10 Time Management Strategies to Get More Work DoneCharlie Bedell
All jobs require an awareness of how you’re using time, but it seems like some people know how to use their time more efficiently than others. How do they do it? It all comes down to time management.
If you’re working on being better at time management or simply polishing up the methods you already use, this article offers 10 time management strategies that help you to be as efficient as possible in your work.
1. Create a time audit
Before you begin trying out new time management techniques, it’s important to know how you’re spending your time right now. An easy but insightful way to do this is to create a time audit. Record everything that you do within 15 or 30-minute intervals throughout your day for a week or two. Be honest with yourself, and don’t try to change anything yet. This gives you a wealth of data that you can use to analyze how you spend your time.
When you analyze the data from your time audit, look for:
- Tasks or habits that slow you down
- Specific times of the day when you lose focus or get distracted
- Devices, applications, or environments that counteract your productivity
Once you identify these efficiency roadblocks map out a plan for how you’d like to be spending your time more productively. This will allow for quick wins early on and a greater awareness of how you spend your time.
2. Use an Urgent-Important Matrix
Rethink the way you prioritize tasks. Instead of completing tasks based on deadline, what if you completed tasks based on importance and long-term benefit? This is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in, a simple decision-making tool created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, this tool provides a way to prioritize tasks as efficiently as possible.
Here’s how it works:
- Important and urgent: These tasks have high priority with high urgency—complete them right away.
- Important but not urgent: These tasks are important, but don’t require immediate action. They usually involve long-term strategizing and take multiple, small tasks to complete in full. Try to spend most of your time in this quadrant.
- Urgent but not important: These tasks are urgent but not vital to your business or life. Minimize, delegate or eliminate them because they don’t contribute to your personal productivity. Generally, they are distractions that result from others’ poor planning.
- Not urgent and not important: These tasks hold little, if any, value and should be eliminated as much as possible.
The Urgent-Important Matrix can help shift the way you think about which tasks to prioritize and make sure you’re working as efficiently as possible. One word of caution—while it’s always good to manage your time well, it’s also important to take part in activities that bring you or others joy even if they’re not necessarily productive. Life needs to be a balance between productivity and fun.
3. Find a planning tool
There are countless time management tools available to you, from simple planners, index cards and calendars to more tech-savvy online time management applications.
Don’t discount a time management tool just because it’s old technology. It’s amazing how much better you can manage your time by simply writing down to-do lists or notes. Paper desk or wall calendars can also appeal to those who value visual engagement with tasks by helping you physically count days and see the space between weeks and months.
If you’re more inclined to stick with tech that you’ll see every time you turn on your phone or computer, check out some of the time management apps available. Use highly-rated apps Trello or Todoist for both personal and professional time management to help you create and track projects, integrate with your email or calendar and prioritize tasks. For a simple time tracker to hold you accountable and keep you focused, consider using Toggl Track or RescueTime.
Instead of re-inventing the wheel, see what’s already out there to help combat inefficiency. There’s an option that can work for everyone!
4. Spend your time on challenges
American author Mark Twain once said, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”
No one’s asking you to eat any frogs, but Twain makes a great point. You should complete your biggest, most difficult tasks at the start of your workday so you can get your most challenging tasks out of the way.
Why not just get all the easy stuff out of the way first? Researchers have found that we often gravitate towards easy tasks first to relieve anxiety about a heavy workload and feel like we’re being productive. Getting started on big projects or difficult tasks can feel overwhelming—it's what starts the procrastination cycle in the first place. Instead, break down big projects into small, manageable tasks, and work on these tasks first before moving on to anything else. This way, you’re rewarding yourself by completing small tasks while chipping away at important projects.
5. Outsource tasks
Most of us can’t outsource tasks assigned by our day-to-day jobs, but we can delegate in our personal lives. Think of all the personal tasks that distract us at work—and take away free time when we’re out of the office.
In the past few years, the popularity of grocery, meal, and package delivery services like Instacart, DoorDash, and Amazon have increased exponentially; making it a fast, reliable way to manage your time well and stay productive. If you’re not already taking advantage of these time saving services, consider adding them as tools in your time management strategy.
If you’re a business owner, there are also ways to outsource your business’s simple but time-consuming tasks. It's easy to hire remote freelancers as virtual assistants, bookkeepers, writers and even software developers. You can quickly find and hire freelance professionals on sites like Fiverr or Upwork for short- or long-term projects that would take valuable time away from other parts of your business.
Consider using software tools that help automate tasks and processes or select one that saves time by streamlining the task. This can help reduce time spent on busy work and allow you to focus on more important tasks.
6. Build in buffer times
Jumping immediately from one thing to another may seem efficient, but it actually depletes your ability to think and concentrate as the day goes on. Scientists say the human brain can only focus for about 90 minutes at a time (and some experts say it’s even less than that). Because of this, you quickly lose the ability to think creatively and critically when you don’t have time to rest—and you end up needing to return to tasks again in the future.
Instead, leave buffers for yourself throughout the day to maintain brainpower and be fully invested in tasks. Go for a walk, meditate or just daydream for five to ten minutes at a time. Schedule these buffers throughout your day, in between meetings, and when you feel yourself losing steam on a project.
7. Manage time wasters
Even with the best time management, there are always things that happen outside of our control. Because of this, it’s smart to prepare strategies to manage time wasters that pop up unexpectedly.
These potential time wasters can often include technology, such as email, phone calls, and enticing pings from your phone. But they can also include meetings and unexpected visitors. With many people still working remotely, our homes can sometimes offer what feels like endless distractions throughout the day.
Use these strategies to combat time wasters:
- Put your phone on silent and mute your computer’s sound to silence distracting notifications.
- Set firm time boundaries in your calendar to work on specific projects or tasks.
- Plan a specific time of day to check email, and don’t check it otherwise
- Unplug from work at the end of the day to make time to rest, socialize and have fun
Time wasters can derail your productivity quickly! Have a plan in place before they happen.
8. Start and finish one task at a time
Multitasking isn’t time management—but it’s easy to conflate the two! Researchers have found that multitasking not only doesn’t work, but it’s not an efficient use of time. When you think you’re being efficient by working on multiple tasks at once, you’re actually just switching quickly back and forth between tasks. This constant back and forth drains your energy, steals your focus and wastes your time, leaving you less productive than before.
Instead, stay focused on one task and finish that task before moving on to the next. You will get more done by tackling one thing at a time.
9. Review your day
The best way to start your workday is planning for it the day before. Take a couple of minutes at the end of each day to plan out your day ahead. Make a list of tasks or quickly fill out an Urgent-Important Matrix, and leave it front and center on your desk for tomorrow.
By devoting five to ten minutes of your time before heading out, you accomplish a few important things:
- You leave the day behind by knowing all tasks are recorded and waiting on you
- You hit the ground running the next day
- You have all the steps for a process or project documented, so that you can easily complete the task in the future
Give yourself peace of mind at the end of your day by taking a few minutes to review tomorrow and set yourself up for success in the morning.
10. Recharge your batteries
Being fresh and energized for your day will give a major boost to your time management. Schedule time for yourself to relax or do nothing to rejuvenate physically and mentally. When you return to work, you’ll find that you can tackle challenges and plan your time quickly and easily.
But pay attention to your screen time when you rest up. It’s often a welcome distraction after a long day, but researchers have found that too much time on our devices can actually deplete restfulness and even lead to disrupted sleep. These are the last things you want during your time off!
To make sure you’re paying attention to your digital wellbeing, set limits for yourself. Many devices come with built-in screen time software and screen tinting to help. Take time away from your devices by spending time outdoors, starting tech-free hobbies, or simply socializing with friends and family. Think about it this way: prioritizing rest may pull you away from your work, but in the long term, it boosts your productivity and time management.
Conclusion: Start with three
You don’t have to adopt all ten of these time management strategies at once. In fact, it’s better to break down the challenge of managing your time better into smaller steps. Choose three strategies that you think will be most helpful and achievable and start there. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can begin to improve your time management, and soon you may be able to add all ten into your daily routine.