Time management strategies are always useful, aren’t they? Indeed, it seems like life today moves faster than ever. Technology has made us more productive and facilitated lots of tasks that used to be hassles but, on the other hand, it also has probably created more expectations. We have to get more done, and faster.
If this sounds like your life, don’t fret! There are many effective time management strategies that you can employ to make yourself more efficient and productive, and even be happier. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
Note: For full sources and credit, scroll down to the bottom.
Here Are Some Time Management Strategies to Make you More Productive
“Begin with the end in mind”
This principle makes sense both philosophically and from a time management perspective. For instance, if you’re planning an important event that will take place a month from now, decide what actions you need to take to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.
Come up with a rough outline and work backward, beginning with laying foundational pieces. Give yourself plenty of time to follow up with any parts or players that aren’t falling into place.
Another aspect of this habit is that we need to act in our minds before we act in real life. Measure twice, cut once, and you’ll save yourself many a bad cutting job that you’d have to do over again.
Credit: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
“Put first things first”
This habit and time management strategy mirrors Dwight D. Eisenhower’s matrix of importance and urgency. Urgent items are crises that need to be addressed right away, while Important matters can wait a little longer.
In the matrix, Urgent and Important items are in Quadrant 1, and you should do those right away. However, the most effective people spend most of their time in Quadrant 2, the long-term planning and development zone, in which they focus on Not Urgent (But Important) matters.
If items are Urgent but Not Important, delegate them. However, if items on your to-do list are neither urgent nor important, eliminate them. Delegating and eliminating will free up an enormous amount of your time.
Credit: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
In order to put first things first, you’re going to have to say no to some good-but-not-best tasks, commitments, or distractions.
If you really want to chair that civic improvement committee, and it fits in with your values and life goals, go for it. But if you’re just doing it to satisfy your ego or somebody else’s agenda, politely but firmly decline. Yes, you might be the best choice, and maybe the committee won’t even get off the ground if you don’t step in, but you’ve got to live your own life.
Learn HOW to say no (even to yourself)
It turns out, though, that “Just Say No” isn’t enough. Here’s how you can develop good work and personal habits while snuffing out the not-as-beneficial ones: tell yourself the right words.
The importance of framing words in the right way was highlighted in a research study in which 30 working women were asked to sign up for a “health and wellness seminar.” After the women decided on a long-term health and wellness goal that was important to them, they were split into three groups of 10 each, and they were given different words to tell themselves. Here’s how that worked out:
Group 1 was the control group. Members of this group were told to “just say no” if they felt tempted to let their goal slide.
Group 2 members were instructed to say “I can’t” when they didn’t feel like meeting their goal for the day. For instance, a woman who’d decided to work out would tell herself, “I can’t skip working out today.”
Group 3 members were told to adopt the “don’t” strategy. For example, the woman wanting to work out would tell herself, “I don’t skip workouts.”
Ten days later, after a series of email check-ins, the results were tallied. Group 1, the “just say no” women, fared slightly better than the Group 2 “I can’t” women, with three women and one woman, respectively, sticking to their self-assigned goals. However, an astonishing eight out 10 women who told themselves “I don’t” stuck with their goals.
What made the difference? The “I don’t” group likely felt more empowered and in control of the situation.
Bottom line: tell yourself “I don’t” vs “I can’t,” and you’re far more likely to stick with your good intentions.
Keep 100% of your focus on the task at hand
Another great time management strategy can start by closing all your browser windows and creating an environment that’s as distraction-free as possible. If music helps you focus, put some on, but otherwise keep things quiet.
That includes your phone, too. You do not have to stay glued to it. Remember, the phone is your servant; you are not its slave. Put it away, perhaps in the foyer, out of reach and on silent.
Concentrate on this one task you’ve decided to complete. Multi-tasking sounds alluring, but concentrated single-tasking gets more done in the long run.
If you get tired or bored, simply switch to another task. Just keep to one task at a time.
Get enough sleep
Unless you get enough quality sleep, you can’t be alert or productive enough to seize the day. Again, your phone can play the villain here, as light from electronic devices can disrupt sleep. If possible, shut electronics off an hour before bed and come up with a sleep ritual that will help you clock at least seven hours of sleep per night.
As a bonus, being well-rested also contributes to happiness. Dan Buettner, who wrote The Blue Zones of Happiness after researching the happiest populations around the world, says that “people who sleep six hours a night are 30% less happy than people who sleep more.”
Although there are plenty of good reasons to fill your sleep quota, you may find that’s easier said than done. You may need to do things differently, such as getting out in the sun to reset your circadian rhythm or blocking off all light at night.
Wake up early
Since you’ve gotten enough sleep, now you can wake up at the crack of dawn and get a lot accomplished before the majority of the world wakes up.
Work with your body and your priorities to decide how to maximize those early morning hours. Maybe it makes sense to catch up on overseas business or markets, tackle long-range planning, or even exercise.
Exercise and adopt a healthy diet
In your daily plan, make sure you include some exercise. It doesn’t do you any good to accomplish lofty professional goals if you’re in such poor health that you can’t savor your successes or build on them.
Exercising helps ramp up your body’s production of feel-good endorphins so you can reach your zone of maximum productivity faster and stay there longer.
A healthy lifestyle -which also includes a nutritious diet- boosts energy levels and clears your mind. And if you’re having problems exercising or sticking to a healthy diet, refer back to Tip #4, where you learned how to say no to bad habits.
Impose your own deadline
Have you ever noticed how laser-focused you are when you’re rushing to meet a deadline?
You can use this time-tested truism about being more productive right before a project is due by using the time management strategy of imposing a deadline on yourself. It might be that you’ll need more time to finish your task well, but by working up to your time limit, you’ll get the bulk of the job completed.
Stick to your time limit, though, and don’t overwork yourself. You can do revisions the next day when you can start fresh.
Avoid excessive perfectionism
You’ve probably had the if-something-is-worth-doing-it’s-worth-doing-well mantra drilled into your brain.
To a big extent that’s true, but hone in on what’s important. Don’t allow trivial details to drag you down. And realize that you can “satisfice” some tasks—get them done with the bare minimum effort because that’s all you really need for those routine chores.
Turn key tasks into turnkey habits
If you have a certain task you need to do all the time (like writing, for example) turn it into a routine. After you’ve had your morning coffee, for instance, write for a pre-determined time. That way, writing becomes more of an expectation than an insurmountable obstacle.
One of the keys is to set a “trigger,” which primes you to do something—in the example above, the coffee is the trigger.
Put first things first and fill in smaller tasks around them
Visualize a water pitcher that you need to fill with large rocks, small rocks, and sand.
Large rocks represent the important, have-to-be-done tasks. Small-rock tasks are also important but not so much so as the large-rock ones, and the sand represents tasks that would be nice to get done but don’t matter much in the scheme of things.
If you fill the pitcher with the sand first, you won’t accomplish what’s most important. If you fill the pitcher with small rocks, you also won’t achieve your most important objectives.
Only when you fill your pitcher first with the big rocks will you be able to maximize your time. You’ll cross off the most crucial things on your to-do list, and you can fill in the small rocks and sand around the big rocks.
Make a to-do list
A classic time management strategy. It’s crucial to write things down to keep yourself on track. Apps can help keep you from wasting time, but you need to have your agenda set to begin with. Writing things down by hand helps you make better connections, but an electronic to-do list will also work.
Do a brain dump before you go to bed
Part of this may be your to-do list, but you should also jot down any random thoughts or observations.
A One Line a Day journal is a good way to succinctly capture your takeaway for the day. This helps provide closure for the day so you can sleep, and it also gives your subconscious mind something to chew on during the night. You may well wake up with the solution to a vexing problem or an actionable insight!
Reflect and set goals for going forward
Once a quarter, it’s a good idea to get away so you can reflect and recharge. Contemplate what’s worked well and what hasn’t. Set goals. Decide what people you need to meet and what knowledge you need to gain.
Take time to relax and for self-care
Although this may not feel like a time management strategy, it is.
It will do you a world of good to relax. You’ve worked hard and productively all week, so relax for a concentrated block of time on the weekend.
If you keep pushing yourself without a break, your busy body will ramp up production of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. A little bit of these hormones is necessary for your body to fire on all cylinders, but too much of them lead to hormonal imbalance and some associated ills: depression, weight gain, and heart disease.
Without enough rest, you’ll end up being the worst version of yourself—stressed, tired, susceptible to illnesses, and slow on your feet. So give yourself permission to be present in the present moment and rest!
Create organizing systems
When you organize yourself and your environment, you’ll save an amazing amount of time.
Start small. As you go on, you’ll get inspired, and keeping up with your system will become second nature.
Don’t be lured in by complicated, Pinterest-worthy systems (unless that’s your thing); keep everything simple. Make sure everything has a designated home, and put it back after each use.
For instance, if you need to do two programming assignments and write four emails, it may enhance your productivity to tackle the programming as a block and then move on to the emails. Since different tasks require different types of thinking, you can continue your momentum that way instead of having to constantly shift mental gears.
Test this and see if it works for you. Personally, I like to constantly switch between tasks, since I find that it staves off boredom and burnout. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Try different systems, and stick with what’s best for you.
Always Keep Your Phone on “Vibrate”
Because alerts will jolt you and break your concentration. If at all possible, have your phone permanently on vibration-only. That way, you’ll still notice alerts, but they won’t be as jarring.
Summing Up the Time Management Strategies
So as we’ve seen, there are many ways to improve how we manage our time. I recommend that you start implementing these at a manageable pace, and emphasize those that have a positive impact on your life. And don’t be too hard on yourself!
What are your favorite time management strategies?