Time management 101: How to manage time
Managing your time well is a necessary skill in today’s always-connected, rapid-paced business world. If you struggle with effective time management, fear not: working more efficiently is a skill anyone can build. Whether you’re a dawdler, perfectionist, procrastinator, or simply unsure where to begin, this page offers time management strategies you can use to get on top of your professional projects.
Knowing how to manage time well can help you complete your projects faster and in a more organized fashion—even during your busiest workdays. Better time management skills can also:
Of course, working more productively doesn’t mean you should work longer days or sacrifice work-life balance. Knowing when to step away from your desk for a well-earned break and when to log out for the day is all part of working smarter.
- Triage your workload before diving in. Resist the urge to work on the first item that falls into your lap each morning. Prioritize your projects and tasks by deadline and how important each one is to your organization. Finish the most critical pieces that are due the soonest first. Then move on to critical pieces that are due later.
- Delegate whenever possible. Identify which projects you can outsource to junior employees or vendors. Leave room in your schedule to explain any necessary details and make yourself available in case questions arise. Try to outsource routine work to the same person or team so that you don’t have to explain the details each time.
- Plan ahead. Whenever a new project appears on your plate, set aside a little time to look over the specifications—even if you can’t get started for several days. Determine whether you have all the details you need to complete the project, and if not, where can you obtain the missing information or who you can turn to for answers.
- Create a project schedule. Break larger projects into individual tasks, list them out, and estimate how long each one will take. Plug each task into your calendar or project tracking tool so you know when you must start and complete work on it. Identify which, if any tasks, you can delegate to your teammates or business vendors.
- Organize your projects. Before you dive into the meat of a project, gather the contact information you’ll need for stakeholders and partners and set up the necessary files, folders, and online chat groups. A little advance legwork can save you time and stress later when the project heats up.
- Avoid multitasking. Toggling back and forth between projects all day long breaks up your flow. Instead, focus on completing one task at a time and save similar, smaller tasks like replying to emails or filling out spreadsheet columns to tackle all at once.
- Take time to recharge. Step away from your computer for a short while before you transition from one concentration-heavy project to another. Doing so can give you the mental reset you need to stay energized throughout the day.
- Put caps on meetings and stick to them. Before you schedule or agree to attend a meeting, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Schedule meetings for the shortest amount of time you think you’ll need and do all you can to avoid them running over time.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off your phone and log out of all social media accounts unless you need them for your work. If you’re focused on a difficult or rush project and want to reduce instant messages from colleagues, don’t be afraid to use the “busy” or “do not disturb” settings of your team’s workplace chat app.
- Set longer-term goals. Keep track of important but non-urgent projects to do throughout the year and build them into your monthly or quarterly schedule. Break down each one into stages or milestones and break each of those into smaller tasks. Goals without a roadmap don’t usually get completed.
- To-do lists. Besides helping you stay organized, keeping a daily and weekly to-do list can help you keep stress at bay. Maintaining a digital record of the tasks you need to complete frees you from having to remember or spend added time thinking about them. And creating a daily to-do list can help keep you focused on the most urgent and important tasks you need to complete each workday.
- Calendars. Your digital calendar isn’t just there to remind you when your next staff meeting is happening. Use it to mark deadlines for your high-priority projects, see your weekly and monthly due dates in one view, and block off time for intensive projects you want to focus on without distractions.
- Spreadsheet, scheduling, orproject management apps. The more complex the project, the more sophisticated the tools you’ll need to track its milestones, tasks that comprise each milestone, due dates, team members working on each task, and when each deadline has been met.
- Time tracking apps. Tools like Clockify, Toggl, and My Hours track how much time you spend on each task or project. Try using one of these tools for a month to see how long you spend on each aspect of your job. (How much time do you really spend shooting the breeze with coworkers?) Then work to cut the timewasters from your schedule.
9 Types of Time Management Techniques
Achieving work life balance is possible with effective time management . Learning time management tips will not only help you manage your time better but also boost personal productivity . With that said, here are some time management strategies you can try:
1. Pareto Analysis (a.k.a., the 80/20 rule)
The 80/20 rule is a technique created by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It’s the idea that 20% of actions are responsible for 80% of outcomes. The goal of Pareto analysis is to help you prioritize tasks that are most effective at solving problems.
2. Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was created by entrepreneur and author Francesco Cirillo. This technique uses a timer to break down your work into intervals. Each interval is known as a Pomodoro, named after the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo created.
The Pomodoro technique doesn’t just teach your time management; it also teaches you in setting goals and how to achieve them. You’ll be able to better stick to your daily schedule and weekly schedule .
3. Eisenhower Matrix
Before Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1953, he served in the U.S. Army as an Allied Forces Commander during World War II. He was faced with difficult decisions every day that led him to invent what is now called the Eisenhower matrix , or the urgent-important matrix .
Organize your task list into four separate quadrants, sorting them by important vs. unimportant and urgent vs. not urgent, as shown in the graphic below. Urgent tasks are those we feel need to get done immediately. Important tasks are those that contribute to your long term goals or values. Ideally, you should only work on tasks in the top two quadrants—the other tasks, you should delegate or delete.
4. Parkinson’s Law
British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson became famous for the phrase “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, the amount of time you give yourself to complete a specific task is the amount of time it will take you to complete that task.
This is not a time management technique per se . It’s a law that, when understood, can be applied as one of the most beneficial time management methods out there—but you will have to put in the work. That means working more efficiently in shorter bursts of time. Here are some time management tips:
5. Time Blocking Method
From the moment you wake up, assign each time block in your day to a task. These tasks can be anything from eating breakfast to studying for a test. Below are the steps Elon Musk uses to block his time:
6. Getting Things Done (GTD) Method
- Capture the actions that have your attention : These actions are tasks that can relate to anything from work to school to your personal life.
- Clarify what they mean : Decide whether the tasks that have your attention are actionable or not. If an item is not actionable, ignore it for now. If the item is actionable, do it, delegate it, or set it aside.
- Organize your actions : Prioritize your to do list according to what you need to get done when.
- Reflect : Review your list of actions frequently to determine your next priority. Cross off tasks you have accomplished and update your list.
- Engage: Take the actions or smaller tasks you can complete right now.
7. Rapid Planning Method (RPM)
“RPM” stands for “rapid planning method” or “result, purpose, and massive action plan.” It was developed by motivational speaker Tony Robbins as a way to train your brain to focus on a vision of what you want so you can make it real.
8. Pickle Jar Theory
Begin by thinking about how your tasks for the day would fit into the above categories. Then make a task list starting with the rocks and ending with sand (if time permits). Include an honest time estimate next to each. Try not to plan more than six hours of an eight-hour working day. This will leave buffer time for the pebbles and sand.
9. Eat That Frog Technique
This technique is named after a Mark Twain quote: “Eat a live frog the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Start your day by doing the most onerous tasks first and getting them out of the way.