Time. We never seem to have enough of it. To make sure we can make the most of this finite resource, implementing effective time management strategies can help each of us accomplish our daily goals. Since each person has unique needs that must be met when implementing management strategies such as these, here are a diverse collection of ideas to consider if you’re looking for a way to be more effective with your time right now.
#1. Take Inventory of Your Time
Before you can improving your time management, you must know for certain how you’re currently spending your time. An effective way to do this is to keep a time log so that you have a written record of what you’re doing throughout the day. Try to record what you’re doing every 15 minutes for the next 7-14 days and then evaluate the results. [If you miss some intervals, that’s fine. Just keep track of as many time blocks as you can.
The benefit of using this as a time management strategy is three-fold.
- You’ll be able to identify what your most time-consuming tasks happen to be so you can work on improving how you manage those tasks.
- You’ll see “hidden” time blocks where you might be doing things that are reducing your overall productivity.
- You will also be able to have a better sense of the amount of time you’ll need in the future to complete the routine tasks which are your responsibility.
We all have habits that we do every day that rob of us of our time, but we don’t think about these habits because they have become part of our lives. Sometimes the simple act of writing down what you’re doing every day can identify these habits so you can change how you’re managing your time. In doing so, you may find more energy available so you can be more productive.
#2. Set Daily Priorities
You sit down to check your email at work. Before you realize it, it’s now 10am and that early morning project that is due at 1pm hasn’t been started yet. Now you rush through the work to meet your deadline, perhaps sacrificing a lunch break, just so you don’t get in trouble for checking on those early emails which also demanded your attention. Work is attacking you on all sides and it is stressing you out.
That happens to many people today with their professional responsibilities because they haven’t set priorities as a way to manage their time. Everything at work is important. What you’ve got to do is separate what your urgent tasks are so you can complete them first. When you can focus on these urgent items, you can gain more control over your time.
There are some dangers to this method of time management of which you should be aware.
- You can begin creating multiple lists that must all be completed at the same time, which can actually reduce the amount of available time you have.
- You can prioritize certain tasks incorrectly, creating a difficult situation for yourself.
- Sometimes the goal of creating a priority list is to check as many things off as possible when the actual goal is to check off all of the highest priority items only.
There will always be distractions, requests for help, and emails to read at work. If you can prioritize what is urgent from what is important, you will find more time to be productive throughout the day.
#3. Find a Helpful Planning Tool
A personal planning tool is a great way to improve your overall productivity. You can use a calendar, a smartphone app, a pocket diary, or even index cards if you prefer to keep track of what is going on during the day. Write down your tasks, keep your schedule updated, and you will experience fewer of the memory loss issues that come from being overworked and stressed out.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this time management strategy. You’ve just got to find a planning tool that works for you and then be willing to use it consistently. How can you make sure that you can maximize the benefits from this strategy?
- Always use the planning tool to record the information needed. Writing something on a spare slip of paper creates more opportunities for you to lose the information you need.
- Review your planning tool daily, even multiple times per day if necessary, to make sure that you are remaining on your planned schedule.
- Keep a backup system just in case your first planning tool cannot be accessed for some reason.
If you’re using an electronic planning tool, then it can also be helpful to synch your planners to all of your platforms [PCs, tablets, phones, etc.] to make sure nothing gets lost. You may also want to get into the habit of charging the batteries in your preferred devices so you don’t lose the information you need at a critical time.
#4. Create an Organization System
Are you a “piles” person? Sticking paperwork and other items into specific piles for future sorting might seem like a time-saver at first. What happens when you need a specific item from that pile? You’ve got to dig through it until you find it. And what happens if that item happens to be in the wrong pile? Or you forget what label you’ve given to a specific pile?
This is disorganization, no matter how any of us may try to justify it. In order to save time, we’ve got to get rid of the clutter that might be building around us. Since we live in an information age, here is how you can become organized with your digital files that might be piling up.
- Always take an action with the file. Either put it into your trash bin, save it into a specific folder that you can find later, or send it to someone who can use that file. Don’t just leave the file up on your device.
- Create temporary folders to hold files you’re not sure about. This also works for hardcopy files that you might need to hang onto.
- Keep the system going. Once you get organized, it can be tempting to go back to your old ways. Don’t let that happen.
Sometimes this is the only time management strategy that needs to be implemented because of how much time disorganization can cost us. Take stock of your organizational system, improve it if necessary, and you may be surprised at how much time you’ve just saved yourself.
#5. Schedule Important Tasks at High Energy Times
Ernest Hemingway described his writing routine very simply: “I write every morning,” he said in an interview with George Plimpton.
When we schedule in blocks of time to get work done when we have our highest levels of energy, then we have the ability to get a lot of important stuff done in a short amount of time. You might not be creating brave new worlds with your literature, but you might have a project at work which requires your creativity.
Even when we have high energy levels, there are things that can rob of us of our productivity during these scheduled blocks of time. Be aware of these time-wasting traps and you’ll be able to keep moving forward.
- Try to work on only one thing at a time. Only work on something new after you’ve completed the previous task.
- Be happy about the work you’re doing and keeping taking calm steps forward. Being nervous or even angry during these scheduled times can cause you to emotionally shut down.
- Focus on the work during this time. Your friends, your family, and your co-workers can wait until you are done.
The goal with this time management strategy is to make at least a little forward progress every day. Block out some time in your calendar, protect it, and you will be able to get many of your urgent items completed every day.
#6. It’s Not One Against All
“If you want things done right, you might as well just do them yourself.”
That one phrase has gotten a lot of very productive people into a lot of trouble. This is because we’ve taken the wrong approach to delegation. Appropriate delegation means that we can identify specific tasks that other people can do and then select the appropriate person to complete those tasks. When delegated work comes back as incomplete or with inferior quality, there’s a good chance that we haven’t selected the right person for those tasks.
You don’t have to be an island. It doesn’t have to be you against the world when it comes to the work that needs to be done. Here is how you can begin taking advantage of this time management strategy as soon as today.
- Supervise the tasks that have been delegated, especially if this is the first time someone is completing a task for you. This will help both of you know that you’re on the same page.
- Be willing to give people the freedom to perform the delegated tasks with some personalization so they can have some ownership over it.
- Always, always, always reward people who have done a great job or offer suggestions that can improve the process in the future.
Sometimes we can even purchase the services we need to be able to manage our time more wisely. You can hire someone to mow your lawn, for example, or you could join a carpool system for taking your kids to school so you don’t have to drive them there every day.
#7. Staple Your Pants To Your Chair
Procrastination is the ultimate time killer. There are many reasons why we might not want to do something. It might be unknown. The amount of work might be overwhelming. The temptation to play video games might be stronger than the temptation to work on a project that isn’t due for another 4 days. Sometimes the best time management solution is the simplest one: staple your pants to your chair and just get the work done.
If you’re sitting there, pants figuratively [not actually] stapled to your chair, and you’re not sure how to get started, then consider these options for breaking down the walls of procrastination.
- Break down the difficult tasks that feel overwhelming into smaller tasks that are easier to complete.
- Complete preparatory tasks, such as collecting notes or allocating resources, that will help you move forward with what needs to get done.
- Reward yourself for every task you’re able to complete, like taking a 5 minute break so you can take a walk outside.
What if the task in unpleasant instead of overwhelming? The same steps apply with this time management strategy. You may also need to evaluate why the task is unpleasant and then find a coping mechanism to use while working so you can keep this difficult emotion in check.
#8. Limit the Distractions
Distractions are external time consumers that aren’t always under our control. Sometimes a situation can seem like its out of control because other people or other things are dictating your time. You can wrestle control back and limit the distractions, but you’re going to need to be proactive about it.
The first step you must take is to identify the distractions that are robbing you of time. Is it your Facebook account? The HR manager who drops by for a chat at 9am with a cup of coffee? The phone constantly ringing because people want to ask you questions? Once you’ve identified the distraction, you can implement a strategy to limit its influence.
- Establish time blocks in your schedule where you will accept visitors, return phone calls, or reply to emails. You may need to tell visitors that you need to meet with them at a better time if they stop by outside of this time block.
- Start and stop each time block in your calendar on time. This is especially important if there are meetings that have been scheduled into your day.
- Share your calendars with family, friends, and co-workers so everyone knows when you’re going to be busy and when you’re going to be free.
If social media is a distraction, then shut off your notifications. Schedule a time to check for updates and stick to that time block. Turn off your email notifications and read/reply only during specific times unless there are urgent items which must be done immediately. Then, with the distractions removed, you’ll be able to get more stuff done.
#9. Stop the Multitasking
It might be a popular interview question: “How are you at multitasking?” The only problem is that multitasking only saves time for about 2% of the population. For the rest of us, it actually costs us time. This is because you lose up to 15 minutes of productivity every time you switch tasks. If you are multitasking on a frequent basis, Rubinsteim, Meyer, and Evans (2001) have shown that it can be difficult to maintain your concentration and focus on any task.
So if your employer wants you to be multitasking, how can you stay productive and still keep the boss happy with your results?
- Create a to-do list every day that has the most urgent items at the top and least urgent items at the bottom. Then complete that list in order, staying on one task at a time.
- Shut off distractions that could steal your focus, such as the telephone, your emails, and your smartphone. Mental switching still robs you of time even if you don’t physically switch to a different task.
- Create a counter distraction if necessary, such as playing music through headphones, so you can maintain your focus.
If you’re having trouble getting your mind to calm down and stay focused on the task at hand, consider using audio prompts to keep you going. Classical music, ambient sounds, and even positive reinforcement audio tracks can all help you to maintain your focus. If you’re really have trouble and nothing seems to be working, then take a break. Go for a short walk, get a cup of coffee, or do some deep breathing exercises to center yourself.
That way you’ll be ready to jump back into the fray with a steady, focused mind.
#10. Keep Yourself Healthy
Sometimes the best time management strategy is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, then you’re not going to be able to maximize your energy levels. Sorry folks – high caffeine consumption doesn’t count. You must schedule time for yourself to relax. This is the only way your physical and mental energy will have a chance to rejuvenate.
It can be easy to put personal needs to the side when there’s an important project that needs to be completed. Do that long enough and you’ll experience ongoing fatigue, mood swings, frequent illnesses, and higher levels of stress. If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance between what you need to do and how you need to care for yourself, then consider these options.
- Schedule time blocks into your calendar where you can put your feet up and relax for awhile. Sometimes a 15 minute break during the day can make all the difference in the world.
- Consider adding meditation to your daily routine. Not only can this help you begin improving your focus on a single point, but it can help you control stress, emotions, and other issues you may be facing.
- Recognize that you have accomplished things and conquered challenges. When you’re in the trenches 24/7, it can seem like you’re not making any progress at all. Acknowledge each success and you may discover that many more are planning to come your way.
Good health comes from the foods you eat, the exercise you get, and the routines you keep. Yes – it can be difficult to make time for some of these things, but it always comes down to your priorities. If taking care of yourself becomes a higher priority, then you’ll make time for it.
#11. Structure Your Working Time
Many time management strategies look at macro changes. Sometimes you need micro-changes to be more effective with your time. That’s why structuring your working time with methods like the Pomodoro Technique may be your best solution.
Under the Pomodoro Technique, you would break your working times into 30 minute sections. You’d work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. Every time you successfully complete a 25 minute block, check it off. Then, after four blocks have been checked off, take a 30 minute break. Then repeat throughout the day.
There are other time structure techniques that you can use, such as GTD, The Action Method, or the 1-3-5 List. You can also modify the Pomodoro Technique [or any other technique] to be longer or shorter based on your specific needs. Each method has specific strengths and weaknesses that may affect how you implement it, so make sure to do some research before implementing this time management strategy so you can maximize results.
Time management strategies must be implemented based on the unique challenges you are facing each and every day. The solutions you use must be personalized to conquer the challenges that are heading your way. This is why it is so important to evaluate your day, your responsibilities, and the outcomes you’re able to achieve.
If you don’t see a balance between work and home or you feel like you’re not getting stuff done as well as you could be, then there’s a good chance that implementing an effective time management strategy could help you turn things around.