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Time Management Techniques

What are time management techniques?

Time management techniques are methods or a system of methods designed to help people make the most of their time and stay organized. These techniques are often named after or by the people who developed them. Examples include the Pomodoro Technique or the Eisenhower Matrix.

We differentiate between time management techniques and time management skills. We use time management skills to refer to general skills that help you manage your time better. For example, being organized, having the ability to focus, and strong self-discipline can all be seen as time management skills. These skills must be cultivated over time. 

Time management techniques, on the other hand, are specific strategies and tips that you can try out immediately. Different time management techniques may play up different skills and target different problems. 

Below, we provide a list of six popular time management techniques and why they’re effective.

How to find the right time management technique for you

Finding a time management strategy that works for you depends on several factors, including the type of work that you do—whether it’s creative or administrative, independent or collaborative—and the skills you already have, such as your attention span and ability to focus.

Lots of time management techniques means lots of choices, but the downside to so many choices is that too many can feel overwhelming. The idea here is to save time, not spend all your time reading up on hundreds of techniques. 

The other challenge is that often, time management techniques provide conflicting advice. This is because they’re often designed by people from different fields: What works well for a freelance writer might not work for a project manager. 

The following guide to some of the most well-known time management techniques takes all of the above into account. 

We’ve narrowed down the list from hundreds of strategies to just 6 key techniques, and provided a brief guide to getting started with each one. 

1. Pomodoro Technique

What is it: The Pomodoro Technique is one of the oldest and most venerated time management techniques out there. It consists of doing your work in timed intervals of 25 minutes each. 

It was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s when he was a university student, and takes its name from the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo used (pomodoro means tomato in Italian) to put his strategy in action.

How you use it: The idea behind this method is that you can do better and more focused work if you work in 25-minute bursts (each interval is called a pomodoro) with short five-minute breaks. 

To try out the Pomodoro Technique for yourself, all you need is a timer. It can be a digital timer or a kitchen timer like the one that Cirillo used. During the 25-minute pomodoro, work on a single task without allowing yourself to get distracted. 

Once the timer goes off, give yourself a five-minute break. Repeat. After completing about two to four of these pomodoro sets, give yourself a longer 15 to 20-minute break to chill and recharge. 

What’s so great about it: The Pomodoro Technique is especially helpful for people who tend to get easily distracted. Just tell yourself you only have to concentrate for 25 minutes—no more and no less. 

It’s also great if you want to try a relatively simple time management technique—after all, all you need is a timer.

2. Eisenhower Matrix

What is it: The Eisenhower Matrix is a grid designed to help you easily categorize and prioritize where you should spend your time. 

There’s a quotation that’s frequently attributed to former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower that goes something like, “What is important seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” The difference between important and urgent is the key to this time management technique.

How you use it: 

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First, create a list of all the tasks you need to do. While you could theoretically perform this exercise in your head, it helps to write it or type it out. 

Next, place each task in one of the four quadrants in the Eisenhower Matrix by asking yourself two questions about each task: Is it important, and is it urgent? 

The first quadrant is for tasks that are both important and urgent. Maybe you have a deadline for your biggest client, and it’s tomorrow. These are the things you tackle first. 

The second quadrant is for tasks that are also important, but not as urgent. This might be a report you need to read in preparation for a bigger project down the line. You can delay or reschedule—just don’t forget about these tasks. 

The third quadrant is for to-dos that aren’t as important, but urgent. Maybe you got an email or a Slack message. Tasks in this quadrant are more dangerous than tasks in the fourth quadrant, things that are neither important nor urgent. 

Tasks that are neither important nor urgent are relatively easy to disregard. Tasks that feel urgent, however, can also feel important, and you might find that you spent most of your day on doing things that turned out not to be so important after all. But that’s exactly what the Eisenhower Matrix is for.

What’s so great about it: If you feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to do, and don’t know where to start, this is the time management technique for you.

If you struggle with decision-making or prioritization, it might also be worth trying out a Pareto Analysis, the 4 Ds of time management, or thinking about how to set better goals.

3. Time blocking

What is it: Time blocking is a time management technique where you split your day or week into blocks of time, with each block devoted to a single task. 

It’s a great strategy for busy individuals who feel like they never have enough time in their day to accomplish everything, and who find their extra time eaten up by unexpected tasks, like responding to a new email or a message. 

Advocates of time blocking include the likes of productivity writer Cal Newport as well as entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

How you use it: What you need is some sort of visual scheduling tool—a calendar app will do—and a list of your goals for the day or week. 

Use a calendar app with a daily or weekly view and block out chunks of time for repeating, non-negotiable events—things you have to do daily or weekly. This might include time for eating and workouts, or weekly meetings. Then figure out how you can fit your goals of the day or week into the remaining time blocks. 

How do you know how long each time block should be? You can fit tasks into consistent, preset blocks of time—say, 25 minutes as with the Pomodoro Technique—or try to fit the right length of time to the task. Time tracking—with Toggl Track—is a great way to gather information about how long it takes you to do certain things.

What’s so great about it: Time blocking is great for staying on track. By fitting your to-dos into preset timeframes, or blocks of time, you get a more realistic view of your workday. This in turn enables you to execute the plans you’ve set for yourself, distraction-free. 

Time blocking is also a great way to remain realistic about your time, as it assigns a specific task to each block of time in your day or week. Time tracking is a great complement to time blocking, because it allows you to accurately budget the right amount of time for each time blocked task. 

4. Deep work

What is it: Deep Work is the title of a 2016 book by computer scientist and productivity writer Cal Newport. Newport defines deep work as the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” as well as the work that is done with this ability. According to Newport, deep work “allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.” 

How you use it: In his book Newport presents four rules for deep work.

  1. Work deeply. Newport details several rules for accomplishing this, but a key point is that you set aside time in your schedule and your work for periods of intense, difficult and focused work. 
  2. Embrace boredom. Train yourself not to rely on the quick hit of notifications and other distractions. 
  3. Quit social media. What this means is not that you should live like a Luddite, but that you should reassess your use of social media tools and whether their benefits outweigh their costs. 
  4. “Drain the shallows.” Eliminate unnecessary, shallow, and distracting work from your life.

What’s so great about it: Newport first wrote about the concept of Deep Work on his blog, opposing it to shallow work—work that is easy, doesn’t require much focus, and feels productive but is ultimately empty. Deep work is difficult but it is fulfilling and feels meaningful. In that sense, deep work is not just a time management technique—it’s much more. And it’s nonetheless a good approach to time management in that it helps you to make more of your time.

5. Kanban

What is it: Kanban is a system of managing workflows and processes designed to produce exactly the necessary amount of work at the right time. The kanban system originated in Japanese manufacturing (kanban means signboard in Japanese) but has been adapted for use in agile software development and other teams. 

Kanban is not strictly a time management technique, but by managing workflows it helps individuals and teams budget their time effectively. This effectiveness is heightened when kanban is paired with time tracking.

How you use it: The basic idea behind kanban is that tasks are organized visually according to their level of completion. Usually this happens on a kanban board with tasks visualized in the form of cards. 

There are kanban apps, like Trello, that help you set this up digitally, but you can also start with a whiteboard and sticky notes. 

Create columns for tasks at various stages. You can start with three: to do, doing, and done. Write down the tasks you need to do on the sticky notes and position them on the whiteboard. Move the cards (notes) as necessary.

What’s so great about it: Kanban is great for teams and organizations where it’s not just one person doing several tasks but many people doing lots of tasks. It’s also great for visually-oriented individuals who need something a bit more elaborate than a to do list.

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6. The 4 Ds of time management

What is it: The 4 Ds of time management is a time management technique where you categorize all the tasks on your agenda with one of the four Ds, which are as follows: drop, delay, delegate, and drop.

How you use it: Start with a list of things you need to do that day or week. Tag each task with one of the 4 Ds by asking yourself the following questions.

  • Is it absolutely necessary? If not, drop.

  • Do you need to do it by today (or this week)? If not, delay.

  • Can you ask someone else to handle it instead, whether a subordinate or coworker? If so, delegate.

  • What’s left is the stuff you need to do.

What's so great about it: Like the Eisenhower Matrix, the 4 Ds are a good way of ordering your tasks by priority.

The 4 Ds can be made even better if you know how long it takes to do the things on your list. For example, time tracking data about the way you work can be valuable in helping you make decisions.

Conclusion

Time management isn’t easy. In some ways, all the techniques that were developed to make it more manageable stands witness to that. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and yet some people manage to accomplish more with it. 

The above time management techniques are a good starting point for learning these skills—after all, the point isn’t to know about all the time management techniques in the world, but to find the one that works for you and start getting better at managing your time.

"Often, time management techniques provide conflicting advice. This is because they’re often designed by people from different fields: What works well for a freelance writer might not work for a project manager."

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