You want to get things done and be able to look proudly at what we have achieved, right? But sometimes a lack of focus, procrastination and other time-stealers can block you from your desired success. Luckily, you can beat these vices by learning effective time management skills.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What is time management?
Time management is, like the word suggests, the process of actively managing your time. Someone who doesn’t manage their time actively, simply goes with the flow and does whichever task or to-do pops up.
Efficient people, on the other hand, plan out their time beforehand. They decide how much time they want to spend on certain activities or areas of life. This makes it possible for them to exert control over what their day looks like. They decide their priorities. Not someone around them who happens to come up with a task they could do.
What are examples of time management?
Now, this might all sound a little too generic for you. So let’s have a look at a few examples of time management in action.
- Let’s say you plan a nice barbecue with a group of friends. You whip out your pen and paper and start writing down all the things you need to do for that. – This is a good example of the planning step in time management.
- While you write down these tasks, you notice that someone will need to get the drinks. Your car is in repair, but one of your friends happens to be on vacation right now. So you ask them if they could take care of the drinks. – Delegation, like in this example, is another important part of time management.
- It’s almost time for you to go to work. So you plan to finish the rest of your barbecue to-dos for tomorrow afternoon. – And this is an example of scheduling, another time management strategy.
What are some good time management skills?
Sometimes it can be easy to believe that some people were just born being good at time management. And others, well, not so much. But the truth is that time management is a skill, made up of various skills that you can learn and train. Let’s look at 10 essential time management skills!
Planning is the first skill you will need to master if you want to get better at time management. It helps you to understand how much time you can spend on one task. You will also see how certain tasks might be dependent on each other. And where you might have to wait for other people to give their input.
While you plan, you will notice that there are always more tasks than time. So you need to decide, which tasks are more important than others. The skill of prioritizing is more important than you might think on first glance. Because you cannot simply do the things you like best first.
Prioritizing includes looking at the big picture and understanding which tasks will lead you faster to your goals.
3. Goal setting
To be able to prioritize, you need to set some goals first. And yes, there is such a thing as setting bad goals. Being able to set reasonable and attainable goal is an important time management skill.
4. Decision making
Another skill you will need for successful time management is decision making. Actually, being decisive and knowing how to take good decisions will help you in every area of your life.
This skill seems to get rarer and rarer, as our brains learn to deal with millions of notifications and other distractions. But jumping from task to task will make you way less productive. And your time management less effective.
Self-awareness is another one of these skills that will help you in every area of life. When it comes to time management, you need it to manage yourself. You can only manage what you know. This includes knowing your own tendencies, like procrastination. And noticing when you do it.
I first considered calling this skill “discipline”. But then I decided to use “Self-motivation”. It expresses a very similar thing, but in a more positive way.
Self-motivation is important to make you stick to your plan. You need to be able to motivate yourself again and again. And do things you decided on doing, even when you don’t feel like it.
Knowing when to let go of a task and let someone else do it is another super important skill. Sometimes we are so caught up in our little world that it can seem like we are the only ones who know how to do our tasks right. But chances are that some people can do some of our assignments better than we could.
9. Dealing with stress
To be effective at time management you need to be able to deal with stress. And no, by that I don’t mean that you have to be able to work 16 hours a day. This is rather about your ability to let bad feelings go and refocus on your task. It is also the ability to know when to take a step back and rest.
You can have the best plan laid out, knowing what to do every hour of the day. But then – oooops – you cannot find the documents you need to finish the task. Does that sound familiar?
Then your next step is to work on the skill of organization. For your plans to work, you need to have an overview over them. You need to be able to find your things. And honestly, once you got everything organized, you’ll feel like a boss because you got everything under control!
How can I improve my time management skills?
Now you might be thinking “Okay, great, now I know which skills I should have. But how can I actually improve my time management skills?”
I know it’s not as easy as reading some advice and boom! – you’re all productive and ready to go. Getting better at time management and the related skills takes some time. But you can definitely work on it.
- trying some time management activities
- using time management tools and apps
- finding effective time management techniques for yourself
- following the time management tips below
Time management activities
Time management activities are little exercises that will help you understand yourself and your time spending tendencies better. This will help you to work on the skills you need to be mindful and efficient with your time.
Here are a couple of examples of time management activities you can do.
1. Record your hours
Pick a day when you are actually not working. Maybe a Saturday or Sunday. Once you wake up, set an alarm for every hour of the day. When the alarm goes off, write down how you feel at that moment. Focused? Tired? Hungry? Inspired? Motivated? Sluggish?
Do this throughout the day. And if you feel super motivated, repeat this exercise on another day.
Then have a good look at your results. Can you see a pattern? Do you feel on fire during the mornings, but sleepy and unmotivated after lunch? Or does your peak time only start in the afternoon and the mornings are your worst part of the day?
This will help you understand your natural tendencies. It trains self-awareness and helps you with planning your days, so that difficult tasks can happen during your peak times. And for those low times, you can plan anything mindless and boring.
2. Record your accomplishments
For a week, make it your evening habit to write down what you have accomplished this day. Write down at least five accomplishments.
This is not about forcing you to finish a big project every day. Quite the opposite, an accomplishment can be something like “did the weekly shopping today”.
If you want, you can also write down one thing you did, that felt like a waste of time. Browsing Facebook, for example.
Similar to the first time management activity, this one helps you see your own tendencies, but more task-focused. Looking at all the things you did get done will motivate you. And it will give you a good feeling for how long certain things take.
What are effective time management techniques?
Another good way to improve your time management skills is to utilize effective time management techniques. Now, before we dive into specific examples, let’s quickly look at what makes a time management strategy effective for you.
All famous time management techniques out there are effective for someone. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be famous, right? But once you start testing out various ideas, you will find that some work better for you than others.
Don’t ignore that. Instead, see if you can notice a pattern. Do you need techniques that give you a strict pattern you can follow? Do you need techniques that give you a “logical way” of planning out your tasks?
Find techniques that make you personally more productive. Those that weaken your weaknesses and strengthen your strengths. An effective time management technique is one that works for you. Period.
What are some strategies for time management?
Alright, now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at some specific strategies for time management!
The Eisenhower Matrix
Prioritizing can be quite some work. And sometimes, you might simply not know which criteria to use. In those moments, templates like the Eisenhower Matrix can help a lot. It makes you evaluate tasks by both their urgency and their importance. And depending on where the tasks fall in the matrix, you know what to do with them.
Have a look at the Eisenhower Matrix below and try it right now with your task list!
The Action Priority Matrix
The Action Priority Matrix works in a similar fashion, but it groups tasks by estimated effort and impact. This Matrix is really helpful when you are working with Pareto’s Law.
Have a look at it here:
Parkinson’s Law states that every task will expand to fill the time allotted to it. In other words: If you plan on finding a birthday present for your friend by the end of the week, it will take all week. On the other hand, if you decide to find a present this afternoon, because you won’t have time otherwise, it will only take one afternoon.
Keep this principle in mind while planning your tasks and make sure that you don’t artificially bloat your schedule.
In my tips on increasing productivity I already talked about batching similar tasks. Time blocking is very similar. If you have recurring types of tasks in your schedule, it is a good idea to simply block time in your calendar for those.
An example could be to block one hour every morning for your morning routine and then two hours for working with clients. This way you don’t need to constantly check how many minutes you have left for a certain task. Instead, you can work on topics and check off as many tasks regarding that topic as you can.
To be able to efficiently plan, you need to find out how long certain tasks take you. And while your gut feeling is a great advisor for many things, it can be surprisingly off when it comes to time. Tasks you love will feel like short things, while a 10-minute task you dread can feel like hours.
To help with that, you can track your time. Simply write down what you do, when you start and when you finish it. You can do this on paper, in a spreadsheet, or you can use a time-tracking tool like Rescuetime* for that.
The Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle, or “80/20”, states that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of efforts. And somehow, this turns out to be freakishly true for almost anything you can analyze by numbers like that.
Knowing this, you can plan your task list by first focussing on the tasks that you know bring results directly. And you know those tasks that take you forever, but in the end, they don’t amount for much? Put those all the way down on the priorities list. Or get rid of them altogether.
The Pomodoro technique
Now that you have planned and prioritized your task list, it’s time to start executing. If you have trouble focusing and getting things done, the Pomodoro technique can do wonders for your productivity.
You basically break your schedule down into 25-minute intervals of focused work, interrupted by short 3-5 minute breaks. To keep you on track, you set a timer to remind you when each interval starts and ends.
If executing is your weakness, you can read more about the Pomodoro method here.
What are some time management tools?
The last of my tips to improve your time management skills is to find out which time management tools work for you.
I know that people cannot seem to agree on what is the best time management app. In my opinion, this is, again, due to the fact that different people need different things from a tool. Sure, do your research. But then, simply try some apps out and see how it works for you.
I personally have worked with various time management tools so far, and I see advantages and disadvantages to each of them. To give you a starting point, I’ll list some apps here.
Time tracking tools
There is definitely no shortage of time tracking tools out there. Some of them will simply track your time. Others even block any time wasters you use, like social media pages. And then there are some that you can use even for professional needs, like tracking client work. Some examples of time-tracking tools are:
For a more detailed analysis, check out this post by Zapier on the best time-tracking tools of 2018.
Project Management tools
If you are only managing yourself, you might start planning your projects with your digital calendar. But as your projects become more and more complex, you might want to look into a project management tool to keep track of all your tasks. These are some examples for tools that can do that for you:
Which time management skill are you working on right now?
I hope this input was helpful to you. Now I would like to hear from you! Which time management skill of yours could use some work? Have you tried any of the techniques above? Let me know in the comments and remember to share this article!
*These links are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.