While we all have the same amount of hours in a day, there’s no arguing that some people seem to have a natural knack for squeezing more out of them than anybody else. It’s easy to watch in wonder and think that time is just on their side, when in fact, they just have better time management skills.
Luckily, time management is something that we can all become better at with some practice and tips that really work. The best part about learning to be better at time management is that it will free up more time for the things we really want to do, and we’ll be more present when we’re doing them.
What Is Time Management?
Time management is simply the art of prioritizing and organizing your time between tasks. Doing this well improves productivity and ensures you develop the best strategy for working through your priorities while allocating an appropriate amount of time to each task. This can help avoid feeling rushed or stressed out. Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t even have the time to sit and plan how you’ll use your time, but there are many benefits to taking a few moments to get organized and focused. Here are a few signs that you’re in need of a time management overhaul:
- Always feeling stressed
- Procrastinating and then having to rush
- Feeling like you have no work/life balance
- Not producing your best work
- Known to run late or miss deadlines
Do any of these describe your situation? Or maybe you feel like the line between your personal and work life is too blurred. You want to be able to shut off work when you’re on your own time and be fully present at work when you’re on the clock. The good news is that with some tips, tricks and practice, you’ll be a time management guru sooner than you think.
Benefits of Time Management
Practicing good time management has actually been shown to reduce stress and increase productivity. People who have mastered time management are able to work smarter, not harder, and achieve their goals faster. In addition, the ability to organize and prioritize tasks allows you to focus on one thing at a time, so you can produce better work and deliver it on time. Plus, knowing exactly where your time is going will improve your productivity, balance, and potentially give you some margin in your schedule. Great time management skills don’t happen by accident. That’s why we are going to dive in to 15 time management tips to get you started.
15 Time Management Tips
- Audit Your Time - The first step to better time management is to do a full-time audit. Use a free tracker like Toggl to track your activities for a day or even longer to get an accurate sense of how much time you’re spending on tasks. Maybe you think you’re only answering emails for 30 minutes a day, but it’s actually eating up 3 hours a day. Or, maybe you’re always doing several things at once, which is actually lengthening how long each task is taking you. Once you get a complete picture, you can move on to step two.
- Set Time Limits - Now you can look at your available hours for work and life and allocate your time based on what you think you should spend on that task. If you feel like you don’t have enough time for an important task, look at how much of your time is going to non-essential tasks and allocate that time to your more important projects.
- Use Time Blocking - After deciding how much you’d like to spend on each task, block out your day and designate the order of your tasks. Prioritize the order based on importance, as well as energy. For example, if you know a certain task requires you to be running at full steam, then choose the time of day when you feel at your peak. If you’re not a morning person, don’t put this first thing. Another way to time block is to do the tasks you are dreading the most first thing in the morning. By getting these done and off your schedule, you won’t have to worry about them the rest of the day.
- Use a Timer - Now it’s time to try out your time blocking by timing yourself. If you’ve decided to spend two hours on writing, set a timer, turn off notifications for emails and messages, and get going. Try not to deviate from your writing tasks during the writing block. Then, after the block is over, set that project aside and move on to the next time block. By setting the timer, you are committing to yourself that you’ll focus on that task and block out anything else.
- Batch Work - Another great time management tip is to batch work. Once you get better at time blocking, look ahead at your week or even month of projects and identify ways to group tasks. For example, if you are doing several projects on a similar theme that require overlapping research, clump these together and do them back-to-back. By staying in the zone on that subject matter, you stay focused on the subject so you can do more in less time.
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- Reduce Distractions - We all have them. Make a list of the distractions that bother you the most. Then, when you go into time blocks, have a plan in place for how to reduce them. Does your dog barking distract you? Grab some new toys to keep him busy. Does a pinging phone break your focus? Turn off notifications. Do you find that you keep switching tasks? Close tabs you don’t need and remove things that split your attention.
- Set The Mood - Think about the types of environments that you work best in. Do you like ambient noise, such as a small water feature that you can plug in? Do you like certain music to boost your creativity? Do you get cold and need to keep a cozy blanket nearby? Consider how you can make small changes to minimize the distractions in your environment. If you’re working at an office, headphones can help you focus with whatever soundscapes you like and you can put up a kind sign that lets people know when you should not be interrupted.
- Plan Breaks - We all need breaks, whether it’s for a drink of water or even to stretch our bodies if we do repetitive movements. Knowing that you have a break scheduled takes the pressure off during your work blocks. You can implement a method like the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes with no distractions and then take a 5-minute break. Repeat four times in a row (totaling two hours), and then reward yourself with a longer break.
- Keep a List - Figure out the best note-taking strategy for you and stick with it. You also may find it helpful to use a notetaking app or a Kanban project management tool. Like just a notebook and pen? Go old school. If you’re fully digital, get a digital notebook and use your stylus.
- Prioritize the Top Three - When you sit down to make your list for the day or week, always be sure to prioritize tasks by importance. Sure, you would ideally get through everything on your list, but we all know that stuff happens. If you can at least get through your big three things each day, you’ll still feel accomplished.
- Schedule Self-Care - We all need to take time for ourselves. But, like anything else in life, self-care can fall off the list if we don’t make it part of the schedule. When you look at your time blocks, always schedule in time for musts like eating and exercising. Then add in anything else that keeps you centered, like a daily meditation or that monthly massage. Genius Tip: Try some of these self-care ideas and activities.
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- Consider Delegating - Now that you have a clear picture of where your time is going, ask yourself if you are spending a lot of time on a task that is essential but can be done by others. Consider outsourcing these tasks. For some people, this looks like using a laundry service. For others, this can be hiring a virtual assistant who can take on tasks that don’t require your expertise. Budgeting for these expenses is an investment in your business and growth.
- Productive Waiting - Make the most of any time you would normally be kept waiting. Do you have to ride the train to work? Plan tasks you can do on your tablet. Do you have to wait at the doctor’s office? Take a book you want to read or a small task that can travel with you. Make waiting time work time, so that when you’re done for the day, all that waiting doesn’t equal work coming home with you.
- Ditch Perfection - Trying to be perfect will really eat up your time. The need to be perfect can also stop the flow of ideas, too, halting your project before it starts. It’s time to accept that perfection doesn’t exist. You can still do a great job, though. So, focus on doing your best and then move on.
- Learn To Say “No” - If you’re looking at that blocked-out schedule and still realize there are key things that don’t fit into your day, it may be time to accept that you’re over-scheduled. At this point, it’s time to say no. Say no to taking on more commitments out of obligation. Say no to that project that you’d like to take on, but really don’t have time to do well. Everybody has limits, even you. People will be more understanding than you think. And, now you’ve got the time tracking to prove your schedule is completely booked with tasks.
When it comes to time management, most people are a work in progress. If you’re feeling like your own time management needs an overhaul, try out these different tips and see how they transform not only your time management, but also your productivity and stress levels. Remember, the best time management tips are the ones that work for you.
Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com