Time Management Strategies & Techniques
The mature realization for every person in the world is understanding that they only have limited time in life to do things.
Then, on top of that, you realize you only have 24 hours a day, just like others, but some of us are able to achieve so much in life.
Those are the very few successful and great men and women in the world known to be in their respective industries, including business, entertainment, politics, and others.
Well, they also had the same time as yours but were able to make the most of it because they have the capability to manage their time wisely.
But then you realize something further that you don’t even have 24 hours a day.
Usually, a person spends 7 to 9 hours sleeping, so on average, now you have only 16 hours, including personal tasks, chores, work, and everything else.
So, all you need is effective time management strategies and tips to implement in your life.
It depends upon your work routine, preferences, and other aspects to find out what strategies fit you.
Do A Time Audit
People are usually not good at intuitively understanding where their time actually goes; rather, they have a perception about it.
You tend to overestimate how much you work and underestimate how much time you spend on distractions.
So, it is critical to evaluate where and how you are spending your time currently to get aware of your situation at the moment.
Then, only you can adapt to the right time management plan or strategies to move forward.
What you need to do instead of guessing is figure out where you spend your time through a time audit.
Here are the steps you need to follow to complete a time audit.
- First of all, choose 1 to 3 days to perform your time audit separate from any setting goals at that moment.
- Now, get yourself a time-tracking application or print a time-tracking sheet one for each day.
- Set up an hourly timer starting from the time you wake up through your waking hours.
- Every time the timer goes off in an hour, just note down everything you did in that hour.
- Make sure you are honest to yourself, so if you are on social media, just write that down.
- Once you are done with your time audit for the day, review it in your time-tracking sheets or app.
- Look for the trends, patterns, and group those hours into specifc categories like sleep, social media, work, entertainment, etc.,
Now finally, at the end of it, you need to ask yourself these questions for the required results :
- What is your biggest time category?
- How many work hours did you focus on?
- How much goes to all the distractions?
- How much time are you spending on your goal-driven activities?
- How much time are you giving to your health?
- How much time you’re giving to your family, friends, or/and spouse?
So go through all this, and you will know exactly about your day, your current time management success and failures, and the overall situation.
Now since you know where you are, look at your goals and priorities, and create a schedule that demands the required goal-oriented tasks to be done on a daily basis.
Once you have the schedule and the task you need to do, now keeping your current time audit in mind and your aspirational time management goals, set an altogether new routine accordingly.
Setting Up SMART Goals
Setting goals is a critical step in effective time management. It is a spot where things can go wrong.
When you set up a goal, it needs to be not too ambitious and realistic as per your capabilities, situation, and resources.
Also, your goals must be measurable. It must have some tangible way to measure its progress. Even better, it can have sub-goals signifying the progress of the goal.
Another way is to set your goals using S.M.A.R.T which means :
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A- Attenailble
- R- Relevant
- T – Timely
Timeboxing is a very simple time management technique where you set a time limit for a particular task and just stick to it.
If you are starting out with time management and want some flexibility, this is a good start. It works great also if you are developing a skill or aiming to complete a project.
For example, if you are writing a book or learning guitar, you can just set a time for that in a day and just keep doing it until the time’s up.
This is a tremendously effective technique for people who have a tendency to keep pushing things or are not able to stick to a project.
If there is a project you need to complete with a softer deadline or have a particular thing to learn, timeboxing can be really effective.
Just take a window of time at the time when you are comfortable doing it. Time-boxing tasks don’t need to be completed because they are more like practice or chore.
For example, you can set a time frame of 15 minutes from 8 am to 8:15 am to clean up your desk or room. The aim is to do your best and just leave it there.
It is highly effective to boost your focus, if you are coming from the Pomodoro method or other types of more result-oriented methods, this might seem a little counterintuitive.
But then it can be effective for a particular type of task like mentioned earlier about learning a skill or completing a passion project.
You can do this apart from your working hours by setting up a time frame to timebox with a skill that you want to learn along with your work.
Prioritizing – doing the right things in the right order
Prioritization is among the critical aspects of time management. It comes from the understanding of the fact that willpower and energy is a limited resource.
There are only a number of tasks you can do throughout your day without losing your efficiency and getting burnt out, and also still having some personal time.
And hence, there is limited time and limited energy, you need to focus on what is more important than others.
Prioritization can be done on various factors as most popularly the urgent and important combinations.
Here is how you need to determine every task of the day and label them any one of the following :
- Important and Urgent: These are the top priority tasks that are urgent and important, so these need to be done right away, the top task of the day.
- Important but not Urgent: These tasks are very important to be done but not urgent or need to be done right away, so you can set a deadline. Decide when to do these.
- Urgent but not important: These tasks are more like what you need to be done but not so important for you to do. So the best way is to delegate them.
- Not Urgent Not Important: These tasks are basically neither important to get your top attention nor urgent to do right away or any sooner, so you can put them aside to do later.
Another way to prioritize is to just simply color-coding them as per their ‘need to be done or ‘urgency’.As the top priority, work can be red-marked whereas at least one can be very light yellow.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique works like a charm when it comes to time management, and it is widely used by professionals, students, and people around the world.
Simply explained, it is about breaking your workday into 25-minute chunks or work sprints with the following 5-minute breaks.
This works especially great for people who struggle to focus on a particular task at hand for an extended period of time.
But again, this proves really great for completing tasks that you usually do or need to be done daily.
The Pomodoro technique psychologically comforts your mind in thinking that your work is finite and you’re making progress as you complete Pomodoro periods.
Also, consistent breaks prevent you from tiring up and short work sprints, it allows you to focus dramatically for a certain period of time.
The time frame gives you a sense of urgency and a time limitation to look forward to. Also, these working sprints need to be distraction-free.
During breaks, you can reward yourself the distraction like social media, etc.
Most importantly, the basic idea behind Pomodoro can be used for everyone with some customization as per the situation and individual.
Time Limits Can Boost Your Productivity
It is a simple practice where you get this habit of doing things under a time restriction. This is in fact a very basic move towards time management, yet effective.
Even if you are gradually adapting time management strategies, this is a simple yet powerful step to introduce into your day-to-day life.
When you constrain your task with a time limitation, it helps you to remain focused on the task until its completion.
Ticking time works as a motivator and stimulant for your brain to fulfill this task. Also, it kind of reduces some effort and a lot of thinking that goes into doing work, saving a lot of mental energy.
When you put an effort into knowing how much time it takes you to complete each task, you also know in the way what potential distractions and problems arise to finish it.
It tells you who is the enemy of your efficiency. What takes most of the time in your work? What kind of things in your work are easier or done fastly?
Doing work in the given time needs practice. It is even not about perfecting but rather understanding and being aware of your efficiency.
Also, when you know exactly how much time it takes to complete a task, you will be able to place it in your schedule very easily.
Taking Breaks in between Work
You have to give in to the general habit of taking breaks in between tasks. When you don’t take breaks, just go through the task one by one, even though it seems like a productive day, it is not on a long-term basis.
Chances are you will hit burn-out on the day when the rest of the work will be hampered or simply incomplete.
Taking short breaks in between your tasks or working sprints, you will stay focused and will feel more motivated throughout the day without feeling burn-out.
Use the breaks in the best way possible such as taking a walk, meditating, getting yourself a reward, or taking a nap.
Not just your mind but your body also craves breaks. Consistently sitting for long hours isn’t healthy.
You can take a break to do somebody’s movement through stretching, short exercise or just a simple little walk outside.
It will recharge your body and prevent it from getting stiff. Consistent movement throughout the day in a frequent manner helps your blood circulation intact.
Use The Rule of Three
The simple and short explanation of this time management technique is choosing only three meaningful results to focus on for the particular day.
This works magnificently great for people who find creating to-do lists too much of a tiring job, or it simply scares them.
And there are a lot of people whose to-do list is just too much to have on the plate making them might feel ambitious and hopeful, but in the end, it feels too much to go for.
If you have too long of a to-do list, then even though your ambition is admirable but you might just set up yourself for failure.
According to statistics, 41% of items on the to-do lists were never completed.
So, it might not be the ideal way to start planning your time management when you are new to all this.
So, it is better to subscribe to this technique called – The Rule of Three where you’re to-do-list only can have three items on it.
What you need to remember is the rule of three is not about focusing on the task completion but highlighting the outcome of the day.
This is something that will keep you grounded to accomplish some success in the day rather than getting sidetracked and overwhelmed and ending up doing nothing.
All you have to do is identify the three high-priority, most important tasks that will make your day productive enough to move on.
It is about having the intention to make something of the day rather than being too ambitious and unrealistic and end up losing the day in its entirety.
The most common mistake for people new to time management is they get too consumed in the tidbits of it, which impacts their primary tasks.
What you put in your account is that even planning time-management needs to be scheduled and time-blocked.
For that, the best strategy is to plan ahead; preferably, you start planning for the next day a day before, at night before sleep, or in the evening.
The idea is to not wake up on a day when you don’t have any plan or have to make one right on that day.
Just rapidly moving from one work to the next from your to-do list might work, but it also overwhelms you and takes up a lot of your focus and energy in that management.
Also, planning is about preparation, and you do not prepare on the battlefield; you do it earlier. On the battlefield, you just focus your energies to fight, not thinking, preparing, or aligning.
The same goes with life; if every day is your battlefield, you don’t plan right then right there. That will cause too many decisions to make, losing energy and focus.
So it is always better to set the intention and focus before the day begins.
Planning ahead is actually the cornerstone of time management. In fact, it is better to do daily planning and weekly planning as well.
Planning Your Day
There are several ways to plan your day such as time blocking, Kanban, working through your to-do list ( task-based planning), time-boxing, etc.
Still, the most effective method is time blocking. It is the best because it allows you to intentionally set every minute of your time to a given task, so there is no waste of time anyhow.
It is always suggested to complete your daily planning a night before the day coming. It must include everything you set to do tomorrow.
No matter how personal it is, even a movie, calling your grandparents, clearing your emails, every task deserves to be scheduled and time-blocked properly.
Planning Your Week
Planning your week is different from planning your day.
Before you even begin, first, it is important to do a weekly review of your work to reflect, observe and learn how much work you have done in the past week.
When you plan for the coming week, you also need to check what you couldn’t achieve last week that you want to complete this week and add it.
Week planning is about getting a set of tasks or work done using the whole week as your one day and planning accordingly.
So, for example, writing a business proposal might be difficult to complete in one day and especially with other tasks already time-blocked.
So what you can do is set particular hours for a day to work on it throughout the week, like every day for one hour or even three days of one hour where it must be completed at the end of the week.
It is also about setting up a task list of what you need to get done this coming week, and when you plan daily, you can pick up things to do the next day.
Task of planning
Again, the task of planning ahead itself can be overwhelming, and without capping it with a time limit, you can go round and round for even an hour or more.
So, here are a few tips to plan your planning better.
- Give your daily planning work to 15 minutes
- Give your weekly planning work to 60 minutes
- Always leave some buffer room or give free time for unexpected tasks.
- Be flexible with moving around tasks whenever you change plans.
Eating The Frog
‘Eating The Frog’ is a powerful time management strategy or technique where you will face the most dreaded, hated, or difficult task of the day and do it first thing.
It came from Mark Twain, who said, “ If It’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning”.
The idea behind his saying was to just face the most difficult or expected task from you right on and do it first thing.
It is similar to what is suggested about doing the hardest part of your work at first, right in the morning.
This can be especially helpful for people with a tendency to procrastinate.
As you become so overwhelmed by the emotions like fear, uncertainty, etc about this work you need to get done on the day, you just procrastinate as long as you can.
Doing the task right first thing in the morning, you are basically nipping your tendency to procrastinate in the bud. Not giving it a chance to even begin.
The usual response to the most hated task is to push it to the very end of the to-do list by doing it right in the morning and getting it out the way.
Create Time Blocks
Creating time blocks is way different than setting up the time restriction or limitations for the work you do during the day.
It is about planning out every single minute of your working day or working hours on your calendar.
Time blocks are helpful for people who often struggle to set boundaries for their time.
If you are someone who has something like time blindness or is unable to figure out the time duration for a given task, this can be helpful.
Image Source: Doist blog
Time-blocking is about practicing control of your schedule and calendar. It is about owning your time and laying out every minute of your day so you don’t waste any.
In fact, you can have a time block for leisure activities, personal time, and all kinds of non-work tasks as well.
Certainly, you have to have some level of flexibility and some available time blocks to move or attend any last-minute work like meetings or emergencies.
One of the really effective time-management techniques is time-batching which is about grouping all the similar tasks together and completing them in one go.
This is quite ideal for people who consume a lot of time doing other things while doing the primary tasks.
For example, if you are going to write an article or dissertation, there is a core work that is writing it, and then there are related tasks like researching and editing.
So, if you switch gears constantly between two different types of tasks, it will consume more mental energy as your mind has to lose and regain focus over and over.
Batching the tasks that are similar together, makes things faster to complete as you will be focused on doing them.
For example, if you have emails to answer or check feedback from people to craft something, it is better to check all the emails first and maybe jot down all feedback in one place.
This will make your work way faster than checking emails every once in a while you’re writing changing focus on two different types of tasks altogether.
Basically, you are categorizing the tasks you need to do all day and addressing them together to save time and increase focus.
Using The Eisenhower Matrix
Another quite popular time-management technique used by professionals all the time is The Eisenhower Matrix.
Such techniques are best for people who are unable to figure out which task they should begin or find trouble in the sequence of the task.
Using this technique gives you a pretty simple system to understand what task from your to-do list needs immediate attention, what can be delayed, or what work can even be delegated.
What you need to do is draw a square. Now divide it into four even quadrants. Label these quadrants as “Urgent” and the other one as “Not Urgent.” Then on your left side, name it “Important,” and another one is “Not important.”
Get your to-do list and start placing these tasks in the quadrant you see fit.
For example, maybe this report you need to submit is tomorrow, so that is urgent and it is important to do because some stakes are there.
Then there is to go for a health checkup, that’s important but not urgent. Here is how your response should be for each of the quadrants
- Urgent & Important: Do this first
- Urgent & Not Important: Preferably delegate it; if not, these can be next to do.
- Not Urgent & Important: Important to do but not right now, so schedule them
- Not Urgent & Not Important: Re-consider doing them or just do it later
Finding Your Golden Hours
‘Golden Hours’, as you know, is about the best hours of a day, and when you are talking about productivity and time management, this means your most productive or efficient hours.
The idea here is to find your most productive hours of the day and then plan your work accordingly.
This can be a game-changer for people who do not feel up to work throughout the day but are rather too productive at certain hours of the day.
Everyone has peak hours or the most productive hours. And then there are some who get really focussed on their peaks but not so much on other parts of the day.
If you are an early bird, maybe you do your best work in the morning hours when the world is still sleeping, perhaps sometime between 4 am to 8 am.
Or you might be a night owl, and you can pull all-nighters very easily with impeccable focus, like after 12 pm to 4 pm or other time-frames.
Some people get extra productive after their lunch, in their evening hours.
Everyone has different ‘golden hours’, so find yours. You can refer to the energy level chart that you made before getting into a time-management plan.
Or keep a journal where you observe your day for a week or two and write down your most productive hours or when you feel more motivated throughout the day.
You can even use the time-tracking apps to have a watchful eye on your time. Once you figure out your “Golden Hours,” you just have to do your work in those hours.
Better start with the high-priority or most difficult yet important task of the day.
Try To-Do List Codes
The core idea here is to notate your to-do list to signify the complication of the task, so you work with a certain mindset knowing the task’s nature.
More importantly, it tells you to identify the quick or easy wins and then larger, more consuming projects to do.
With this, you can create a sequence suited for your self-esteem where you get some quick wins and then complete a difficult task or another way around.
To do this, you basically have to get a notation system for yourself to create to-do list codes for making these tasks identifiable.
Maybe you can color-code or use different arrows to donate complexity. You can also use emoticons, anything that makes sense to you or speaks to you.
You can use the same coding system to categorize your to-do list. Depending upon what time you have at hand and how is your focus and environment, you can choose a collection of tasks accordingly.
For example, if you are in a situation for a while where you have an hour or two but you are not at your peak or have some level of distractions around, you can still make use of that time.
All you have to do is look for the easy category or quick category of the to-do list, maybe it is to check emails or research, or it can be a part of a complex project.
This way, you will always be able to make use of your time even if circumstances or your mind is not too much helping you at the time.
Don’t Break The Chain
This is a really good time-management technique or practice to form a new habit. Habit-forming is really difficult as it requires persistence and regular commitment.
Don’t Break The Chain is a visual method, also called The Seinfeld Method, coming from the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
It helps you to stick to any changes you want to make in your life and get consistent with them.
So, for example, if you are trying to make a new habit, like daily journaling. All you have to that take a calendar, a physical one, and put an ‘x’ over the date as you do the task for the day.
And just keep doing that, do the task, the habit you want to form, for the day, and put X on the calendar, and you will start seeing a chain of X’s building.
Now your goal here is to keep this chain continuing without any breaks. It might seem very simple or basic, but it is surprisingly effective.
As per human nature, you will become habitual to keep this streak going on and find a way to do the task even if it seems you cannot do it for the day.
Also, at last, it is not about how much quality or time you put into that particular work you want to grow as a habit; it is about showing up and building consistency.
Follow Getting Things Done (GTD)
The term ‘getting things done” is evidently very clear to understand. It is about creating a series of lists in order to organize everything that is on your mind now.
This is really effective for people who have a lot in their minds as there are many floating things in their heads they need to do, but it’s all jumbled up.
Also, if you have too much clutter on your mind preventing you from focusing, this is a good way to clear your mind and get on with things.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a well-known time-management and productivity-boosting technique created by productivity consultant David Allen.
Here are five steps to do this technique
Step 1: Capture
First, you write down everything, every single thing that is currently on your mind, no matter how small or big of a goal or task it is.
Think of what is on top of your mind that is bothering you or what keeps your mind chattering about.
Step 2: Clarify
Once you jotted down every piece task or goal that was on your mind, now it is time to make a decision about each of them.
This step is about clarifying these tasks as to whether they are actionable when they can be done, and what this needs.
Identify the very next steps, very rational and practical, very obvious steps you need to complete those tasks.
If something is not worth your time or just not important enough, trash it. Are there things for future reference or long-term goals? Separated them.
You can also weed them to find out more actionable steps that you can take towards that long-term. Is that possible now?
So, categorize all of these tasks accordingly.
Step 3: Organize
Now, you know all the tasks, very detailed and clarified, also categorized to understand its nature, urgency, or complexity.
This step is for putting the things where they belong. So with these vast categorized things on your mind, not all of them will be doable or actionable and shouldn’t be.
So, you need to further organize them into separate sections as in your current to-do list, and then some can go to your schedule/calendar, and some can be for future reference.
The idea is to take everything on your mind and reach a conclusion about its action or scheduled action.
Step 4: Reflect
Now, you’ve got your to-do list; everything on your mind that could have been done or started is on paper.
So, review your to-do list, see how you can get things done, and put them for a day, week or month. Try not to delay or let things pile up from this list.
Review every once in a while unless you get done with this list.
Step 5: Engage
Now, you have created a system in place where you know how to take everything-on-your-mind to-do things to paper, make it tangible and actionable and start doing it.
So, start working towards completing these tasks one at a time.
These steps are merely the simplest aspect of this strategy or technique. There is much more going on, as instructed by its creator Allen.
Use Must, Should, Want
This is quite like the rule of three, where you only have three items on your to-do list that matters to do in a day.
This technique called “Must, Should, Want” is about identifying one thing that you have to do, one thing that you should do, and one thing that you want to do for the day.
If to-do lists or other task management strategies scare you or make you feel too demanding, then this is a great minimalist way to maximize your day.
If you really be honest with yourself and follow this, at least your day will be so productive, won’t be wasted for sure, and still be fun and engaging.
Here’s what this is all about when you really look at each of these :
- I MUST.. ( a task or work that is absolutely needed to be done on that day with no exception)
- I SHOULD ( a task that will move you towards your long-term goals)
- I WANT ( something that you truly want to do, love to do, no matter whether it is important or urgent)
Using these simple prompts, you will be able to take a much more balanced approach toward the productivity of the day.
Usually, what happens is that people are aspirational and too ambitious, so they focus too much on their ‘must’ or ‘should’ specifically.
Also, people often try to do everything at once, trying to form too many habits altogether, so it is not sustainable.
This ‘Must, Should, Have’ approach at least gives your day a foundation, and sometimes, it is the only thing you need.
Also, even if you can’t do a lot that you expected, just do these three, and you will survive another day to grow.
Time-pockets are a technique for people who usually spend a lot of time in between tasks or small tasks that eat up their productive day.
It is about making most of the small-time pockets, blips, or short terminals in your workday.
When you have multiple tasks to do in a day or meetings lined up, it feels like the whole day is like a blip of time.
You get those 15 minutes right before the meeting that is going to start or that five minutes before an important phone call.
This makes your day fragmented and makes you feel that you never really get time to do the real work.
So, you need to make most of these ‘time pockets’ as small gaps of time where you generally wait for a task to engage in or to do.
What you can do is use these time pockets to your advantage and make the most of these time-wasting zones.
Beat Your Distractions
Distraction is the most common challenge when you start time management.
Whenever you try to complete work in a given time, you will be distracted by a number of internal and external factors.
So having a system in place to beat the distraction is an important part of the time-management.
First, you have to acknowledge your distractions, observe and know what kind of elements disturb you and prevent you from completing tasks on time.
This time-management strategy is quite helpful for people who predominantly get sidetracked by notifications, pings, and any other happenings around.
Well, there is some very obvious yet very helpful advice as one should just turn off their devices or digital notifications.
And it helps to reduce all these self-imposed distractions, which you can control and increase your focus and attention span on work.
As per the research, a person takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully regain focus on a task after getting distracted.
So when you constantly give away your focus for every coming ping or notification on your device, you are basically self-sabotaging your efficiency.
It is highly suggested to switch off all kinds of notifications or pings on your laptop, desktop, and phone.
Apart from it, there can be other distractions such as:
- An opened window or door
- your family members, friends, or spouse
- Email checking
- Noise in your surrounding
- Mind chattering
- Social media
- Uninvited guests or neighbors
- Chatty co-worker
And so many more.
The idea is to create systems and controlled environments to beat your distractions. Whether you work at home or in the office, there are always ways to beat your distraction.
For example :
If mind-chattering distracts you, then,
- Keep a notebook aside; whatever task or thought bothers you, just write it down and get back to work.
- Do meditation in the morning or on breaks.
- Organize your day to reduce mind chattering.
- Reflect through journaling to make your mind peaceful.
- Don’t get ambitious with your day; go slow.
And there is so much more you can do to reduce mind-chattering while you work.
Since this was an internal distraction, it needs more work, whereas external distractions are easier to control or beat.
If you work from home and people disturb you –
- You can talk to your family members about your working hours
- Tell them not to disturb you specifically or leave notes
- To give them time and yourself, arrange some family time after or in-between work.
- Tell your friends not to call you in a particular time frame as you will be unable to pick up due to being busy.
- You can shut your door to prevent your family or spouse from disturbing you with a do not disturb sign.
The idea is to take steps and actions to control your environment and make it distraction-proof in the way you need.
Doing One Thing At A Time
One of the common mistakes for people who suffer from time management nightmares is trying to do too many things at once.
It is critical to focus on a single task, one at a time. A lot of people think that productivity and efficiency are about doing a lot of work in one day.
A lot of them fall into the trap of interchanging multi-tasking with time management which is a grave mistake.
If you believe that you are skilled with multi-tasking, most chances are, you are not! According to the research, it says that our minds are wired to be mono-tasking.
Multi-tasking is scientifically far-fetched. So doing many or just two things at a time is a huge mistake.
Switching between tasks makes you distracted, and it will take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus again. More importantly, you will never achieve a flow state while so-called ‘multi-tasking’.
So, get your mind to do one thing at a time. In fact, it is best not to even think about the very next task you’re going to do or are supposed to do while doing one already.
The more you will be in the moment, in the present, focusing on one singular task, the higher chances there to complete that task and move on to the next.
You will be surprised how much you will be able to get done when you just focus on one task that you suppose to do at the moment.
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“Vision, strategy, and inspiration – these three words describe me the best. I am the founder of “TheLeaderboy” dedicated to leadership and personal development. As a self-taught practitioner, I have been studying the principles of effective leadership for the past decade and my passion lies in sharing my insights with others. My mission is to empower individuals to become better leader