Do you find yourself struggling to juggle all your responsibilities in a given day? Improving your time management skills will help you regain control and boost productivity.
Below are 13 effective techniques to get you on the right path to becoming an expert. Try some of these to find out which work best for you.
1. Do you know where your time goes?
The first step in developing great time management skills is to understand how you’re currently spending your time.
Are you aware which types of activities consume most of your day?
Do you know how often your mind wanders and you spend procrastinating? How about which tasks are the biggest drainers on your physical and mental energy?
Create a time journal
To help you find these answers, try keeping a journal for one week. Record all your work and personal activities and keep track of the time spent on each item.
For your time spent on a computer, an app called RescueTime can do this work for you. The program will track all your activities and provide you with nice comprehensive reports.
The idea of keeping a journal may seem difficult and tedious. But it’s critical to developing a clear, honest picture of your time.
2. Planning is everything
Have you ever tried reaching a destination point without the proper directions?
Planning is a critical element to achieving anything in life, especially success. It’s impossible to move forward and take action without a plan.
Come up with a weekly plan
Pick one day each week and take some time to plan out the week ahead. Identify all your projects, ideas, meetings, and personal plans. Create a high-level overview and game plan for your activities.
Set expectations for yourself and deadlines. Review your progress each week to ensure you’re on track.
Come up with a daily plan
Spend a few minutes the night before or in the morning and plan out your day. Take into account your assignments, meetings, calls, as well as your personal commitments.
The plan will give you a good picture of what to expect for your day. For best results, try to follow your plan as much as possible.
And make sure that your daily plans align with your weekly plan to accomplish your goals.
3. Find Your Peak Productivity Times
Best time of the day
When do you produce your best work? Is it first thing in the morning when you’re rested, or do you get most of your energy late at night?
Identify the times of the day that you are at your peak for productivity and creativity. You can then work on your important projects during these times.
This will be an effective way to use your physical and mental energy.
Blocks of work time and breaks
Have you ever noticed how long you can work productively before you need a break? Identify the working time and break pattern that is optimal for you.
For instance, can you focus for 45 minutes straight before needing a 5-10 minute break? Or is 30 minutes of work and a 5 minute break better for you?
Once you know your optimal working time, you can adopt this to make the most efficient use of your time. And you’ll be productive all day long!
4. Create detailed to-do lists
Keeping a list of tasks is crucial to managing your time. However, it’s not enough to simply list each item by name alone.
This is too vague and can make you underestimate the amount of time needed to finish the tasks. Instead, try adding some important details needed to complete the job successfully.
Brief details are important
These details can be high-level but write them down to get a good understanding of the scope of work.
The amount of details will also vary based on the size of the project and level of complexity. Some tasks may just have one line and others may need a separate project plan.
Here are some details to include for an effective to-do list:
- Outline the key steps required for each task. For large projects, break these down into smaller parts to include on your daily to-do lists.
- Breaking down the various action points will help you set expectations for the amount of work required.
- Assign each daily task a specific time to complete. For instance, tell yourself that you have to complete Task A in 2 hours; Task B in 1 hour; and Task C in half an hour.
- The restrictions on your time will force you to be more productive and stay on track with your to-do list. You can always go back to the items later in case they need some finishing touches.
- Make sure to always include deadlines for each item. Without a deadline, the work will not get done.
- If the deadline is too far away in the future, then set more frequent deadlines for the various steps of the project. This will help you avoid the stress and panic to complete everything at the last minute.
Involvement from other co-workers
- Make sure to identify any steps that involve other co-workers and the related expectations.
- Since you can’t control your co-workers’ schedules, factor in any tasks and deadlines that depend on others. Make sure to coordinate with them in advance. As you go along, reach out to them to check on the status.
- Is there anything that could get in the way of completing the project? In particular things that are not within your control?
- Everyone hates surprises so it’s best to anticipate any potential obstacles at the beginning. You can then come up with an action plan and deal with the problems quickly to keep the project on track.
Review your list regularly
Review your list and keep it updated each day. Along with helping you save time, it will be easier to organize your thoughts, focus on key objectives and see the big picture.
5. Spend your time wisely
We can’t accomplish everything we want. There is often too much work and only limited time. We all know this.
So the important question is: are you working on the right things? Learning to prioritize is one of the most essential skills for a time management expert.
Prioritize based on the level of importance
Review your to-do list and determine which projects are the most important and urgent. These are the items that are a priority and deserve your full attention. Complete these first in order to be efficient and use your time effectively.
This approach will prevent you from spending your whole day on many simple, unimportant activities. This is not an effective use of your time since the significant projects will be postponed and then rushed at the last minute.
Your success hinges on the completion of the important items, so the majority of your time and optimal mental energy need to be focused on these.
Eliminate any unnecessary work
Are there any activities that you can remove from your to-do list? Try to identify any tasks that aren’t important or essential for a project. Sometimes we create too much work or add excessive steps.
Would anyone notice if these particular things were not completed? Are there any negative consequences?
If these answers are “no” and the tasks don’t add value to your work, then simply remove these from your list. And focus on the things that matter most to get the job done.
Work on one task at a time
We have examined multitasking in other articles and that research studies have shown this habit to be inefficient.
By spreading your attention across many things, most are not completed (or completed poorly). It also takes a lot longer to complete each task.
It is more efficient to focus and finish on one thing at a time before moving on to the next one. You will accomplish more things during the day and with a higher level of quality.
6. Track your time
Once you’ve allotted a certain amount of time for your tasks, the next step is to time yourself and ensure you work within the targets.
Pressure and competition can both be efficient motivators and enhance your productivity. In this case, you are racing against time to meet your objectives.
It may be helpful to use a timer to have a countdown for each task. There are simple apps, such as Toggl, that you can use for this purpose. You can also place a clock on your desk as a visual reminder. Both of these options will add the pressure you need to get to work and keep you on track with your targets.
Use your calendar
Your calendar is a great time management tool. There are many calendar options including those that are part of your e-mail software or as separate apps. Find the one that fits in best with your work and personal style.
Use your calendar to store all your important tasks, deadlines, meetings, calls, personal commitments and everything else you can think of.
If you find it difficult to stay on track with your to-do list, try scheduling your activities in your calendar each day. Include the time you’ve allocated for each task so you know what you’re working on at all points of the day.
Once something is in the calendar, your mind perceives this as an action task, so it makes it more difficult to avoid.
Check out some great apps
Time management apps such as time trackers and calendars can be great help with your goals. Check out our review of some great free apps for both iOS and Android.
7. Do things right the first time
Everyone hates to re-do work. After slaving over a project for a long time, there is nothing more frustrating than having to re-do certain parts. Or even worse – the entire thing!
There are some things that can’t be avoided such as updates requested by clients or extra scope.
But we’re referring more to re-work that we cause by either rushing a project or not meeting expectations.
How do you avoid this and ensure that you do everything right the first time? Below are a few tips to keep in mind when starting your work.
Preparation is Key
Before starting a new project, a detailed plan is crucial to achieving success. We touched upon the key items to include in point #4 above (Creating detailed to-do lists):
Project steps, timing for each task, deadlines, roles and responsibilities, and potential obstacles.
It’s also essential to have the necessary tools and resources, so these should also be identified at the beginning.
By having a great project plan in place, you are poised to be successful and eliminate any chances of failure.
Set objectives and expectations
Understanding the objectives and setting expectations for the results are critical for a successful project.
When delivering a project to your boss or a client, make sure to clearly document these items at the beginning.
For instance, what are their most important goals? What are they expecting the deliverables and results to look like? What methods are you planning to use to achieve the desired results?
These are all things that need to be agreed upon prior to the start of the work. Once all parties are on the same page, this will help to protect you in case there is a claim that expectations were not met.
8. Avoid procrastination
We all have a tendency to put things off because they seem too difficult or boring to do. Instead, we waste time on social media sites, watching YouTube videos and anything else we can find to help us procrastinate.
If you would like to gain control over your time, then it’s essential to get rid of the procrastination habit. We may not realize it, but wasting a half hour here and there can add up and be a huge drain on our time and energy.
Start a new habit
Get yourself into a habit where you start your tasks right away.
Don’t give yourself the opportunity to get sucked into the social media sites. And remind yourself that 5 minutes is never just 5 minutes on the sites and it can turn into hours.
If you find it difficult to stop procrastinating, we’ve offered more advice in this article: 7 Smart Tips to Stop Procrastinating.
9. Improve Your focus
Do you find yourself struggling to focus at work? You start a task only to be interrupted or pulled in by various distractions?
This happens to all of us. But we need to gain control over our ability to focus and manage our time properly.
Improving focus requires giving your full attention to specific activities and blocking out all distractions.
Below are a few quick strategies that you can start using today. For a more in-depth look at improving focus, check out our article here.
Create a quiet place and time to work
Significant projects require your full focus and often a lot of time. Try to find a quiet place where you can work with no interruptions.
If this is at your desk, put up a “do not disturb” note. Put your instant messenger on “away” and don’t be accessible by e-mail or phone.
You can also explain to your co-workers that you are taking the next two hours to work on something urgent. Most people will respect your requests for quiet time.
You’ll be amazed how quickly you can complete things when left in isolation to focus on the job at hand.
Get rid of your time wasters
It’s impossible to block out all distractions during the work day. But it’s up to you how you manage these distractions and how long you spend on each one.
Try checking e-mails and returning phone calls only at certain times of the day. Such as morning, lunch and late afternoon. Block social media sites and don’t surf the web just to procrastinate. Avoid getting pulled into office gossip and complaining sessions.
These are all time wasters. Imagine how effective you would be if you focused on productive work tasks instead.
Concentrate fully on your task
Your important projects need your full concentration. So don’t let anything sidetrack you or cause you to shift focus.
Train yourself to think just of one task. No other thoughts or distractions. As soon as you catch your mind wandering, immediately restore your focus to the job at hand.
You’ll be incredibly efficient this way and accomplish more in less time.
10. Look for process improvements
We’re all looking to save time.
If you can find a smarter, quicker way of doing something, don’t be afraid to speak up at work. And go ahead and implement your proposed changes.
If something is broken, then it’s best to fix it
Examine the things that you use most and that cause delays or problems for completing projects.
These may be related to resources, workflow, computers, software, work tools, or anything else that you use during your work day.
Then focus on each one and take steps to correct them. Process improvements will save you time and energy. You will continue to reap these benefits over the long-term.
Your co-workers will also appreciate the time savings. And even recognize you for making these changes!
Review your projects list and see if there are any tasks that you can delegate to others. These can be items that are easy or repetitive for you.
Delegate to the right co-workers. You can match up various activities with people’s strengths and specific skills.
Don’t fall into the trap that you need to do everything yourself to do things right. People who delegate effectively can increase their productivity significantly.
And most importantly, delegation frees up your time to focus on the more complex projects that need your full attention.
Group similar tasks
Switching between many different things is inefficient and wastes time. Your focus is also shifted in many different directions and it’s difficult for your mind to keep up.
For tasks that are similar, group these together and work on them consecutively. For example, respond to your e-mails first, then return all your phone calls, and then go on to writing your reports.
It’s easier for your mind to continue the same thinking patterns than having to change gears every few minutes on different things. By grouping the related items, you’ll save a lot of time and preserve your mental energy.
11. Don’t be a Perfectionist
Everyone wants to produce excellent work. But trying to make everything perfect can ruin your productivity.
We get buried in the details and spend far too long on projects. But will these details affect the overall project and our success? Or is it just the compulsion to keep working on something until it meets our definition of ‘perfect’?
It’s important to stop yourself and not get stuck on all the small unimportant details.
Time is limited. So focus on completing the projects to meet your deadlines.
If you finish early, you can always revisit projects to add any finishing touches. But don’t let this interfere with your ability to move on to other projects and maintain your level of productivity.
12. Just say “No”
Have you ever noticed that certain people always get stuck with too many assignments?
These are typically the people that are too “nice”. You know the ones that like to please everyone and hence don’t refuse any work. They also believe that this will help them be more successful in their careers.
But does taking on a lot of additional work really improve the chances for promotions? Well, it depends on the type of activity.
Be selective of the extra work you accept
If the extra projects are more challenging than your current workload, then yes these can lead to promotions. But if these are tedious, boring tasks that are below your position level, then probably not.
You’re likely being assigned these as a last resort after everyone else declined.
If you’re already at capacity with your workload, then don’t take on more. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. If needed, you can review your full project list with your manager and explain your reasoning.
You can also set expectations for the type of new work that you will take on. For example, a great challenging project that can help you expand your skills. But don’t let yourself get sucked in to taking all the unwanted work simply because you have a difficult time saying “no”.
13. And most importantly, reward yourself!
There is no better feeling than completing a big project or meeting all your weekly deadlines.
Remember to always reward yourself for your efforts and success. The rewards can be simple such as going out for dinner or watching your favorite shows.
You should always recognize your accomplishments. Having a reward structure will help you stay motivated and on track with your goals.
Good time management skills can have a positive impact on your life.
You can’t create extra time in a day, but you can improve the way you manage the fixed time you have. You can make sure that you’re spending it in the best ways possible and working on the most important things.
What do you think?
How do you manage your time? Which tips work best for you? Please feel free to share your comments below.