Time waits for no man. Or woman, for that matter.
Time is more precious than anything you can buy.
If you lose or waste your money, you can always earn more, but you can never get back time you’ve lost – or wasted.
And yet, somehow we’re all guilty of wasting it frequently.
We waste our time in all manner of ways, ignoring the fact that our time is finite and that every day we wake, we have less time on the planet than we did the day before.
Time spent sleeping, cooking, cleaning, doing jobs we hate, queuing (hello, my fellow British friends), watching tv, mindlessly scrolling through social media . . .
Some might call that living (it’s not), but pick any of those I listed and tell me honestly that when doing those things, you wouldn’t rather be doing something else?
And when you break down the numbers, it’s actually quite depressing. But at the same time, it serves as a stark reminder that we should cherish and enjoy every minute we have and use our time wisely.
Check out this short video and you’ll see what I mean.
Ok, I didn’t mean to get you down, but the content serves to remind us that life is quite short and prompts us ask the question: do we really make the best of the time we have available?
I’ll let you answer that one yourself, but I know that my answer is a “no”.
So what to do about it?
Well, have you ever noticed that even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day, some people seem to get so much more done than others?
The reason for this comes down to (simple) time management. Better time management than you, in other words!
And if you feel that you’re someone who is poor at managing your time, read on, because that, my friend, is about to change!
Welcome to “Better Time Management 101”!
I am not just talking about productivity in your professional life – working smarter, not harder and all that.
I mean getting more out of life generally. Every. Single. Day.
Being good at managing your time is an important 21st Century life skill that requires the formation of some good habits, self-discipline and structure.
Some people are lucky enough to be naturally good at organizing and prioritizing their time, but if you’re not one of them, don’t despair, because I am confident that anyone can learn how to be a time management superhero.
Here are our top 20 essential tips for better time management (in no particular order) that everyone needs to know.
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1. Audit Your Time
If you want to reach a destination, it helps to know where you are right now.
Likewise, in order to manage your time effectively, you need to understand where your time goes currently.
Auditing your time will give you a much clearer picture of your daily routine. And you might find that how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend your time turn out to be two very different things.
A good way to do this might be to use an app like RescueTime, which will really help you understand how you spend time on your devices. Once you have audited your time over a set period, you will have a much clearer picture of your daily routine and will be able to identify where time can be put to better use.
You might find that you’re spending way too much time on social media or perhaps too much time in front of the tv. Both of these can be fixed quite easily, but you can’t fix a problem until you have identified it.
It may be that part of the solution comes from simply changing your schedule. For example, instead of getting up a 7am, trying getting up 30 minutes earlier. And, as if by magic – thirty minutes just got added to your day.
2. Prioritize Your Tasks
There’s some old quote about eating a frog that you will always see cited in tips for better time management. It’s (probably incorrectly) attributed to Mark Twain and the gist of it is that if you tackle the unpleasant/difficult task first, the rest of the day can only get better.
(If you like the sound of this approach, you should check out the book “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy at the end of this post.)
Then there is the school of thought that says you should tackle the easy stuff first in order to get some quick wins in and gain momentum for the bigger tasks at hand.
My take on it? I don’t believe that you should prioritize your tasks based on difficulty at all.
Instead, you should determine the two or three tasks that are most important to complete, based on urgency, rather than difficulty.
Get these done in the morning when you are fresh and have the most energy. Completing the urgent tasks first will keep you ahead of your schedule and avoid the stressful last-minute dashes to get your stuff done. As an added bonus, striking them off your to-do list early will set the tone and help you build momentum for the rest of your productive day.
And crossing things off on your To-Do List just feels: So. Damn. Good.
Or maybe that’s just me?
3. Use A Calendar
Calendars and diaries have always been fundamental tools for effective time management, but the digital equivalents today make their paper-based ancestors look quite ridiculous.
The ability to share information on multiple devices, in addition to all the amazing functionality and features, such as notifications, reminders, appointment scheduling, setting up recurring events, and linking to email, to name just a few, makes managing your time easier than ever, so there’s no excuse now really.
4. Say “No”
If you manage your time well, you can certainly juggle a lot of tasks and commitments and get a lot done in a day.
But if you fall into the trap of over-committing, you’re setting yourself up for a life of unnecessary stress and will end up with a disorganized mess of half-finished tasks that take longer than they should to complete and those that are finished are maybe not done to your satisfaction.
To avoid over-committing your time and energy, you need to learn to decline some opportunities and requests. Prioritize and only take on the commitments you know you have time to see through.
5. Sleep (More)
Having just said that time is so precious, it may seem like a contradiction to say that you should be spending more time sleeping.
However, the benefits of a good night’s sleep have been well documented. You’ll often see reference to famous personalities, past and present, who only sleep 4-5 hours per night and claim that is all they need, but these people are the exception, rather than the rule.
Most people absolutely need 7-8 hours of good, quality sleep each night to function well, so if you’re getting less than that, the chances are that you’re not going to be at your best each day.
Sleep-deprived zombies, with or without caffeine, are never going to be at their best, even with a good time management plan in place.
Related post ~ How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep
6. Focus On The Task At Hand
How often have you found yourself in the middle of a phone conversation when you start checking your emails on your laptop?
Or maybe you’ve been in the middle of writing an email or a report and you stop to check your social media notifications for no apparent reason, other than you just felt you needed to?
I bet this happens to you to a greater or lesser extent.
You see, it seems us humans can be easily distracted, so it is little wonder that we have problems focussing on one task at a time.
I don’t know if humans have ever been particularly good at focussing on one thing without being distracted or if it is a modern phenomenon.
Either way, like it or not, constant distractions are part of modern life.
Whether you are at home or at the office, there will always be distractions – kids, colleagues, unscheduled visits from friends or clients.
We live in a world where our attention is effectively a commodity and there is always somebody trying to capture and “harvest” it for profit.
We’re constantly bombarded with texts, notifications and emails, so it really isn’t surprising that a lack of focus and attention is a common problem these days.
But if you want to be as productive as possible, it is crucial to learn how to focus on one task at a time and eliminate the distractions you can control.
This usually means putting your phone away or out of reach, turning off notifications, closing your email and unnecessary browser windows.
Find a quiet comfortable spot to work. Listen to music or get some ear plugs. Devote the time you have allocated to that task and that task only.
If you work at home and you have kids to watch at the same time, this will be more difficult, as they are a “distraction” that you cannot ignore, but you still need to focus on the one task, even if it ends up being in 10-minute bursts.
There may be times when you literally have to hide and turn off your phone in order to eliminate distractions and get things done.
Don’t feel guilty about this – your friends will eventually get over why you didn’t respond to their WhatsApp message straight away.
So, focus is a really important part of time management. Actually, it is probably fair to say that the attention we give to tasks is even more important than the time we allocate to it.
7. Use A To-Do List
Using a To-Do List is a critical factor when it comes to successful time management. It is the foundation for everything else you do to manage you time well.
Writing out all of your tasks and seeing them laid out will help you to identify the most urgent and enable you to prioritize accordingly.
The best part for me is checking off those completed tasks with a big fat tick, or striking them through. Seeing the progress is a great little dopamine hit and helps create momentum to get the next one done.
As mentioned already, there are always going to be distractions when you’re tackling your daily tasks, but the key is stay as focussed as possible and commit to sticking with a task until it is completed.
If you’re interrupted, make sure you return to the unfinished task as soon as you can.
There are many ways to set up a to-do list. Whether you use and app, a spreadsheet or a pen and paper is down to your personal preference, but the important thing is to use one.
8. Beware: Perfectionism
Setting yourself high standards, striving for perfection and critical self-evaluation all have their values, but when you’re constantly getting bogged down over small details and over-thinking everything, it can be a massive waste of time.
I’ve definitely been there.
But everything doesn’t always have to be flawless. Sometimes you’ve just got to get stuff done and move on to the next task.
Here’s a great quote for you that says all that needs to be said on this subject:
9. Create Habits
We are all creatures of habit. The trouble is, we’re often creatures of bad habits, rather than good ones.
What is the first thing you do in the morning.
Take take the dog for a walk or go for a run?
Meditate or prepare breakfast?
Whatever it is, if you do it every morning at the same time, it is already a habit and built into your schedule. That part of your time is managed. But in creating other habits throughout the day, you can become more organized and efficient.
To use a simple example that we can probably all relate to, allocating 09.30 to 10.00 to opening and replying to emails might mean that you don’t have to get distracted with emails later in the day when you are busy with other tasks.
10. Ration Your Social Media Time
As I am sure already realize, social media is a massive drain on your time and productivity. Becoming more aware of the amount of time you spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, should help you reduce the amount of time you fritter away on checking your likes.
I’m not saying you should ditch it all completely, but allocate a time each day to check your favourite platforms and restrict your use to those times only. It could be when you are commuting or sitting on the toilet or whatever.
There are apps that can help with this and we have recommended a few for you at the end of this post.
11. Leave A Buffer-Time Between Tasks
Attacking daily tasks in a methodical way, i.e. using a To-Do List and prioritizing each task, is the best way to manage your time. However, you don’t want to become like an automaton, just moving from task to task without appreciating what you’re doing and what you are achieving.
To stay motivated and focused, it is also important to take a step back and allow yourself some down-time in between tasks.
Give yourself a pat on the back, be proud of that small victory of striking off another task. Clear your mind, take a break, exercise – do whatever its you in the right frame of mind for attacking the next task.
If you have never tried mindfulness before, now might be the time.
Related post ~ How To Be Mindful Everyday
12. Set A Timeframe For Your Tasks
You only get 24 hours a day and given that a third of that time is spent asleep, we need to be ruthless about how we allocate our waking hours.
In addition to drawing up a To-Do List of tasks, it makes sense to also block out an appropriate amount of time for each and try to complete them within that timeframe. You will find that this helps to prevent procrastination, which as we all know, is the thief of time.
A self-imposed time constraint can sometimes help you focus and get more done than if you had taken the approach of “I will keep working on this until I have finished.”
If you find that you cannot complete the task within your designated timeframe, you can always use some of your buffer time.
13. Doing Less Can Be Better
Sometimes, good time management is about doing less. Life is full of the excessive, the superfluous and the non-essential, so we should pick and choose what we dedicate our time too.
When it comes to completing tasks, identify the ones that bring the most value.
Focus on those and, for want of a more suitable expression, f*ck the rest! As we’ve already established, life’s too short as it is.
14. Look After Yourself
Self-care is a popular topic these days and it’s about taking the time to look after yourself. Making sure you sleep well, eat healthily, get some regular exercise and relax frequently will enable you to function optimally.
You need to schedule time for these activities too, so put them on your To-Do List.
Check out some great ways to do this in our health section.
15. Elephant Burgers
When you are faced with a huge To-Do List or a massive project, it is easy to feel over-whelmed.
Once I had this really big project to complete – loads of “moving parts” and a huge series of individual tasks involved with no clear ranking in terms of importance and urgency. I didn’t really know where to start.
So, my manager at the time asked me, “How would you eat an elephant?”
After my initial shocked response of: “I would never eat an elephant. Who in God’s name would eat an elephant?” I realized what he was getting at and that the appropriate response was something along the lines of “one bite at a time.”
Or as he put it, you make “elephant burgers”.
Sometimes, you have to break things down.
One step at a time.
One chunk at a time.
However, you want to look at it. So don’t get overwhelmed by the totality of the tasks in front of you. Be aware of the big picture, focus on the smaller bits, one at a time.
And before you know it, you will have completed the whole thing.
16. Make Use Of Down-Time
There are always going to be times when we aren’t really occupied and could be doing something else. I’m talking about standing in queues, commuting, waiting in a coffee shop for a friend to arrive (yeah, they’re late again, as usual).
Don’t waste these times reading rants on Twitter or playing Candy Crush or whatever it is that you kids are playing these days.
Instead, make use of this time to catch up on reading, emails, podcasts, language apps, exam revision, research exercise, yoga or just thinking – anything that you can call “productive”.
Like most things, this simply comes down to self-discipline and habit.
17. Start Early
Procrastination is the easy option, but if you are in a position where you can get something done today, get it done today! Make sure you have handled your urgent tasks first, but if there are some easy “quick wins” on your list, there is no reason not to eliminate them.
Or if you have completed all your tasks for the day and have time in hand, why not get a jump on tomorrow?
18. Learn To Delegate
Although I hate to admit it, in work-related matters, I can be a bit of a control freak. It’s not that I don’t trust other people . . . well, ok, it might be a little bit.
Some people love to delegate all their work out to others and I used to feel that this is a sign of laziness or incompetence. But maybe it’s actually quite smart.
I am never particularly comfortable delegating and outsourcing tasks to others, but there comes a point when it makes sense.
You can’t always do everything yourself and if getting someone else to carry out some of your tasks means that it can free you up to be more productive elsewhere, this strategy has to be worth implementing.
19. Plan Ahead
You can’t manage your time well if you are always doing things on the fly.
Sure, there are times when we need to improvize and there are times when things come out of leftfield and most of us can handle that on a short-term basis.
But if you’re waking up every morning without a plan for the day, you ain’t gonna be managing your time well. You’re going be aimlessly bouncing from task to task, working ineffectively and unproductively.
Failing to plan is planning to fail, as someone once said. (Probably that Mark Twain again.)
The best strategy is to organize your schedule and your To-Do List the night before. And yeah – schedule that time in too!
As discussed earlier, make sure that your most urgent matters are at the top of the list and you can get cracking as soon as you’re up.
(Damn it! I just checked my phone for no reason at all . . . )
20. Create Systems
Good time management is all about being organized and that is something that needs to permeate through everything that you do.
Being organized will save you massive amounts of time. A simple example is creating a filing system for documents. How often have you wasted time looking all over the house or the office for a document that you need, but can’t recall where you put it?
If you had a filing system in place, you wouldn’t need to look for it. You’d simply grab it from the place where you know it belongs. This applies to hard copies of documents and the filing systems you set up on your computer.
These things are not that difficult to implement and once you have established the habit, you’ll wonder how you ever coped with such systems.
Related Post ~ How To Declutter Your Home And Your Life
So, these are our All Sussed Top Tips for improving your time management skills.
If you can adopt at least half of these habits, you’re going to be a Time Management Rockstar before you know it.
And once you become the master of your time, you’re going to be amazed at how much more productive you’ve become and how much more you can get out of life each day.
How do you make your days more productive?
Useful apps, books and websites
Here are a few of our recommendations for resources that will help you get control of your time:
- Eat That Frog! – Brian Tracy
- The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
- Getting Things Done – David Allen
- Time Management Magic – Lee Cockerell