Guest blogger Joan Pack shares 18 testd time management techniques to keep you saner and more productive.
Let’s face it: our time is limited, and if we want to be successful, we need to learn how to manage it. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck watching as the people around us crush our professional milestones. Successful time management is crucial when it comes to preparing for the future of work.Below are 18 transformational time management techniques to get more out of your day.
1. Track Your Time
Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency. To do that, you need data. When businesses know their baselines, they can rework goals and objectives while also implementing changes to increase revenue.
In this way, your day-to-day is no different from that of a business or corporation. Your first step is to gather data: how are you spending your time? What activities get most of your attention? Are there better ways you could be structuring your day?
You might be shocked by the amount of time you spend doing things that don’t move you towards your goals.
Understanding where your time goes is a crucial time management technique; it will tell you what behavioral changes you need to make and how to implement them in your routine. A good place to start your time audit would be with a free app such as Toggl Track, RescueTime, or Todoist.
2. Plan Your Approach
If you’re going to get results, you need to understand how you’re going to attack the problem. That means you need to plan, plan, plan! When it comes to solving problems, formulating an approach is crucial to your success. How crucial? Well, according to Brian Tracy, “Every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.”
One of the key aspects of time management is spending time now so you can save time later. If taking a few extra minutes to plan out your approach is going to save you tens of minutes down the road, you should absolutely take that opportunity.
3. Set SMART Goals
The letters in SMART stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Your daily to-dos must be action-based and related to SMART goals. When you set a task for yourself, think: does this goal meet the SMART criteria? If it does, then great! You’ve created a healthy and motivational task that is within reach of your own abilities. This will give you the momentum you need to complete your goals quickly.
4. Use the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule (a.k.a. the Pareto Principle) states that the results you are looking for don’t require all your energy and effort—in fact, spending all of your time on one task can be counterproductive and cause early burnout. Instead, you can circle 2 out of every 10 tasks on your to-do list and get more results with less effort.
Avoid the stress and anxiety of procrastinating important priorities, and find out which of your tasks hit that 20% sweet spot. That is where you should focus your energy every day.
5. Be Specific
When planning your approach and making your to-do lists, specificity is critical. The more specific you are about each task, the more focused you are, and the more information you have on how to reach your goal.
For this technique to work, break down each task into its smallest components. Keep a master list of all your projects, each deconstructed into checklists. These lists will keep you on track, motivate you to move forward, and help you better manage your valuable time.
Active priorities are things like meeting a deadline, finishing a project, and hosting a meeting: concrete things that need to be accomplished within a specific timeframe. Some common passive priorities include meeting prep, planning, and brainstorming for an upcoming project. Although active priorities may seem more important, it’s crucial to keep a balance of both so that you don’t become overwhelmed by your workload. Good time managers excel at organizing both passive and active priorities into each day.
A digital calendar is a great way to allow for flexibility when unexpected tasks come up during the day.
7. Use the Eisenhower Method
Sometimes, the most important or high-profile tasks in your itinerary aren’t the most critical to complete—there are a lot of different factors that go into what you should be focusing on at any given time. To figure out which tasks deserve top priority, use the Eisenhower method, a four-quadrant approach to figuring out which tasks are essential and which ones can wait.
At the end of each workday, create a list of essential tasks for tomorrow, and place them into the four-quadrant matrix. Now that you have a basic idea of which items are more important, make sure to schedule a few quadrant two tasks into your day every morning.
The Eisenhower method is a great time management technique for professionals: it’s efficient, it helps you decompress at the end of each day, and it allows you to start every workday focused on your priorities.
8. Batch Your Tasks
Task batching involves grouping similar tasks together to tackle them within a set period. To batch correctly, group similar tasks under common themes such as market research, project proposal, or cold calls. Now, you can knock them out one batch at a time. Not only does this help organize your time, it also uses less of your brain’s processing power, because you’re switching between similar tasks instead of completely changing your train of thought.
If you need to have a more flexible schedule, task batching is a vital technique: it lets you manage your time without being stuck in a strict schedule, and it gives you a clear-cut path towards the end of your work day.
9. Block Your Time
To avoid wasting your valuable time, use blocking! Time blocking allows you to schedule your tasks into your calendar ahead of time, and it makes sure focused work happens at a specific time, rather than when the mood strikes you at random. With time blocking, you avoid leaving work to chance.
Multitasking for workplace productivity is a well-established myth. Instead, try time blocking combined with task batching. Similar tasks, combined with set areas of time to work in, will create repetitive processes and reduce the long-term stress on your brain. That’s the closest any of us will ever get to true “multitasking.”
Any long-term goal involves an almost endless list of action items (to-dos). As a professional, the need for growth is constant, and you have to look for ways to improve every day. This makes your to-do list virtually endless, which can be a daunting way to think about your work day. Luckily, by prioritizing, you can break your to-do list up into more manageable sections.
If you focus on the wrong tasks at the wrong time, you waste time, effort, and money. Instead, front-load your essential duties. This will center your attention on the right things at the right time.
What sets effective time managers apart from the rest? Good time managers know how to say NO. They understand that every task that crosses their desk is not their responsibility, and they know where their particular skill sets are needed. Delegation is a critical time management technique.
You need to know what tasks fall into your expertise. Understand your strengths and your team members’ strengths, and delegate tasks that aren’t your specialty. Assign tasks to experts in your team. Odds are, they’ll end up doing a better job, and now you can focus on your essential priorities.
Be sure to check out some project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Wrike. There are a lot of benefits to using them—specifically, they can help you organize and delegate tasks better, giving you more time to spend on your own priorities.
12. Avoid the Planning Fallacy
Rushed work and poor planning will cost you time, energy, and resources, and it will usually set you back far more in time and money than it would have to budget your time.
The planning fallacy is a natural bias, one that can make estimating project timelines challenging. When setting deadlines, make them realistic. Know how much time it takes you to complete certain types of tasks, and avoid poor planning and unrealistic time expectations. Remember: time spent on the plan is time saved on the execution.
13. Organize Your Digital Space
One of the primary time management techniques is organization. Good organization reduces the time between setting your goal and completing your task.
So, why not reduce your dead time by keeping your resources at your fingertips? Technology has done a great job at making time-management more efficient; Google Drive and OneDrive are great places to store your projects and materials for easy access.
Organizing your digital space is an essential time-management strategy. Keep your materials and tools in one place, and have a good system to find what you need when you need it. You’ll get to work right away, and complete your goals in record time.
14. Use the 2-Minute Rule
In time management, one of the most useful guidelines to use is that anything that takes less than 2 minutes gets done now.
You can use this time-management tool to avoid procrastination by getting started on the small stuff early, and leaving the more complicated items until you’re ready to approach them. Apply this rule to free up mental space, get yourself into the headspace to tackle bigger projects, or just if you’re short on time.
Remember, not every 2-minute task carries the same weight! Don’t use this rule as an excuse to engage in time-wasters. Have a list of items that you can pull from while time blocking as a way to adapt this tool to your own time management process.
15. Take Strategic Breaks
Prolonged, focused attention without effective breaks will destroy your productivity. To protect your most important resource (your brain), you need to take breaks. This might include movement, exercise, or a rejuvenating nap. These activities will help strengthen attention and replenish your mental energy.
If you are short on time, switching to a task requiring a different focus-type will also work, but use this technique variation with caution. Task switching is not a long-term solution: you’re not only multitasking, but pushing the brain to remain focused.
Allow your mind to rest and relax by taking strategic breaks throughout the day, and trust me, your brain will be thanking you.
16. Time with Pomodoros
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that ensures breaks don’t become an afterthought. This method uses preset intervals of chunked work broken up by periods of rest; as the number of working periods (Pomodoros) increases, the break interval gets longer.
Work-break cycles include 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. You can work your way past the recommended intervals, but start with shorter intervals first. Know your attention limits and move forward at your own pace. You will get more done with focused attention and plenty of rest for your brain.
17. Know Your Limits
Perfection is an illusion. Each day, you’ll wake up and knock out a bunch of tasks. Some you’ll do well; others, not so much. Either way, you reflect and move on. That’s how growth and progress happen.
If you value your time, don’t strive for perfection. Obsessing over an impossible standard is a surefire way to waste time, and it will most likely damage your self-esteem as well. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the desire for perfection. Move on. Next time you notice your “inner perfectionist” popping up, remind yourself that “done is better than perfect,” and move on to other priorities.
18. Limit Interruptions
When your focus shifts for the tenth time to answer another coworker interruption, you’re multitasking. Each time you have to delegate your attention, you’re refocusing on the added task and pivoting slightly away from your current objective, draining more of your precious energy and focus.
Don’t do it.
More focus, and less switching, equals more significant results.
Turn off your notifications, focus on one priority, and shut out distractions. You’ll be able to focus more intensely for longer periods of time, creating a much better headspace for you to knock out your priorities.
Master Time Management Techniques
No one can take back your time for you: you have to do the work. Know yourself, know what works for you, and make sure you execute these 18 time management strategies armed with that awareness. With these tools, you’ll gain new time to dedicate to your professional vision and mission, and the time you save will lead to more effective and efficient results.
About the Author
Joan Pack is a content creator and strategist who strives to provide unique insight on topics that help people grow. When she’s not creating earth-shattering content, she spends her time studying music, singing, and helping people overcome difficulties through song.