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32 Time Management Tips To Work Less and Play More

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32 Time Management Tips To Work Less and Play More

What Is Time Management?

Time Management Definition

You may notice people around you who manage to get everything on their plate done, and then some, with time to spare. How can they accomplish so much in such little time? The answer lies in time management. 

Time management is the way we organize and distribute our time between activities, with the result of maximizing productivity and achieving goals. Good time management leads to lower levels of stress and higher levels of job performance and life satisfaction.

High achievers are not born productive. Rather, they've learned and practiced the skills needed to get more done in less time. Productivity is not a talent. It's a learned skill that every individual will need to develop.

It is possible (and easy) to 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.

Illustration of a person in a clock and her arms as clock hands

Time Management Planning

Beginning your time management journey with a plan will create a strong foundation for future habits, thereby increasing your chances of success. 

Tip #1: Create a time audit.

First things first: start by finding out where you're actually spending your time. Often there is a discrepancy between what you think is taking up your time and what actually is. This is because humans are bad at knowing how long tasks take. 

Say for example you need to write a 300 word email. You may think: "Writing an email is simple. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes." However, it's likely you're overestimating your speed and underestimating other smaller, related tasks you need to do to accomplish your end goal; proof-reading, monitoring language choice, and locating email addresses all can add to the task's time. With those additions, that 5 minute email could actually take you 20 minutes, 500% more time than you initially planned. 

Now say you have this same problem for multiple tasks on your plate. What was a balanced workload when you first set out is guaranteed to balloon into a stressful to-do list as the day goes on. You need to have a realistic idea of what you're able to accomplish and what is truly taking up your time. This is why it's beneficial to create a time audit. 

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, free option, with apps available for all devices. 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 the time you spent working 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. Now with this knowledge, you're able to have an accurate picture of how you spend your time and plan accordingly. 

This brings us to the next tip.

Tip #2: Set achievable goals and prioritize your tasks.

If you've got too much to do, no amount of time management will help you accomplish it all. Now that you've created a time audit, you'll be able to see if you simply need to better manage your time or if you've got too much on your plate. 

If you think your goals are achievable, skip to tip 3. If you think you're trying to accomplish too much, try creating an Eisenhower matrix or using the 4 Ds of time management: Do, Defer, Delegate and Delete. Both methods help prioritize by having you put your tasks into one of 4 groups:

  1. Do: Tasks that are important and urgent.
  2. Defer: Tasks that are important but not urgent.
  3. Delegate: Tasks that are urgent but not important.
  4. Delete: Tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

Using these methodologies will help you determine what tasks you should prioritize and what tasks you should 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 or to-do list.

This can be made in either the first block of your workday or the last few minutes. Use either of those chunks of time to create a daily to-do list. 

When you're creating your to-do list, make sure to keep it simple. Seeing a half-done lists day after day can be disheartening. It's better to under promise and overdeliver, even when it comes to personal productivity. 

Word your list 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 an extra boost of motivation when you go to cross the tasks off your list.

Tip #4: Plan your week on Sunday.

Walking into your workweek with a plan will help you focus on your top priorities. It also eases the transition from the carefree weekend mindset to a productive Monday morning "work brain."

Take a few minutes on Sunday to create a plan for your whole week. Increase your chances of success by breaking down your weekly goals into daily tasks. That way you'll be able to see what you need to do every day at a glance.

Set yourself up for success by scheduling low-priority tasks for Fridays and other low-energy times. Remember, your energy and creativity levels fluctuate throughout the week. Complete creative and demanding tasks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Schedule meetings for Thursday, when your team's energy starts to decline. Use your Fridays and Mondays for planning and networking.

Time Management Strategies and Methods

There are hundreds of diverse approaches to personal productivity. We know that everyone works differently, which is why a trial and error approach to these time management strategies can help you find the best method for you.

Tip #5: Complete your most important and demanding tasks first thing in the morning.

For most people, the first few hours of work are the most productive. 

Oddly enough, you can focus more easily when your brain isn't fully awake. Booting-up brains have less excess energy for daydreaming and worrying about other tasks.

Use this to your advantage and take on your most mentally demanding tasks first thing 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 who observed that 80% of an outcome generally came from only 20% of its inputs.

Take advantage of this knowledge and find out what that activities are a part of that 20 percent. 

For example, say you're an agency owner looking for clients. You spend 30 minutes a day emailing potential clients and 1 hour messaging and maintaining the businesses social media account. Only 1 client was referred to you by social media, whereas you have 5 clients were gained through email. It's clear that you should shift your time to email outreach if you want to maximize your clients. 

Anyone can use the 80-20 rule to find out where to spend their time. If you're unsure of what activities are in your 20%, you should do a time audit or use a time tracking tool as this will give a better indication what actives are having the greatest impact and taking up the most time.

Tip #7: Take advantage of golden hours or biological prime time.

Do you know what time of the day you do your most productive work? Knowing this will help you optimize your workload. 

To find your golden hours or biological prime time, break your workday into 3-5 time slots. Keep track of your productivity for the week using a notebook or free time tracking tool. At the end of the week, rank these time spots from most to least productive. 

After you've found your golden hours you'll be able to 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, argues that the best way to overcome this is to break 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. 

Time Management Tips and Tricks

We all could use a little boost from time to time. Use these small tips and tricks to add a little extra oomph to your productivity strategy or method. 

Tip #9: Put a time limit on tasks.

Tasks expand to fill the time they're given, or so argues Parkinson's law. If you give a task two hours rather than one, the amount of work you need to do to accomplish the task will simply expand to fill the full two hours.

Take another look at your time audit and identify tasks that took longer than you expected. Set a time constraint on those tasks. By setting constraints you will improve your focus and work more efficiently. You will also avoid scope creep: the expansion of a project that occurs when duties are not well-defined or controlled. 

If you still find yourself going beyond these time limits, examine your workflow and determine if you should assign more time to those tasks in the future. You can also try eliminating little time-wasters like unscheduled breaks.

Tip #10: Add a "done list" to your to-do list.

No matter how well you plan, unexpected tasks will always pop up during the day. 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. This review period will increase your confidence and help you create the next week's schedule.

Tip #11: Be one day early.

Many people believe they work best under the intense pressure of a deadline and will put off work until the day before it's due. However, for most this isn't actually the case. Projects often take more time than initially thought making it difficult to actually complete projects on time. 

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.

Illustration of colleagues having a video chat

Tip #13: Before meetings, determine your desired results.

Although necessary and important, meetings are a well known time sink. Everyone has been in a Zoom call that went on way longer than needed. To ensure productive and timely meetings, make sure there is a clear purposed in mind before the meeting. 

Make an agenda and share it with meeting participants in advance. You and your team will waste less time and get back to work as 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. 

Scheduling a break at least every 90 minutes can help you 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

Need a little extra help. These time management tools are your new best productivity pals. 

Tip #15: Use apps to block out distractions.

Use your computer and phone's "do not disturb" functions when working on focused tasks. Tools like Self Control or Freedom can be used to block distracting websites. Use these to block distracting websites like social media or news sites.

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 figure out your procrastination patters. Starting a timer can help increase your focus and works as a signal to your brain to switch into work mode.

We would recommend the free application Toggl Track, which is easy to use and available on most devices. It also offers comprehensive reporting so you can easily see your procrastination patterns. There are also many paid time tracking applications available such as Clockify, Harvest, or Time Doctor

Tip #17: Minimize your open windows. 

Channel your attention by working at only one monitor and opening only one window. Going offline might also be an option, but let's not go that far.

Tip #18: Organize your email.

Cluttered inboxes are time sinks. The best way to speed up email communication and waste less time on exchanges is to organize your inbox. Gmail offers a variety of features which will help you dominate your 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 tricks that will help you sift through, organize, and answer emails quicker:

  • 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.

  • You can even 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 having a general outline before you start will speed up the process considerably.

Time Management Learning Skills

We're never done learning, and time management is no acceptation. Wether you're just starting with time management or you're a seasoned professional, these tips will help you move forward in your journey of learning.

Tip #19: Turn your system into habits.

It is necessary to form the above ideas into sustainable habits. Continuing to practice these time management tips will help foster a productivity mindset.

Set a reasonable schedule you can maintain over the long term (at least a month). These behaviours will become increasingly automatic over time. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found it takes more than 2 months before a new behaviour becomes automatic—66 days to be exact, so don't beat yourself up if it takes a while to form these habits. 

Tip #20: Let go of bad habits in the meantime.

The best way to break bad habits is to start small. Break larger bad habits into smaller chunks or focus on your smaller bad habits in the beginning. Smaller changes are less likely to trigger physiological stress responses, making them easier for your body and mind to accept and repeat. 

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 focusing counterparts. Additionally, multitasking can impact your cognitive ability. 

Pick one thing to do, set a timer and work on only that thing until either you finish or the timer goes off. This will help ensure both your focus and your quality standards. 

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, silent work environment to accomplish tough tasks. If you're always waiting for the right time, you won't be prepared for it when it comes. 

Inspiration and focus can also be gained through the attempt to work 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: Don't strive for perfection.

Perfect is the enemy of good, or so the saying goes. When everything must be perfect, can anything ever be good enough? Probably not. Done is better than perfect. 

To become exceptional, you must fail repeatedly and learn from your mistakes. Look at every effort as an experiment—a valuable step on your journey, no matter what the outcome.

Tip #24: Don't get hung up on small details.

Instead of indulging in perfectionism, keep the big picture in mind. Focus on your priorities, not the minute details of your work. 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 your focused work, keeping track of deadlines, and automatically adding locations to events.

Actively using a calendar will help you take responsibility for your time. If you think that a scheduled entry will not advance your plan for the day, just cancel it.

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Time Management and Work-Life Balance

Work and life may seem separate, but what you do in one side of your life will have a profound impact on the other. Keeping 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 work load completion after adding workday 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 in both the short and long run. Tired people procrastinate more and get distracted more easily. Give your brain at least eight hours of sleep every night even if that deadline is coming up soon. 

Tip #28: Schedule relaxation time.

When we work our bodies go through a process called the Effort-Recovery model. 

During a regular workday, we all do tasks that require effort. Our bodies respond to this output of effort by accelerating the heart rate, elevating blood pressure levels which increase fatigue and put stress on the body.

When you make time for recovery at the end of the workday, these physiological reactions will return to their base levels. If you don't make time for recovery, there can be adverse physiological and mental impacts.

It's crucial to turn off your work brain for your healthy 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 help 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 mission and 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 are still important for high mental functioning. By developing these parts of your brain you'll be able to solve problems faster and have more creativity at your disposal.

Additionally, spending time outside your comfort zone can increase your confidence and help you develop new skills. Find a productive activity you enjoy and you'll be able to stick with over a period of time. Some popular hobbies are: reading, cooking, dancing, gardening, meditation, language learning, volunteering and improv.

Tip #32: Have a great time—no matter what.

Don't obsess about checking off all the items on your to-do list. Everyone needs an appropriate work/life balance. 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 time.

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:

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