I recently spotted a Gallup poll that reported that 41 percent of Americans feel that they don’t have enough time to do everything they want to do. From the CEO to any employee, to the stay at home mom/dad — if you don’t feel you have enough time to get all of your things done — it is reported that almost 80 percent feel stressed throughout the day. However, there are ways to step up your time management game and have a more productive 2019.
The following list reports 19 ways to improve your time management so that you have a more productive, and less stressful, year.
1. Track your daily activities.
If you want to start managing your time better, then you need to track your daily activities. When you track your time, you can see how you’re spending your days and where you’re wasting valuable time.
“First, people who feel like they have enough time are exceedingly mindful of their time,” writes productivity expert Laura Vanderkam in Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. “They take ownership of their lives and think through their days and weeks ahead of time. They also reflect on their lives, figuring out what worked and what didn’t.”
Vanderkam adds that you can easily track your time by creating a spreadsheet and breaking it into half-hour and one-hour time blocks. She recommends that you insert activities like work, sleep, commuting, meal preparation, or spending time with your family at least three times during the day.
Or, you could use time tracking tools like Toggl, RescueTime, Timely, or Focus Booster to keep your tracking for you.
2. Add “no” to your vocabulary.
I honestly believe that the main reason why time is an issue for so many of us is that we can’t say “no.” We can’t turn out an invite to an unproductive meeting or social event. And, we can’t tell others that we already have enough work to focus on and can’t take on any more responsibilities.
However, when you start saying “yes” to every request, then you’re letting other people take control of your time.
While it’s understandable that saying “no” is difficult since you don’t want to offend anyone, this is a word that needs to become a part of your vocabulary. The following mentions a couple of ways to make saying no a little less awkward for you.
- Be transparent and upfront. If you already have a social commitment or full workload, then explain this when declining the request.
- Don’t initially fully commit. Let’s say someone invites you to lunch. You don’t have to accept or reject the request immediately. Tell your caller that you have to check your calendar and you’ll get back to them before the end of the day tomorrow.
- Offer alternative solutions. If you’re packed solid for the next three weeks, then offer to have that lunch meeting next month when you have more availability. If you have a colleague who has free time, recommend that the client request your colleague.
- Always be polite and professional. Simply saying “thanks” can go a long way.
3. Clear the clutter.
Take a second and look at your workplace. Are there piles of papers? Is everything you need to get your work done scattered throughout your office? If you are not able to find and access the tools you need to work, then how can you expect to get things done? What’s more, how much time are you spending looking for specific items instead of working? It is well known that clutter causes stress and it distracts us from focusing.
You don’t necessarily have to clean your work-space daily. But, once a week — maybe spend every Friday afternoon –organizing and tidying up your work-space. You’ll be able to find items when you need them and stay focused on what really matters.
4. Set SMART goals.
Yes. There is a right way and wrong way to set goals. When goals aren’t set correctly, you end up wasting a ton of time on unproductive results.
As you set goals throughout the year, make sure that they’re S.M.A.R.T. — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Using this acronym will provide structure and ensure that your time will be as productive as possible.
5. Implement “just-in-time” learning.
How many times have you taken a break from work to check your RSS feed only to get distracted by the content? Shifting focus from what you are working on to the article you’ve just read can pull you off your workflow. Unfortunately, it’s just not articles or blog posts; it can be a podcast or TedTalk video you’ve just checked-out. When you have just had your focus and attention diverted is where just-in-time-learning can be a real life-saver.
The idea is that you only consume content that is related to what you’re currently working on.
In other words, if the content doesn’t deserve your immediate attention by helping you with the task-at-hand then save it for later. A tool like Evernote is perfect for this since it lets you save helpful content so that it can be accessed at a more convenient time.
6. Create better habits.
While this could vary from person-to-person, there’s no denying that the most successful and productive people adhere to strict habits. Strict habits include waking-up before everyone else, having a morning ritual, meditating, taking care of their health, and staying busy without ever being rushed.
7. Make and use lists.
Making a list probably sounds pretty obvious, but lists are a key factor when it comes to time management since they can help you determine your daily priorities, define your weekly goals, or identify what you need to do today to grow your business.
After you jot down your lists, you should review them every night or morning to see what you’ve done and what’s next on the docket. When you see what you’ve already completed, you’ll be motivated to do more since you have a sense of accomplishment. Lists can keep you focused on what needs to be accomplished first, and allows you to mark off or put an X by those tasks that are finished.
If you don’t want to use pen and paper, you can use apps like Todoist, Any.do, Trello, Wunderlist, or Google Keep.
8. Set aside your mornings for your most important tasks (MIT’s).
You’ve probably at some point come across this famous Mark Twain quote, “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.”
What Twain meant was that if you discipline yourself to work on your most important task first thing in the morning, then you’ll be less likely to procrastinate on your work for the rest of the day. As an added perk, it won’t be occupying your mind. When you don’t have to keep track of everything in your head — it keeps your mind free — allowing you to focus on your next task without being distracted.
9. Remain laser focused.
As noted in a CNBC article, we “focus on one thing for 40 seconds, on average, before getting distracted and moving on to something else.” Because of breaking our focus, it takes 50 percent longer to complete our work. Additionally, it takes on average 25-minutes to get back to the original task.
The good news, according to productivity expert Chris Bailey, for every minute that you curb workplace distractions, you gain 10-minutes in productivity. So, how can you remain laser focused?
For starters, change the settings on your phone to grayscale. Changing this setting will make everything on your screen black and white so that the screen will be less appealing. You can also put your phone on airplane mode, turn off all notifications, delete your email app, and disconnect at night; when you typically have the least amount of energy.
10. Delegate and outsource.
Entrepreneurs have this belief that they can do everything on their own. You may have learned the hard way — you need to check your ego at the door and trust others to do the work as well as you can. Whether if it’s outsourcing certain tasks to freelancers or assigning some responsibilities to an employee, this allows you to focus on your priorities and reduce your workload.
11. Break-down tasks.
Do you tend to look at an entire project and feel completely paralyzed and overwhelmed? When you look at the whole project, it is hard to know where to start. As a result of looking at a project that is too large — most people will begin working on tasks that aren’t as important.
Instead of looking at a massive project, break the job down into more manageable bite-sized chunks. For instance, instead of being consumed with all of the marketing efforts, create smaller tasks like generating content ideas and creating a content calendar. Then, focus on other areas like the social media campaign.
12. Get in your “zone.”
We all have specific times when we’re more alert, focused, and productive. I’m a morning person who usually gets the most work done before noon. Many people are most productive at night after their kids go to bed. We all have internal and external factors that can influence when we’re most productive.
Take the time to determine when you get in the “zone” more quickly; schedule your days around that. For instance, because I’m most productive in the morning, that’s when I block out time to work on my most important tasks. During the afternoon, when I’m dragging a bit, I schedule soft tasks like meetings, phone calls, and organizing my desk.
13. Pace yourself.
If you go full-throttle and crank-out as much work as you can until it’s done then realize it’s done and over with it. You’re not in a race to see who will cross the finish line first; that’s exhausting yourself.
Take your time and do your best work possible. Block-out specific times throughout the day for breaks so that you can recharge your batteries.
Taking breaks may sound counterproductive, but you need to rest occasionally if you want to remain energized and productive.
14. Get organized in advance.
As a business owner, you’ve probably already set short-term and long-term goals. So, why wouldn’t you do the same with your time?
The most productive people get organized in advance by spending their Friday afternoons planning out the following week. When Monday morning arrives, they already know what to expect for the week and have planned accordingly.
15. Plan for interruptions.
No matter how organized your daily schedule is, there will always be interruptions like putting out a fire or having to meet with a client at the last minute. Don’t resist or fight-back. They’re unavoidable. Instead, schedule time in your days for these interruptions so that you can stay on track and avoid playing catch-up when you do get interrupted.
16. Reduce your cognitive load.
Considering that you’re constantly being bombarded throughout the day with information; it’s essential to manage your cognitive load so that you can recognize, order, prioritize, and optimize the tasks in your daily routine without overloading our working memory.
There’s no one way to do this, but you could start by clearing your head by jotting down your thoughts or ideas in a notebook or a Word document. You could also use tools like SaneBox to keep your email under control by distinguishing the messages that are important and unimportant.
17. Batch similar tasks together.
Bouncing from task-to-task isn’t useful. Various tasks use different parts of our brain. So, when you shift between these tasks, you’re changing from one part of our brain to another. As a result, you lose a considerable amount of time each day.
Instead, batch similar tasks together. For example, block out specific times in your schedule to write blog posts, make phone calls, and respond to emails. Sticking with the same type of task until it’s finished not only makes your days more structured, it keeps your brain focused in the same part of the brain. In this way, you’ll more quickly cross-off items on your to-do-list.
18. Create balance.
“Align your professional and personal goals for maximum efficiency,” author Chris Guillebeau suggests.
For example, do you have any plans to move to a foreign country like Spain? Do you plan to expand your business into countries like Brazil or China? If not, then it doesn’t make sense to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese. It also wouldn’t make sense spending your time learning how to start a business in these countries. Instead, you should be taking classes that can enhance your current skills or help you develop new skills.
19. Use an online calendar.
There’s no excuse for not using an online calendar. There is no shortage of options, such as Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Apple Calendar. You’re probably already using these calendars so you could download the app to receive reminders, create time blocks, and manage your schedule.
What’s more, there are also apps like Calendar that can automatically schedule meetings by using machine learning. Calendar can then make smart suggestions on when, where, and what type of meetings to plan in the future.
My name is Howie and I'm a Customer Success Manager at Calendar. I like to ensure our customers get the best experience using our product. If you have questions email me howie at calendar.com