There is a problem with the times because they are far too brief.
In order to get into our deep work zone, where our best work occurs, we need to spend 23 minutes on average. Just as you enter deep work mode, you take a break with the Pomodoro Technique. Additionally, your brain is not allowed to recover from the microbreaks of the allotted time.
Moreover, some find the Pomodoro Technique to be too rigid.
With that said, you might find the Flowtime Technique to be a more effective alternative.
This technique “measures your productivity habits and your focus with a timed system,” explains Albert Costill in a previous Calendar article. “As a result, multitasking is discouraged in favor of solo work, where you stay focused on one task until it’s complete.”
“This method has become popular as an alternative to the Pomodoro Method, which consists of a fixed amount of work followed by breaks,” he adds. “However, although many have found the Pomodoro Technique highly effective, the time intervals can feel restrictive and stressful.”
The Flowtime Technique eliminates these time constraints. Therefore, a timer will not distract you from your focus.
6. Rather than crossing off tasks, think about outcomes.
Making a to-do list before you start your day is a tried-and-true time management trick. Although some find the act of keeping a list of to-do’s soothing and useful, others may find the rigidity of routines overwhelming.
A to-do list helps us stay on top of things and feels satisfying when we check things off. It is possible, though, that focusing on accomplishments and prioritizing productivity could limit our creativity. Often, to-do lists are effective because they provide a clear path to a certain outcome — do A, then B, then C -– but Wisconsin School of Business research shows that giving people clear problems with clear solutions can restrict their creativity.
For me — I say, “Who cares about creativity when I just want to quickly get a list done. And when someone has spent their valuable time finding a solution, I’m thrilled not to waste my valuable time trying to find a different way. I don’t invent the wheel — I just hurry and accomplish the task!”
Rather than focusing on tasks, try focusing on outcomes for a more flexible approach to time management. “This approach focuses people and teams on a concrete result, not the process required to achieve it,” says Jennifer Robison, a senior editor at the Gallup Business Journal. “Employees, then, have a high degree of autonomy to use their own unique talents to reach goals their own way.”
Innovation and engagement in an organization can be increased when leaders adopt an outcome-based company culture. Consider an alternative to individualized task management if focusing solely on outcomes is not feasible for you and your team. Identify priorities every day, ask your team to check in asynchronously online, or work with a project manager to create a task management system.
7. Be pessimistic.
In her experience, even those who plan ahead often forget to specify the time for unforeseen circumstances. When everything goes according to plan, they are successful at time management. The downside is that they may have to give up hobbies, self-growth, or family time if something unexpected happens.
As a backup approach, Laura suggests an approach that is more “pessimistic.”
In this situation, you don’t plan on keeping the schedule minute by minute. Rather, you set aside extra time in the week for work tasks. Although it can be challenging with a busy schedule, it allows you to stay on top of everything.
8. Practice anti-time management.
Richie Norton, author of Anti-Time Management: Reclaim Your Time and Revolutionize Your Results with the Power of Time Tipping, explains how traditional time management tools measure every single drop of sweat, blood, and tears from workers.
“[They were] never designed for freedom,” he says. “The question is, ‘Who manages my time under time management?’ Traditionally, it is about control. Your employer controls your time. They create your schedule. They tell you what to do, when, and where. And, if you want to get crazy, they determine that you only have two weeks out of the year for vacation and when you get to retire.”
Rather than being the opposite of time management or the opposite of time management, Norton proposes embracing “anti-time management.” “You control your time,” Norton asserts. “You decide what you want to do, when and where. You decide if you want to create space or not.”
If you want to practice anti-time management, start by identifying what Norton calls “final causes.” “It’s a term from Aristotle,” says Norton. “The idea is [that] an acorn becomes an oak tree. But in real life, a lot of us are planting seeds thinking they’re going to be an oak when they never will. Why not just plant an oak tree from the start?”
A “final cause” is the reason why something is done. Rather than the goal itself, it’s the success that follows. “Once you realize the final cause, you can change the decision tree around who you want to be and what you really want to do and set up from the dream instead of working endlessly toward it,” says Norton.
Image Credit: Eugene Shelestov; Pexels; Thank you!