Time management is that something which most people try to master in life. Whether you’re a student, a professional, an entrepreneur, a manager, or an individual contributor — you want to do more. After all, it takes practice, dedication, and self-discipline to ensure you’re not wasting valuable time.
To help you get on the right track, we’ve put together this handy time management guide to ensure your days will be fruitful and productive throughout 2020 and beyond.
What Is Time Management?
In simplest terms, time management is the ability to plan, organize, and control your time. Controlling the hours in your day will help you accomplish your goals. It often includes planning for the future, setting goals, prioritizing tasks, and monitoring where your time actually goes.
Proper time management also involves dedicating the appropriate amount of time to the right activities. If you have a report due today, you wouldn’t spend the day watching TV or working on another project.
Ultimately, good time management is focusing on activities that get results rather than merely being busy. Done correctly, you’ll be more productive and efficient. You’ll also have less stress and have more opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Control of your time helps you develop a strong professional reputation.
Taylorism and modern concepts of time management.
People have been managing work for hundreds of years. The modern concept of time management is often credited to Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylor published his scientific management techniques in 1909 as “The Principles of Scientific Management.”
According to Taylor, by optimizing and simplifying jobs, productivity would increase. It is said that Taylor, “advanced the idea that workers and managers needed to cooperate with one another.” This was a revolutionary concept at the time. Taylor promoted the idea of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
Ultimately, Taylor developed four principles:
- Replace working by “rule of thumb,” or simple habit and common sense. “Use a scientific method to study work and determine the most efficient way to perform specific tasks.”
- Rather than simply assign workers to just any job, match workers to their jobs based on capability and motivation. Then train them to work at maximum efficiency.
- Monitor worker performance. Provide instructions and supervision to ensure they’re using the most efficient ways of working.
- Allocate work between managers and workers so managers spend their time planning and training. This allows workers to perform their tasks efficiently.
People have been critical of Taylorism because it supports the concept that there’s “one right way” to do something.
Since Taylor’s work, numerous researchers have developed their own theories involving time management. Here are just a few examples.
Many have tried to define exactly what effective time management will take to accomplish. In a 1994 book written by Carla Crutsinger, she describes managing time as a process.
Crutsinger’s process in, Thinking Smarter: Skills for Academic Success includes:
- Setting and prioritizing goals.
- Deciding how much time to dedicate to specific tasks.
- Adjusting plans as they change.
- Revisiting goals and priorities frequently.
- Observing results.
Neil Shipman, an academic leader, believes the most critical skills for time management are:
- Being self-aware.
- Structuring your time wisely.
- Setting goals and priorities.
- Increasing personal efficiency and effectiveness.
- Scheduling specific time for each activity.
- Scheduling downtime to rejuvenate.
In a 2002 article regarding time management, William E. Kelly identified the most important time management skills as:
- Making task lists.
- Organizing resources and work.
- Setting goals.
- Creating and reviewing a schedule.
- Breaking large tasks into smaller chunks.
Why Time Management Is Crucial
Why has so much research been dedicated to time management throughout the years? Most likely it’s because when you manage your time effectively, you’ll be able to:
- Gain more hours in your day. It’s true that we all have the same 24 hours. But with time management, you’ll be able to make the most of this limited resource.
- Accomplish more with less effort. Time management encourages you to focus, eliminate distractions. You determine the best way to get more done. This means you can fly through tasks faster and more easily.
- Improve your decision making. With more time in your day, you no longer have to rush when making decisions. You have the time to make the right decisions by weighing your options.
- Become more successful. The most successful people know how to manage their time. Doing so ensures they accomplish more and make more informed decisions.
- Learn new information and skills. One of the best ways to grow as an individual is to learn something new each day. With more time on your hands, you can read, take an online course, or practice your newly learned skills.
- Reduce stress. When you don’t have control of your time, you constantly feel rushed and overwhelmed. As a result, you can become stressed. This can lead to not only burnout in the workplace, but sometime even serious health problems.
- Procrastinate less. Time management helps you develop self-discipline, resulting in less procrastination. For example, instead of watching TV on Saturday, you can read a book or pick up a hobby. Both can help you personally and professionally.
- Schedule free time. We all need downtime to decompress, refocus, and recharge. It’s hard to find that time when you’re always on the go. Time management helps you find these blocks of time to unwind.
Time Management Tips and Techniques From World-Renowned Founders and Entrepreneurs
Wake Up Early to Get Your Sweat On.
Richard Branson, the Virgin Group founder, wakes up incredibly early, like most other entrepreneurs. He’s awake at five a.m. in order to work out because it boosts his productivity.
“I definitely can achieve twice as much by keeping fit,” Branson tells FourHourBodyPress. “It keeps the brain functioning well.”
Operate on the “First Things First” Philosophy.
Mpowered’s Mark Sperry recommends you ask yourself two questions: Is it important? Is it urgent?
List your important and urgent items first, followed by important, but less urgent, items. “Importance trumps urgency every time.” Avoid the “tyranny of the urgent,” as most “urgent” tasks are simply not important to your success.
This is similar to the Eisenhower Matrix.
Work in Five-Minute Increments.
Successful people rely on their calendars to schedule their activities. As noted by Peter Bregman, author of “Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones that Really Work.” This helps them check off items on their to-do-lists, as well as identify priorities. “What is it that really needs to get done today? What important items have you been ignoring? Where can you slot those things into your schedule?” writes Bergman.
However, they also divide their calendars into small increments of time. For example, to effectively run both Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk breaks his day into five-minute slots.
Make “Knockout Lists.”
Marcus Lemonis, entrepreneur and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” gives great advice. Lemonis says he gets up in the morning and makes a list of the five things he wants to get done that day. Without exception, he has to get those five things done. If he ends up getting some additional things done, great, but he always has his “knockout list.”
“I just physically write it down. I have little cards in my closet in my basement. They’re long, narrow cards, with my name on top. They make really cool paper airplanes. When I’m done with them at the end of the day, I like to make paper airplanes out of them.”
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh doesn’t waste time responding to, deleting, and archiving email messages. In order to achieve “inbox zero,” he developed something called, “Yesterbox.”
As explained by Rose Leadem, “Yesterbox is Hsieh’s very own email management system. Instead of trying to tackle everything in his inbox at once, Hsieh only responds to his list of messages from the day before. Unless they are urgent, the rule of thumb is that Hsieh never responds to any of the actual day’s emails.”
The Ivy Lee Method.
This productivity hack was developed by a publicity expert. The founder of modern public relations, Ivy Lee, in 1918. Since then, it’s been recommended by experts to achieve peak production.
Here’s how it works, via James Clear:
- At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
Simply put, at the end of the day, jot down what you want to accomplish first tomorrow.
Don’t Let Your Calendar Manage You.
“Calendar management is the single most important thing, especially as you get busy and have more responsibilities,” says Mary Callahan Erdoes to CNBC. Erdoes is the CEO of JPMorgan Asset Management.
“You have to be maniacally focused on owning your calendar. You must have the lists of what you need from other people and what other people need from you. What are the short-term issues that need to be dealt with? What are the long-term issues?
“Unless you can stay on top of that religiously, it will end up owning you. That’s not the way to go about staying organized and being on top of things.”
Limit Your Social Media Exposure.
“The biggest time sucks in my workday are email/Slack/social media that break up more important work. So I strictly schedule and limit how much time I spend on each,” says Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Tiny Bop.
“By putting a tight cap on the amount of time I spend on have-to-do things, I work more efficiently. By assigning myself tasks in blocks, I reduce mode-switching.”
Maximize Your Time.
“I’m always trying to maximize my time,” says “Shark Tank” investor and FUBU founder Daymond John.
“For example, I’ll do my emails when I’m on a plane, instead of when I’m in the office. I try to have my team members handle as much of the meetings as possible. I’ll be involved in the last part so I don’t have to sit through five separate meetings of the same purpose. When I have personal interaction, I try to maximize that as well.”
Block Off Your Mental Prime Time.
“Identify when you are the most productive. Focus on the tasks that are the highest priority to complete during that time,” recommends Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC.
“To do so, eliminate distractions — such as calls and emails. Instead use the time you are at your mental best to accomplish your most important tasks.”
Want to know your mental prime prime? Read “The Perfect Workday Hours to Maximize Motivation” to guide you in the right direction.
Gamify Your To-Do List.
“I’ve enjoyed ‘gamifying’ my to-do list,” Jack Groetzinger, co-founder and CEO of SeatGeek, tells CNBC.
“I have an estimated number of minutes for all tasks. I have written software to record when I begin and end each item. Each day, I challenge myself to hit an efficiency goal. That is the number of actual minutes divided by expected minutes. The best part of playing a game by myself is that I have every spot on the leaderboard.”
Disagree and Commit.
Jeff Bezos, despite being the richest man in the world, remains hands-on with Amazon. How is Bezos able to make decisions more quickly? He uses the phrase, “disagree and commit.”
Bezos claims this saves him a lot of time. But how does it work? When you have a strong idea but don’t have everyone else on board, ask them to take a chance on you.
“If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus,” Bezos writes in Amazon’s 2017 shareholder letter, “it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit? By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.'”
Take Time to Pause.
“Take a colleague and go to a cafeteria or go to a table away from your desk in your office and have lunch,” says author and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington. “Even if you take 20 minutes to do that, it’s more recharging than what so many of us do which is eating lunch while working.”
Taking “pauses” can boost your productivity, as well as decrease stress.
According to Entrepreneur, Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
It’s true. Instead of saying “yes” to everything, like helping a team member or accepting every invitation — say “no.” Especially, if your schedule is already packed.
Or, as Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, puts it, “If you’re not saying — ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something — say ‘no.’”
Take Advantage of Your Downtime.
“Plan your work and work your plan,” says Nick Huzar. He is the co-founder and CEO of OfferUp. “I make sure to prioritize alone time on Sundays to focus on the team’s top priorities. This means across each department for OfferUp. I then spend the week supporting the team to execute on these priorities.”
Don’t Go it Alone.
“Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Whether finding a great co-founder, who has complementary skill sets (in my case, an old friend I met at theater camp over 20 years ago). Or picking your executive team exclusively composed of “A” players (who you can alternately delegate to, or be inspired by). You need a bunch of great teammates to be successful when creating a new business,” says Merritt Baer, CEO of TodayTix.
Additionally, learn how to master the art of delegation and outsourcing so you can lighten your workload by assigning tasks to others.
Prioritize With GTD.
Ryan Battles, is an entrepreneur and marketer. Battles writes that the best book he’s read in regard to planning daily tasks, is David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”
“Allen instructs his clients to first do a mental dump of all of the tasks floating around in their head. Whether it is on paper or within task management software,” writes Battles. “Next, his clients set up a single inbox where all of the tasks moving forward need to be dumped into for processing.
This could be a physical bin, a computer folder, or a section of the task management software. From there, each task can have one of the following applied:
- Do it: If it takes less than two minutes, just do it.
- Defer it: Put it on the calendar or under a project list to be acted upon later.
- Delegate it: Assign someone else the responsibility of completing the task.
“With GTD, you also need to have a weekly review to check over the active projects that are on your lists. You’ll choose which ones are going to be worked on next.
How Time Management Helps Make Your Life Better
The legendary Bruce Lee once said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
There’s actually a lot of truth in that statement. Time management can drastically improve your life in the following ways.
Stress has been dubbed the silent killer. It’s easy to understand why: Not put in check, stress can lead to headaches, chronic pain, and weakened immune system. Then follows the digestive track issues, depression, and a rapid heartbeat.
According to psychologist Jeffrey Janata, Ph.D., “Most of us experience stress when we feel as though we have a perceived lack of control over the events in our lives. Time management is being careful about how we use our time. It”s how we portion our time. Control of time can enhance our sense of control.”
With time management, you’re back in control of your life. No more rushing around. No more surprises. No more completing an assignment at the last minute. You know what to expect every day, or at least as much as possible. You’ll have planned accordingly to get everything done when needed.
Helps Get More Done.
Managing your time means you’re not wasting it on unproductive activities. Instead, you remain laser-focused on your priorities. Focus means you’re not only better suited to handle your workload, but you’re going to get more accomplished. With focus, tasks take less time.
Enables More Free Time.
If you’re able to get more done in less time, that means you’re going to have more free time. While this doesn’t mean you should always waste this extra time. It does mean you now have the time to choose to do what you want. This could be reading a book, hitting the gym, grabbing dinner with your friends, or taking an online class.
Eliminates Work-Life Conflicts.
Juggling your personal and professional lives is a challenge for those who can’t manage their time effectively. If you didn’t complete an assignment on time, you now have to stay late at work. Maybe you miss you child’s soccer game. That’s not a pleasant feeling.
When you’re able to perfect the art of time management, you’re able to spend the time where it matters most.
Stop making excuses for your problems. Most of the time, they’re your own fault. This fault can stem from your time management.
You showed up late to a meeting with a potential employer or client — the person wasn’t happy and didn’t hire you. You missed a deadline and got reprimanded by your boss. You bailed on a family member’s birthday because you had to work on the weekend.
Could all of this have been avoided if you’d managed your time properly? Ask the correct questions.
Improves Your Reputation.
No one wants to be known as the perpetually late person. Worse is the person who constantly bails on plans. When you know how to manage your time, you’ll develop a reputation as someone who’s dependable and reliable.
That’s not just good for your self-esteem, that can also lead to more opportunities in your life.
Decreases Wasted Effort and Wasted Time.
Don’t believe the myth that time management takes extra effort? The opposite is actually true. Time management actually makes your life easier. It encourages you to look for faster, more effective ways of getting things done.
Effective time management means you no longer have wasted time. Wandering around aimlessly, looking for something to do? No, you always have something productive to focus on.
Time Management Advice for Different People
There are time management tips that everyone should apply to their lives. These include:
- Creating a to-do-list.
- Prioritizing your tasks.
- Reviewing your calendar frequently.
- Staying organized.
- Getting into a routine.
- Eliminating procrastination.
- Delegating more often.
- Using timers.
At the same time, some people need more unique ways to manage their time. Here are a few groups in need of more specific time management techniques.
Time Management for Students
Students have: attending class, cramming for exams, and enjoying campus life. It’s no wonder students find time management a challenge. That can be rectified by taking the following steps:
- Jot down everything you have to do, and prioritize your list. Paper due at the end of the week? That’s more important than studying for an exam that’s three weeks from now. This prevents you from waiting until the last minute.
- Use a calendar app, or place a wall calendar in your room. Create a life schedule so you know when you’ll be in class and when assignments are due.
- Don’t forget to set aside dedicated study time. Try to be consistent and eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone and social media notifications.
- Be flexible. Even though you have a set schedule, allow for some flexibility as well. Some assignments take longer than planned. You need to take into account prep time. This would be the time spent researching and planning a paper, for example.
- Determine whether you’re more productive solo or in a group. Some students get distracted when studying with others. Some thrive in group work. If you’re more productive with others, plan for a weekly study group.
- Don’t neglect your health. Late nights and junk food are part of the college experience. But you can’t be productive if you live that lifestyle daily. Make sure you still squeeze in time for exercise and eight hours of sleep. Eat a well-balanced diet.
Time Management for Managers
Managers have the additional responsibility. They juggle a variety of tasks others don’t. They also manage time for themselves and their employees. Here’s how they can accomplish this feat:
- Make lists. This includes everything from daily to-do lists to yearly goals to the plan for your team. This way you always know what you and your team are doing. You will have a handle on today, tomorrow, next week, and even next year.
- Learn how to clearly and effectively communicate so miscommunication is eliminated.
- Delegate tasks to team members you trust. Entrust those who are capable of handling the assignments.
- Block out time for uninterrupted work so you can work on your most important and urgent tasks. However, you will also need to plan for interruptions. Try having a shut-door policy when you need to focus. But maintain an open-door policy at specific times throughout the day.
- Use meeting agendas to keep meetings productive and on track.
- Check your emails periodically, such as first thing in the morning and then later in the afternoon.
- At the end of the day, always check tomorrow’s schedule. You’ll know exactly what to expect so you can plan accordingly.
Time Management for Individual Contributors
You may have opted not to take a managerial role. But your contribution still has an impact on the organization you’re working for. As such, individual contributors must:
- Still be able to effectively manage their time, as well as others’ time. You have to handle multiple demands and competing deadlines. Contributors do this by developing contingency plans. Always establishing priorities, and using technology to track and steer work is helpful.
- Develop strong interpersonal communications skills. Be able to clearly explain thoughts and ideas with others. Stay transparent and be able to close the information loop.
- Be effective at collaboration. Contributors often lend a helping hand when possible. Fostering cooperative work relationships with others should always be a priority.
- Deliver consistent results by focusing on the right tasks. Finishing what is started, and take personal responsibility for results.
The Top Time Management Tools
No matter how disciplined you are, you sometimes need a little assistance with time management. Thankfully, you can use these 15 tools to ensure you’re maximizing your time.
Tired of those back-and-forth emails when scheduling an appointment or meeting? Calendar resolves this problem by allowing you to share your availability via email or an embedded link. The other party then picks the time that works best for them. The event is automatically added to participants’ calendars.
This free app also uses machine learning so it can make suggestions for when, where, and how your meetings take place.
This app has been a favorite for anyone looking to manage their time more effectively. It tracks and records how you spend your time online and then issues a weekly report. By this you can see where you’re wasting time online.
Due also allows you to block distracting websites and makes suggestions on how to organize your day. It’s available for iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, and Linux.
There are hundreds of project management tools available, but Trello has proven itself to be head of the pack. It uses visualization so you and your team can easily sort through tasks and collaborate.
Trello uses a digital bulletin board where you can place cards. These cards can be assignments, tasks, ideas, or goals. Your team can then add comments, attachments, and checklists.
This is a bookmarking app available for Android and iOS devices that allows you to save articles for later. No getting distracted by an interesting piece of content in your news feed. You can save it until you have some downtime.
Known as BuJo, this is a popular way of organizing that was developed by Ryder Carroll. Just grab a pen and paper (or use the app), number each page. Then jot down your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary. Just make sure you use different symbols for each, such as an “X” for to-dos. Check for all done.
It may seem complicated, but once you dive in, it’s really not. The gist is to fit your journal into how your brain works. For more on bullet journaling, watch this video.
This app is part to-do list and part task manager. It’s one of the best tools to keep your personal and professional lives organized. You can also share your lists with others, and it integrates with Google Calendar and Twitter.
While there’s a free version, there’s also a $4.99 pro version.
Based on the Pomodoro Technique, Focus Booster is an app that claims it can deliver instant focus. It encourages you to eliminate distractions by working in 25-minute sessions. You can also assess how you spent your time by analyzing time sheets.
There are several plan options, and it’s available for desktop.
Timely is an easy-to-use time-tracking app that’s available for all devices. You can use it to capture billable hours, manage your team’s performance, and ensure your budgets stay on track.
The developers of this unique app claim it can increase your attention span by up to 400 percent. This is done by combining its use of neuroscience and music.
Looking to declutter your mind? Give this app a spin. It’s another hybrid to-do list and task manager. It lets you schedule your tasks and activities. What makes it so powerful is that each item can be flagged for priority.
Sign up for your free Gmail account. This gives you access to an amazing email tool. You’ll also get Google Drive, Google Calendar, and Hangouts. This suite of tools doesn’t just keep your life organized, it can also issue reminders. It enables you to easily collaborate and communicate with others.
This free iPhone app allows you to create a running list of tasks, as well as assign a specific amount of time to each.
13. Task Till Dawn
This is a free tool that handily automates common and recurring tasks. For example, it can open files, folders, or programs at specific intervals. It can also back up and archive files, remind you to take a break, or schedule regular backups.
14. Flat Tomato
Want to use the Pomodoro Technique to get more done? You need to download this free app to get started. It simply times your work sessions so you take a break every 25 minutes. You can also integrate your to-do list and projects so you can track the time spent on each task.
If you’re fan of the Getting Things Done technique you absolutely need this companion app. It comes equipped with everything you need to implement the GTD system. It has areas for organizing your tasks. There’s an inbox for new tasks, reference lists, due dates, flexible tagging, and checklists.
Updated January 2020