Get more done in less time with these time management tips and strategies
What Is Time Management?
Some people seem to breeze through their to-do lists, with time to spare. They make time management look easy. How do they accomplish so much in such a short span of time? These people are time management superstars.
Time management is the way we organize and distribute our time between activities, with the result of maximizing productivity and achieving our goals. Good time management leads to lower stress levels and higher job performance and life satisfaction.
High achievers are not born productive. Rather, they’ve learned and practiced getting more done in less time. Productivity is not a talent. It’s a learned skill that every individual will attempt, with varying degrees of success.
Anyone can develop good time management skills. There are a wide variety of tips, tricks and methods out there to help you do just that. We’ve gathered our best 32 tips to help you make the most of your day.
Time Management Planning
Start your time management journey with a plan. These tips will help you create a strong foundation to form new habits.
Tip #1: Create a time audit.
First things first: find out where you actually spend your time. Often there is a discrepancy between what you think takes up your time, and what actually does.
Say you need to write a 300-word email. You may think: “Writing an email is simple. I’ll allocate 5 minutes.” However, you’re probably overestimating your speed, and underestimating smaller related tasks like proof-reading, monitoring language choice, and locating email addresses. With those other tasks, that 5 minute email could actually take you 20 minutes, 500% more time than you initially planned.
What if you do this same type of imprecise guessing for every task on your to-do list? A balanced workload will quickly balloon into an unmanageable workday. You need a realistic idea of how much time things take. That’s where a time audit can help.
The simplest way to do a time audit is to use a time-tracking application. Many companies offer free versions of their software, but Toggl Track is the simplest option for any device. To get an accurate picture of your time usage, track everything you do for a week.
At the end of the week, look at the reports and evaluate your time spent on different tasks. With this data, you can easily find areas to improve. For example, you may spend too much time sitting in unproductive meetings or doing busy work. Data-backed awareness will help you shift your plan to a more accurate one.
Tip #2: Declutter your to-do list.
If you’ve got too much to do, no amount of time management can fix it. After auditing your time, try to find out whether need better time management or you actually need to cut out some tasks.
If you think your goals are achievable, skip to tip 3. If you think you’re trying to accomplish too much, use an Eisenhower matrix or the 4 Ds of time management: Do, Defer, Delegate and Delete. Both methods help prioritize by putting your tasks into one of 4 groups:
- Do: Tasks that are important and urgent.
- Defer: Tasks that are important but not urgent.
- Delegate: Tasks that are urgent but not important.
- Delete: Tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
These methods will help you determine what tasks to prioritize and what tasks to schedule and plan for, delegate, or delete.
Whatever your goals are, they should also be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
Tip #3: Create a daily plan.
At the very top of your workday (or even the night before), create a daily to-do list.
Your list should be simple. Seeing an incomplete list day after day is disheartening. It’s better to under-promise and overdeliver, even when it’s just for yourself.
Word your action items as if you’ve already completed them. Instead of “Submit Report to Project Manager” write “Report to Project Manager Submitted.” This little trick will give you extra motivation.
Tip #4: Plan your week on Sunday.
Walk into your workweek with an idea of your priorities. Sunday planning eases the transition from the carefree weekend mindset to the productive Monday morning “work brain.” Take a few minutes on Sunday to create a plan for your whole week.
Schedule low-priority tasks for Fridays and other low-energy times. Complete creative and demanding tasks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Schedule meetings for Thursday, when your team’s energy starts to decline. Use Fridays and Mondays for planning and networking.
Time Management Strategies and Methods
Now that you. have a plan, it’s time to start executing on time management. There are hundreds of diverse approaches to personal productivity. A trial and error approach to these strategies can help your favorite one.
Tip #5: Complete your most demanding tasks first thing in the morning.
For most people, the first few hours of work are the most productive. Oddly enough, you focus more easily when your brain isn’t fully awake. Booting-up brains have less excess energy for daydreaming and worrying about other tasks. Take advantage of this phenomenon by tackling your most mentally demanding tasks right after waking up.
Tip #6: Use the 80-20 Rule.
The 80-20 rule, also referred to as the Pareto Principle, was conceived by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He observed that 80% of an outcome generally came from only 20% of its inputs. Analyze where your 20% comes from.
Say you’re an agency owner looking for clients. You spend 30 minutes a day emailing potential clients and one hour maintaining your social media channels. Only one client was referred to you by social media, whereas five clients came through email. You should shift the bulk of your time to email outreach to maximize your client pool.
Anyone can use the 80-20 rule to find out where to spend time. If you’re unsure of what activities are in your 20%, do a time audit or use a time-tracking tool for insight.
Tip #7: Find your peak productivity window.
Do you know what time of the day you do your most productive work? While earlier we said most people are productive in the morning, perhaps you are the rare night owl who works better late at night.
To find your golden hours or biological prime time, break your workday into three to five time slots. Track your work for the week using a notebook or time-tracking tool. At the end of the week, rank these time slots from most to least productive.
After you’ve found your golden hours, plan out your weeks accordingly. Schedule difficult or highly involved tasks for peak productivity times.
Tip #8: Use the Swiss Cheese method.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by large tasks. When you don’t know where to start, overwhelm can lead to procrastination or loss of focus.
The Swiss Cheese method, coined by Alan Lakein, breaks down larger projects into either smaller tasks or time chunks. By completing a single, small task or a 15-minute time block, you’ll make the project less daunting and more likely to be finished on time. Use a tool like the Tomato-Timer to help you automate.
Time Management Hacks
Even time-tracking pros need a little boost now and then.Use these small tips and tricks to add extra oomph to your productivity strategy or method.
Tip #9: Put a time limit on tasks.
Tasks expand to fill the time they’re allotted, or so argues Parkinson’s law. If you give a task two hours rather than one, you’ll take the full two hours to get it done.
Analyze your time audit and identify tasks that took longer than you expected. Set a time constraint on those tasks. Giving yourself a hard stop will prevent “scope creep”: the expansion of a project that occurs when duties are not well-defined or controlled.
If you still keep going beyond your time limits, examine your workflow. Should you assign more time to those tasks in the future? Also, eliminate little time-wasters like unscheduled breaks or social media.
Tip #10: Add a “done list” to your to-do list.
No matter how well you plan, unexpected tasks always pop up. Jot them down in a separate list next to your to-dos for some extra satisfaction at the end of the day. On Sunday, revisit your accomplishments from the previous week and congratulate yourself on your successes. Remembering your “wins” will boost your confidence and help you create the next schedule.
Tip #11: Be one day early.
Many people believe they work best under the intense pressure of a deadline. But getting work done just under the wire isn’t actually very healthy. Projects often take more time than you forecast, and having a buffer can help you feel more effective.
Set an earlier deadline for yourself and stick to it. Plan to submit your work one day ahead of schedule.
Tip #12: Don’t answer right away.
Don’t automatically answer email or Slack messages the very second they arrive. Batch-process your emails and catch up on phone calls in your downtime. Close email or messaging apps to avoid interruptions when working on high-focus tasks.
Tip #13: Before meetings, determine your desired results.
Although necessary and important, meetings are a well known time sink. Everyone has experienced the painfully-long Zoom call that takes away from important work time. To ensure productive meetings, make sure there is a clear purpose in mind before the meeting starts.
Make an agenda and share it with meeting participants in advance. You and your team will waste less time and get back to work sooner.
Tip #13: Schedule breaks between tasks.
During both waking and resting hours, the human brain goes through basic rest-activity cycles, or BRAC for short. The brain cycles between higher and lower alertness every 90 minutes. After working at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, we begin to draw on emergency reserves of energy to keep us going.
Schedule a break at least every 90 minutes in order to maintain focus and keep your productivity high throughout the day.
Tip #14: Make the most of waiting times.
It happens to everyone: we wait in lines, waiting rooms, airport terminals, train stations, etc. Use these idle times to answer emails on your phone, catch up on missed calls and messages, stretch/exercise, relax or meditate.
Alternatively, you can carry a book or e-reader with you and squeeze in some reading time. Even if the book isn’t directly related to work, reading helps boost concentration and improves brain connectivity.
Time Management Tools
Now that you’ve got your favorite time management strategies and tricks, you need the right tools for the job. These time-related tools are your best productivity pals.
Tip #15: Use apps to block out distractions.
Tip #16: Use time management apps.
The best way to manage your time is to know where your time is going in the first place. Time management apps will allow you to monitor your progress and analyze your procrastination patterns. Starting a timer increase your focus signal your brain to switch into work mode.
Tip #17: Avoid online tab-surfing.
Channel your attention by working at only one monitor and opening only one window. If you can conceivably get your work done offline, try signing off for select periods.
Tip #18: Organize your email.
Cluttered inboxes are time sinks. The best way to spend less time wading through your inbox is to organize it. Gmail offers a variety of features to conquer the bottomless pit of incoming mail. If you use some other client, consider switching to Gmail (either through POP3, SMTP, and forwarding) or using an external application like Airmail.
Here are some quick organizational tricks for email:
- Archive emails that might contain some important info but don’t need an immediate answer.
- Create actionable labels like URGENT, WAITING, NEEDS ACTION.
- Use filters to automatically assign labels to incoming mail based on sender or some other information/keyword they contain.
- Label all newsletters by setting up a filter for every email that contains the word ‘Unsubscribe’.
- Enable Canned Responses and create templates from emails that you have sent more than twice. You can customize these before sending them out, but work from this general outline to save time.
Time Management Training
We’re never done learning, especially when it comes to personal development. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned professional, turn here when you need to train your brain into better time management.
Tip #19: Turn your system into habits.
It takes work for ideas to turn into sustainable habits. Foster a long-term productivity mindset through habit-setting.
Set a reasonable work schedule that you can maintain over the long term (at least a month). Time management will get easier as the month goes on. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while for time management to become a habit.
Tip #20: Let go of bad habits in the meantime.
The best way to break bad habits is to start small. Smaller changes are less likely to trigger physiological stress responses, making them easier for your body and mind to accept and repeat. Don’t go cold turkey and expect a positive result.
Pick a habit, set a schedule and stick to it. As you follow this plan, it will become easier to shed more of your old, unproductive habits.
Tip #21: Don’t multitask.
Multitasking has a negative impact on productivity. Research has found that those who multitask have greater difficulty averting distractions than their focused counterparts. Additionally, multitasking can impact your cognitive ability. Pick one thing to do, set a timer, and work on only that thing until you finish or the timer goes off.
Tip #22: Don’t wait for inspiration — do it now.
Some artists wait for inspiration to strike, some writers wait for writer’s block to subside and some businesspeople wait for the perfect deal to arrive.. If you’re always waiting for the right time, you risk missing valuable opportunities.
Back-pedal into inspiration by working through periods of low inspiration. As artist Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Tip #23: Forget perfection.
Perfect is the enemy of good, or so the saying goes. In most cases, “done” is better than perfect. Look at every effort as an experiment. The failures are bringing you closer to a successful outcome.
Tip #24: Don’t get hung up on small details.
Instead of getting stuck on a detail, keep the big picture in mind. Focus on your priorities, not the small issues of your work. Most likely, you’ll figure it out later. Address the most important tasks on your to-do list and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Tip #25: Use your calendar.
A calendar is good for so much more than just scheduling meetings. You can use your calendar for time blocking, keeping track of deadlines, and automatically adding locations to events.
Actively using a calendar will help you take responsibility for your time. If something on your schedule looks like it will hamper your productivity,, just cancel it.
Time Management and Work-Life Balance
Work and life may seem separate, but one side of your life profoundly impacts the other. Healthy life habits will help you achieve more when you get to work.
Tip #26: Exercise often.
Physical activity has a major impact on productivity. One study’s participants noted a 72% improvement in time management and workload completion after adding exercise to their routines.
Researchers have shown that short and intense exercise sessions can be as beneficial as longer ones. Set some time aside for at least a short workout every other day.
Tip #27: Sleep well.
Thinking of sacrificing some of your sleep hours to that project with a quickly approaching deadline? We would recommend against it.
Scientists have found sleeping less to create more time for tasks actually has a negative impact. Tired people procrastinate more and get distracted easily. Give your brain at least eight hours of sleep every night, even with looming work deadlines..
Tip #28: Schedule relaxation time.
When we work our bodies go through a process called Effort-Recovery.
During a regular workday, we all do tasks that require effort. Our bodies respond to this output of effort by accelerating the heart rate andelevating blood pressure levels which put stress on the body.
When you make time for recovery at the end of the workday, these physiological reactions return to their base levels. Without recovery time, there can be adverse physiological and mental impacts.
It’s crucial to turn off your work brain for your health and future productivity. You will be surprised about the positive effects some quiet time can have on your creative processes. Try activities like yoga or meditation to relax your body and calm your mind.
Tip #29: Learn to say no.
Your time is precious. Don’t waste it on tasks and projects that don’t align with your goals. Instead of automatically accepting invitations and offers, say, “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you.” This simple phrase will buy you time to evaluate offers and make smart decisions.
Tip #31: Train the other side of your brain.
Productive hobbies engage parts of your brain you may not exercise during your workday, but that are still important for thinking.. Engaging in your hobbies helps you solve problems faster and gives you more creativity.
Additionally, spending time outside your comfort zone can increase your confidence and help you develop new skills. Find a productive activity you enjoy and can stick with over a period of time. Try reading, cooking, dancing, gardening, meditation, language learning, volunteering or improv.
Tip #32: Have a great time — no matter what.
Don’t obsess about checking off all the items on your to-do list. Finishing an oversized workload today isn’t worth an unproductive, burnt-out day tomorrow.
Work steadily and stay at your best pace. Rushing through tasks reduces work quality and creates stress.
Now go and start your time audit by clicking on the button below. With these time management tips, you will put an end to procrastination and start taking control of your week.
Related Reading and Additional Resources
Need more help, tips, or tricks? We’ve got you covered! Here are our best resources on time management, productivity, and working from home: