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Five time management techniques to help you make the most of each day

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Making the most of each day is a real challenge, especially when you consider the many distractions we’ve all become accustomed to. Getting around this means taking a smart approach to managing your time. 

That said, most time management techniques aren’t so much about time itself, but more to do with self-management and good habit development. If you want to prioritize tasks and get more done during the day, you need to start by looking inward.

This is about managing your time, focus and energy. It's a combination of using smart tools alongside timeless wisdom to ensure you get the most out of your day. 

And not everyone will benefit from the same techniques. What works for me may very well not work for you, which is why you first need to understand what your goals are, what are the different ways to achieve them, and what your options are for tackling them.

There are quite a few time management techniques out there. Before we list the five most effective, we’ll look at some useful time management principles that everyone can benefit from, in both their personal and work lives.

So let’s get to it - here’s how you can take control of your schedule as you lead a more focused and organized life.

Table of contents
What is time management?
Six ways to improve your time management skills
What are the five best time management techniques?
Above all, do your own thing

What is time management?

Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of the time you spend on specific activities. The goal is usually to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

Finding balance and allocating the right amount of time to work, rest and social activities is an art form itself - but with a smart approach, anything is possible. 

Why is time management important?

Consciously managing your time and staying focused is the best way to ensure a better work-life balance. Besides that, time management will help you do better at work, and you’ll become more reliable and professional in the eyes of others.

Poor time management skills can often result in:

  • Procrastination
  • Missed deadlines
  • Poor work quality
  • Elevated stress 
  • Strained relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Lost opportunities
  • Less free time

Without it, you’ll be making things up as you go along. Spontaneous impulsivity can work for a small number of people, but most of us need smart structure to make things happen consistently. 

Six ways to improve your time management skills

Time management methods and techniques are based on some basic principles that describe the steps you need to take to ensure maximum time efficiency. The more closely you follow these five time management tips, the easier it’ll be to meet your goals and find success.

1) First, make a plan

When was the last time you took on a task without considering a well fleshed-out plan to help you complete it? Did the final result meet your initial expectations? If the answer is no, then chances are your plan wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. 

Coming up with a plan does take time, but it’s almost always time well-spent. Why? Let’s take writing as an example. Imagine you want to write a blog article about the best free time-management software available. If you just start writing without any planning whatsoever, you’ll have to write your post while also doing research and structuring your text at the same time. Multitasking will slow you down. It might take you six, seven, or even eight hours just to finish the first draft.

Now, imagine you followed a well-laid-out plan instead. First, you do the research, then you structure your post, topics, and headlines. You note down what each headline is going to be about, inserting relevant references where appropriate. Finally, you form words into coherent sentences, and your blog post comes to life. Because you don’t have to multitask, you’re likely to get similar—if not better—results without having to spend as much time and exert as much energy.

Planning first makes everything afterward easier. 

2) Prioritize tasks

Time is limited; you can’t afford to spend it completing trivial or unimportant tasks. If you’ve got a big deadline coming up, you shouldn’t allow minor work issues to get in the way. For example, you don’t want to  spend time cleaning up files on your computer when your clients expect to receive completed work the next morning. (But the temptation might be there.)

Imagine you left the office late and had to choose between buying groceries and making it to your friend’s party on time. What would you do? You can always buy groceries tomorrow, but your friend only celebrates her birthday once a year. Being there for your friend becomes a priority, and other less important tasks are postponed or pushed aside. 

You should try to get into the habit of prioritizing and completing tasks in order of importance. The most important tasks should be completed first, while trivial and unimportant issues should be dealt with later.

3) Set SMART goals

The goals that you set should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The tried-and-tested SMART goals method will help you reach targets and be successful by helping you focus. You can learn more about setting goals and achieving them in our Goal Catcher coaching program

4) Avoid multitasking if you can

We’re often led to believe that highly successful people are great multitaskers who can do many things at once and excel at everything. This is an illusion, and in most cases, multitasking is actually a recipe for disaster.

Successful people are successful because they’re focused and determined. They can set their mind to something and use all their energy to achieve that specific goal. Once they succeed, they then quickly move on to the next task. They repeat this process so effectively, that it often seems like they’re tackling multiple tasks at once.

Multitasking divides your attention and ensures none of the tasks completed bring the desired results. Instead of distracting yourself by keeping track of a thousand little things, make a list and set priorities. The more focused you are, the easier it’ll be to get things done without making mistakes. 

One thing at a time.

5) Manage distractions

Are you guilty of checking your social media notifications more often than you’d like? Do you spend a lot of time procrastinating and chatting with talkative colleagues while work is piling up? Frequent interruptions mean more time spent trying to refocus and getting back into the flow. 

Turning on silent mode only takes a few seconds. And working for more than 20 minutes without taking a break seems easy, but without proper management, it’s nearly impossible. Communication is key, but not when it disrupts work. The recommended time management tools listed below will help you achieve more with the time you have.

6) Track your time

You probably saw this coming. If you’re not using a tool to track time, then you can’t know which activities need closer monitoring. You might think you have a clear picture of which tasks take up your time during the day, but you won’t know for sure until you start tracking them.

Luckily, in 2021, you don’t need a clock and notepad to monitor your activities. There’s a good selection of automatic tracking apps that can help you learn more about how you spend your time, like Harvest and Clockify. 

What are the five best time management techniques?

Over the past few years, hundreds of time management methods have caught our attention. Here are five frameworks that deserve a special mention.

It’s worth trying each one to see what works, but generally you’d want to choose one and stick to it to see the best results. 

1) Parkinson’s Law

Although technically not a time management technique, Parkinson’s Law can help you push yourself to achieve more during the day. The principle behind this method is attributed to British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson who believed that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Effectively, the more time you give yourself to complete a task, the longer it will take for you to complete it.

So, what can you do? If you’ve got one week to deliver an important project, push yourself to complete it in just three days. If you only got a few hours to hand in an essay, plug off your charger and force yourself to finish before your laptop’s battery dies.

A word of caution: Parkinson’s Law works great for people who work well under pressure, but it’s not always the best choice for people who get stressed easily.

2) Pomodoro

The Pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo, and it’s designed to help procrastinators get things done by breaking up work into small chunks and weaving breaks in between.

Here’s how it works:

  • You set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • You focus on your work—and only your work—until the alarm goes off.
  • You take a five-minute break.
  • You start the cycle anew.
  • After four cycles, you take a big 20-minute break.
  • You repeat the process until the task/project is complete.

Regular breaks can prevent burnout and improve performance, but having to stop at exactly 25 minutes isn’t always ideal—especially if you find yourself in a particularly productive mood.

3) Kanban

This technique was developed in the 1940s by Taiichi Ohno who was working for Toyota at the time. In recent years, Kanban has inspired hundreds of task management apps, some of which you may already know (e.g. Trello and Asana).

In its original form, Kanban was pretty simple. All you need to create your own board is a pen and some sticky notes. Start by creating at least four columns, each dedicated to different stages of the project:

  • Backlog: This is where you’ll brainstorm your tasks. Once an idea is fleshed out you can move it to the ‘To-Do’ column.
  • To Do: Displays the tasks you want to work on.
  • In Progress: Displays the tasks you’re currently working on.
  • Done: Displays the tasks that are complete.

You can create different templates based on your specific needs. The clear visual representation means everyone in your team can easily check the project’s progress.

4) Getting Things Done

This method was first introduced by David Allan in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, and it takes brainstorming to a whole new level. It’s great for reviewing and tasks and it aligns perfectly with the SMART goals method.

Here’s how it works:

Capture: Write down any task//idea that comes to mind.

Clarify: Take the ideas you’ve come up with and try to decide how they fit within the bigger picture. Are they projects or actions that can help you complete a certain task?

Organize: Sort your projects and ideas, add dates to your tasks, and make sure everything is in the right place.  

Reflect: Update and revise your lists every now and then. 

Engage: Work on the important stuff first. Use your plan to make sure you’re staying on track and keeping up with deadlines.

GTD can help you keep your tasks and assignments in perspective, but it doesn’t do much to help with distractions. It’s often better utilized when combined with other methods and techniques (such as SMART goals).

5) Eat That Frog

Funny name aside, Eat That Frog is a time management technique that works wonders at prioritizing and making sure important tasks are completed first. 

ETF was developed by Brian Tracy, and it’s described in detail in his book Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. In this case, the “frog” is the most urgent, difficult, or important task of the day. Only once it’s been dealt with can you move to other tasks.

For ETF to work, you need to identify tasks and label them based on their priority:

  • Task A: This is the “frog”, aka the most important task that you need to tackle first.
  • Task B: The second most important task that you need to tackle after dealing with your “frog”.
  • Task C: A task you’d like to complete, but you won’t suffer consequences for skipping it.
  • Task D: A task that you can delegate to someone else, giving you some extra time as a result.
  • Task E: A trivial task that can be eliminated.

ETF is effective, but if you’re using this method, you’ll have to get accustomed to the difficult first few hours of work in the morning.

It’s also a concept highlighted in Cal Newport’s Deep Work: making time for your most cognitively demanding task in a dedicated morning slot - before giving in to the distractions of the day - can have hugely beneficial effects on your productivity. 

Above all, do your own thing

Matthew Syed writes in Rebel Ideas how, in the mid-1900s, the US Air Force faced an alarmingly high number of airplane crashes. 

The root cause was found to be pilot errors stemming from the standardized cockpit design. The measurements of everything in the cockpit (from the height of the seat, to the distance of the joystick from the pilot) were calculated from the 'average pilot', which you'd expect to cover all bases and include everyone's needs. 

The problem is, a pilot made up of entirely average attributes is incredibly rare. You might have average length arms, but a longer-than-average neck. Or broader shoulders than the norm, but a slightly thinner waist. This means that the 'average man' cockpit ended up being suitable for pretty much nobody, and caused a whole bunch of problems for pilots trying to operate the controls. 

The fix came with a solution that now seems pretty obvious in hindsight - customizable cockpits. In time, everything became adjustable, from the height of the seat to the distance of the joystick from the body. The result? A much more comfortable flying experience, and a massive reduction in accidents.

When it comes to productivity and time management, the same theory applies. None of us are average. We're all made up of unique attributes, and what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. The techniques we've been through are fantastic starting points, but your time management journey will really start to bear fruit with an experimental mindset. Mix and match techniques, record your results, and you'll soon start to see just how effective your own time management techniques can be.

Improve your time management techniques with fast AI coaching.

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