Time Management 101

Time Management 101

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Time Management 101

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What is time management?

Got questions about time management? Good. We’ve got answers—plus all the tips, strategies, tools, and tactics that can help you to master this life skill.

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What is time management?

Time management is the art of using your time better. It’s how you divide your time between tasks, how you prioritize, and how you use your attention to get your best work done.

The goal of good time management is to create more space for the things that really matter to you—whether that includes more hours to work, more time to spend with family, or just a little more free time to relax with Netflix.

But time management isn’t only about freeing up your schedule; this skill can also help you grow in your career, become more creative and productive, and even reduce stress levels.

The bottom line? Learning time management isn’t only about improving your schedule; it’s about living a more enjoyable and successful life.

Benefits of better time management

The first thing to know about time management is that it’s for absolutely everybody.

From office workers to business owners, stay-at-home moms and dads to professional athletes—everyone can benefit from improved time management skills.

This is because anybody is capable of using their time poorly. You can’t actually “buy time”—as the saying goes—but you can waste it. There are only 24 hours in a day. The question is how you are going to use those hours to meet your goals and stay on task.

Learning time management skills can help anybody make the most of their time and reap the benefits of increased focus and productivity.

But there’s a caveat: Efficient time management will look different for everybody. The style and focus of time management will depend on your profession, natural abilities, personality, life circumstances, and finally, desired benefits.

Benefit #1 - More time

In an age of “time scarcity,” most of us would like more space in our schedules.

Maybe you feel like there’s never enough time in a day to achieve your goals. Maybe you would like to free up your weekday evenings to relax, or go to the gym. Maybe you’ve been dreaming of a side hustle, but just haven’t been able to squeeze it into your schedule.

In any case, better time management can help you gain more of life’s most precious resource: time.

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Benefit #2 - Less stress

Next to time scarcity, one of our biggest problems may be stress.

When life feels overwhelming and hurried, anxiety is inevitable. And though we might not associate getting more done with feeling less stressed, learning to become more productive and focused can actually prevent us from feeling rushed and anxious about meeting deadlines. Why? Because we’ve learned how to achieve goals and tick of items of our to do list with efficiency.

Further Reading

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Benefit #3 - More money

Most of us would like to be making more cash, but time limits us—from taking on additional projects, starting a side hustle, or simply going the extra mile to impress our bosses. Depending on your career, learning to make better use of your time can be a game changer in terms of earning potential.

If you’re a freelancer, time management can help you become more productive, giving you the power to raise your rates or get more done faster. If you’re salaried, time management can help you become a more valuable asset to your company—and perhaps even negotiate a salary raise.

Benefit #4 - Better organization

Time management isn’t the same as being organized, but the two skills are symbiotic.

Learning to manage your time well, prioritize, and “divide and conquer” your tasks sets you up for a more orderly approach to work (and life). Likewise, knowing how to plan your day, how to organize your work, and how to stay accountable to deadlines can help you use your time better.

Benefit #5 - Increased focus

When you manage your time well, your working hours and minutes will actually feel different.

Being rushed or stressed about what you need to accomplish in a given time frame can make it harder to focus. But when you know you’re on top of the ball, you can remain in a state of concentration without worrying about a deadline or a lack of time.

Not only that, but time management can help you achieve a better work life balance, so that you won’t spend working hours thinking about tasks outside of work.

Time management pitfalls

There are zero drawbacks to learning effective time management. There are, however, ways to do time management the wrong way—leading to time-sucking and stress-inducing pitfalls.

Pitfall #1 - Believing busywork = productivity

Work is not inherently productive.

In other words, one of the most dangerous ways to waste time is to waste time by working. When you’re consumed with busywork, you might believe you’re using your time well—but in reality, you’re expanding your energy on a task that’s unimportant.

For example: You might spend two hours reorganizing a spreadsheet. Is there a tool or a formula that could help you avoid this manual work? Or maybe you’re rewriting the same email again and again, rather than using a template to automate the process.

Learning effective time management can help you to avoid this mistake by teaching you to evaluate and utilize your time better—and how to make the most of your energy, skill, and focus.

Pitfall #2 - Believing time management = efficiency + productivity

Although efficiency and productivity are critical outcomes of time management, they are not the only pillars to this foundational life skill.

Time management is holistic. It takes into account self-care, rest, goal-setting, and long-term vision to help you create a fuller and more balanced life.

Pitfall #3 - Ignoring your own work style or quirks

Remember that time management needs to be tailored to the individual.

If you’re a night owl, then effective time management might look like grinding from 9 p.m. to midnight. But if you’re an early riser, then you might want to focus on getting work done first thing in the morning. Maybe you work well in quick, short spurts interspersed with breaks—or maybe you’re able to work in a slow and steady stream for hours.

In any case, you can get better results if you recognize that not everyone has the same peak hours and time management style—especially if you’re managing a team.

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Pitfall #4 - Losing sight of the big picture

The goal of time management is to make life more efficient and free up time, not to place a burden of additional administration on you.

That being said, don’t get obsessed with time management and allow it to consume your work day. Time management tools and tactics (which we’ll get to in a moment) are there to make your life easier. If they’re not doing that, then reconsider your approach.

Pitfall #5 - Thinking of time only in numbers

Time is not just quantitative; it’s qualitative. In fact, the quality of your time matters more than the quantity of your time.

Think about it: It’s Friday afternoon, and a task that typically takes 45 minutes has suddenly consumed two hours. You’re most likely distracted, and itching to finish work to go and relax or play. You’re using your time poorly. Or maybe you’re in a state of caffeine-inspired focus, and you’re blowing through your to do list at warp speed. You’re using your time well.

In the first case, you’re using your time poorly because you’re distracted; in the second, you’re using your time well because your minutes are full, focused, and productive.

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How do I get started on time management?

The only way to improve your time management skills is to be intentional about adopting tactics designed to aid your productivity and time tracking.

That includes cultivating specific time management skills, learning time management techniques, and even using tools to help you improve your approach.

Before diving into specifics, however, let’s take a look at the core pillars of effective time management—common behaviors and approaches that ultimately make time management successful for anyone.

Ingredients for successful time management

Whether you’re a freelance graphic designer, a software company owner, a financial analyst, or anything in between, time tracking typically involves the following components:

1. Time tracking

To improve your time management, you’ve got to know how you’re spending your time. And to know how you’re spending your time, you’ve got to track your time strategically and accurately—no guesswork allowed!

A kitchen timer and a spreadsheet might help you to track your own hours and minutes, but this kind of approach can also be error-prone. Relying on your own memory to start and stop your timer will usually result in mistakes…and tends to add an unnecessary burden to your work day.

A better strategy for tracking hours and minutes is to use an automated app, such as Toggl Track. Automated time tracking helps ensure accuracy and typically offers richer insight into your time usage—ultimately helping you to improve your time management skills.

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2. A list of goals and deadlines, ordered by priority

To manage your time effectively, you’ll need to know how to prioritize your tasks.

Making a to do list at the start of each workweek or work day can help you organize your time and decide how you’d like to divide and conquer. Otherwise, you risk expending all your time on busywork—low priority tasks that make you feel productive, but that don’t help you hit your deadlines or achieve your big picture goals.

3. A list of daily goals and repeatable tasks

To automate some of the decision-making of time management, make a list of goals and repeatable tasks at the start of each workday.

For example, you may choose specific times to perform repeatable tasks (such as 9 a.m. for checking your email inbox). In the meantime, use your list as a guidepost for tackling individual goals and meeting deadlines.

4. Scheduling

Finally, collect all of the above into a single place—whether that’s a calendar, a schedule or project management tool. This single touchpoint should include a) what you need to do, b) when you plan to finish your tasks, and c) how much time the tasks will require to complete.

Getting started with time management

Before diving into time management, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who are you trying to manage time for? Your team or yourself?
  2. What are you trying to get out of time management? Do you want to achieve a big-picture goal like better work life balance and more quality time with loved ones?

Or do you want to achieve a more focused target, like hitting your company goals this quarter, finishing a project on time, or reducing your stress?

The answers to these two questions will help you choose a strategic approach to improving your time management.

Next, assess your greatest challenge to managing your time well.

Your greatest challenge to time management is also a clue to how you should get started on time management.

If you're unsure of “where all your time is going,” then you’ll want to do a time audit. Get started by tracking your time first.

Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by a mile-long to do list and a limited amount of time you have to get everything done. If that’s the case, then start by making a prioritized list of tasks or goals.

Finally, if you’re simply feeling disorganized and chaotic, then start on time management by creating a schedule.

In the next section, we’ll take a look at the linchpin of your time management: the skills, tools, and methods you’ll use to ensure success.

Time management skills, methods, and tools

Time management skills are the hard and soft skills you rely on to manage your time effectively. These might include knowledge of how to use a time tracking tool, the ability to stay on task when required, and the learned ability to adapt to shifting tasks and deadlines.

We use time management methods to mean specific strategies for organizing your time and tackling your workload, and time management tools to refer to physical tools or digital apps that can help you organize and track your time.

Learning to leverage all of the above can help you improve your time management skills across the board—whether that means becoming more focused, or learning how to use a particular tool to better track and organize your time.

Time management methods

Time management methods or techniques are established strategies for time management.

  • The Eisenhower Matrix is especially helpful for those who aren’t sure where to begin on their workload, or feel like their time is consumed by “putting out fires.” This method helps you prioritize your tasks according to varying levels of urgency and importance by assigning your tasks into four categories (urgent/important, urgent/unimportant, nonurgent/important, and nonurgent/unimportant). By dividing your tasks this way, you can make more strategic decisions on what to tackle first on your to do list, how to set aside time for important but nonurgent tasks, and what to put off until later.
  • The Getting Things Done (GTD) Method is ideal if you feel paralyzed by the amount of work you feel like you need to accomplish. The GTD method helps you to externalize (i.e. record or write down) your tasks, create actionable steps to get them done, and stay organized and accountable.
  • The Pomodoro Method is ideal for those who have trouble staying focused or on task for prolonged periods of time. By alternating 25-minute periods of work with 5-minute breaks, you create a steady flow of focus with “permission” to zone out a couple times an hour.

Of course, there are multiple other methods that can help you create specific routines or habits for better time management. Ultimately, choosing a time management method that works for you will depend on your own particular situation and needs.

For a more detailed and comprehensive list, refer to our dedicated guide on time management skills and methods as well as supplementary material on time management techniques.

Further Reading

Time management tools

Time management tools are devices and apps that can help with tracking time, setting timers, creating schedules or scheduling tasks, and even distraction-blockers like Forest or Hey Focus (Mac users only).

Using a time tracking tool by itself can’t make you a better worker. You can still goof off and lose focus, even when you’re held accountable to your hours and minutes. What it can do, however, is generate powerful insight, help you remain organized, and keep you motivated to push towards the greater goal of better time management.

The easiest way to pick the right tool for you is to think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Are you trying to track time? Then a minimalist timer might suffice, whether it’s a digital time tracker or a kitchen timer like the one that inspired the invention of the Pomodoro Technique.

Are you trying to schedule tasks or block time? Then you’ll need a calendar, whether it’s a desktop paper planner or Google Calendar.

Are you tracking time for yourself, or for a team? Are you trying to bill for the hours you track? The more complex and varied your needs, the more robust you need your app to be.

Toggl Track is a time management tool designed for teams—whether they’re teams of one or big teams with hundreds of members. Not only does Toggl Track automate time tracking to make it easy and efficient; it generates detailed reporting, helps track revenue, and consolidates scheduling and tracking into one place.

For a comprehensive guide to time management tools—what they are and how you can pick the best one for you—check out our dedicated guide to time management tools and resources.

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Time management resources

Finally, time management resources include the books, podcasts, and even YouTube videos that help educate—and inspire—us on better time management.

Here are a few of our favorite resources to help you get equipped:

  • Deep Work, by Cal Newport, is the guide to teach you how to take a ruthless approach to getting focused—and getting your best work done.
  • Tim Ferris gained notoriety for publishing The 4-Hour Workweek, and has since published even more content (including books and podcasts) on how to generate income, get healthy, and manage your goals—all with maximum efficiency.
  • “How to gain control of your free time” is a TED talk by productivity expert Laura Vanderkam—that provides researched insight into how much free time we actually have, and how we can achieve a better work life balance.

Again, these resources are not a magic pill. They can, however, help motivate you on your journey towards becoming a more efficient, productive, and focused person.

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Time Management

We're all given the same 24 hours a day, and that's something we can't control. But with skillful time management, you can transform the way you use those hours. Learn how at the Time Management Hub.

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