Time management systems are frameworks designed to help you better manage employee time and reduce costs. If an effective time management system isn’t part of your tech stack, you’re not fully capitalizing on your team’s potential.

Time management systems range from basic productivity habit trackers or complex, enterprise-grade systems. Either way, they’ll help you take control of your time and productivity. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

With a number of time management techniques at your disposal, there’s bound to be one that’s a perfect complement to your work. Try a system, incorporate some productivity methods, or craft your own custom time management system using a combination of different approaches. 

Let’s get to the different approaches.

The 1-3-5 RuleDivides tasks based on their size.
52 / 17Work for 52 minutes and rest for 17.
7 Minute LifeA time management method that uses 1% of your day for planning.
AutofocusDo the tasks you’re most motivated to do first.
Bullet JournalA way of organizing by making use of bullet points and notations.
Eisenhower MatrixSorts tasks by urgency. It’s great for prioritizing!
Getting Things DoneDavid Allen’s famous and comprehensive time management method.
KanbanGroup tasks into a visual representation to keep them organized.
The Pomodoro Technique25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break to maintain focus.
Time BlockingAllocates hours of the day for specific tasks to plan better.
Time TrackingIncrease productivity by tracking hours and monitoring tasks.

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The 1-3-5 Rule

1-3-5-rule for time management

“A better to-do list.” —The Muse

The 1-3-5 Rule encourages you to tackle one big, three medium-sized, and five small tasks daily.

Alex Cavoulacos, co-founder and chief operating officer of The Muse, invented this system to stay organized. Many of Cavoulacos’ Muse co-workers have already adopted this method. Its simplicity will appeal to many others.

How it works

  1. Write down one big item.
  2. Add three medium items.
  3. Add five small items.

If you’ve had an irregular day If you’ve had an irregular day (traveling or training a new employee, for example), you can cut it down to two medium and three small items.

Who it appeals to

The 1-3-5 Rule is great for individuals in any industry who need help prioritizing and want a simple way to do it.

Compatible apps and resources

  • 1-3-5 List: A browser-based 1-3-5 list.

52 / 17

52-17 time management technique

“Working with purpose.” —Julia Gifford, The Muse

The Muse conducted an experiment where they tracked the time of the most productive employees and analyzed their habits.

In the end, the publication’s editors discovered that the top 10% of the most productive users worked around 52 minutes and then took about 17 minutes off. The 52 minutes were used as short, intense work sessions, and the rest periods helped prepare for the next burst of activity.

How it works

  1. Work for 52 minutes. You need to be 100% dedicated to getting things done during this time.
  2. Rest for 17 minutes. Take a walk, chat with coworkers, or do some stretching. But don’t check your email, answer texts, or do anything else that takes much thought.

Who it appeals to

52 / 17 will help those in jobs that require intense focus and attention to detail. That said, the simplicity of this time management system makes it easy for anyone to use.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Fokasu: An online timer based on the 52 / 17 time management system.
  • WorkBreaker: An iOS timer app with a 52 / 17 method configuration.
  • Any timer.

7 Minute Life

7 minute life technique for effective time management

“Increase productivity, maximize time for your personal life, and connect with the self you want to be.” —7 Minute Life

7 Minute Life challenges you to spend just 1% of your day in planning — seven minutes in the morning and seven in the evening. Using these 14 minutes to organize yourself will improve your time management skills and help you get more done.

Allyson Lewis, founder of 7 Minute Life, created a time management system on a single sheet of paper to improve her daily productivity as a financial adviser. That piece of paper was the foundation of 7 Minute Life.

How it works

  1. Spend seven minutes in the morning planning your day.
  2. Spend seven minutes in the evening reviewing your day and planning for tomorrow.

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner contains worksheets for organizing everything from life and financial goals to daily progress reports.

Who it appeals to

7 Minute Life is for busy people or businesses that aren’t sure where to get started or what their goals are. The planner makes it easy to jot everything down, whether personal or business-related. The worksheets tell you where to put each detail of your life.

Compatible apps and resources


autofocus system for successful time management

“Although obviously one still has to do the work, there are no great barriers of resistance to overcome or feelings of overwhelm. In fact, just about all my work has become pleasurable.” —Mark Forster

Autofocus takes advantage of your motivations more than your time management skills. It focuses on tasks you wish to tackle first. The idea is that you’re more willing to work faster and procrastinate less on tasks you enjoy.

Once you become bored with the current task, move to another one that excites you. This process creates less stress, increases productivity, and forces you to focus on what’s important.

Autofocus was invented by Mark Forster, an expert and multi-published author in the field of productivity.

How it works

  1. Write down your to-do list.
  2. Read through all items on the page without any action.
  3. Go through the list again, slowly. Scan the items in order until one stands out.
  4. Work on that standout item as long as you want.
  5. Check the item off the list if you completed it. If you haven’t, re-enter it at the end.
  6. Continue going through this process. Don’t move on to the next page until no items stand out on the current page.
  7. Move to the next page and repeat the process.
  8. If you go to a page and no item stands out for you on your first pass-through, dismiss all the outstanding items. Use a highlighter to mark dismissed items.
  9. Once you’ve finished with the final page, re-start at the first page that is still active.

Who it appeals to

Autofocus is for people who struggle to concentrate and easily fall into the procrastination pit. The process will get these people motivated by working on projects that look interesting first. It doesn’t require any special materials or skills, so anyone can give it a try.

Compatible apps and resources

Bullet Journal

Manage your time successfully with Bullet Journal technique

“Note-taking and traditional journaling take time; the more complex the entry, the more effort is expended.” —Bullet Journal

Bullet Journal (also known as BuJo) is a daily note-taking system for staying organized and on task. Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer, created the framework to be adaptable. It consists of modules for collecting and organizing specific kinds of entries to fit your unique needs.

How it works

  1. Grab a notebook and a pen. Number each page in the notebook.
  2. Add a topic on the top outer corner of the page. A topic is simply a short descriptive title.
  3. Add short, objective sentences as bullets under the title.
  4. Create tasks. Tasks are marked by a simple dot ( • ) and include any kind of actionable item — just put a dot next to the item. Mark tasks you’ve dealt with as follows:
    • X = task complete
    • > = task migrated
    • < = task scheduled
  5. Create events. Events are date-related entries represented by an “O” Bullet.
  6. Create notes. Notes are represented with a dash ( – ). Notes are entries you want to remember but aren’t immediately or necessarily actionable, like facts or observations.
  7. Add signifiers. Signifiers are symbols that give your bullets additional context:
    • A star is used to give a task priority. These are placed to the left of a bullet so that you can quickly scan your pages to find the most important entries.
    • An exclamation point marks anything that inspires you, so it can be easily referenced later.
    • An eye icon is used when something requires further research, information, or discovery.
  8. Create modules. Modules are methods designed to help collect and organize specific kinds of entries. The four core modules are the Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log.
  9. Once you’ve hit your second month of journaling, glance at your previous entries. Look at unresolved tasks and assess whether the remaining open tasks are still relevant.

Bullet journaling seems complex, but once you’ve done it a few times and mastered the notation, it becomes very quick and extremely effective.

Who it appeals to

Bullet Journal will appeal to people who have analytical minds and like having everything in order. This system is very detail-oriented and organized. It’s perfect for accountants, developers, and similarly analytical individuals.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Notebook and pen.
  • Bullet Journal Companion app: If you prefer an electronic medium, download the app and use the same pen-and-paper approach on your computer or phone.

Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower matrix - technique for time management and productivity

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” —Dwight Eisenhower

The Eisenhower Matrix, also called the Urgent-Important Matrix, helps you prioritize tasks by urgency, sorting out less urgent tasks to delegate or delete.

The system prioritizes urgent and important tasks and downplays everything else. Unimportant, non-urgent tasks should be ignored.

How it works

  1. Organize your tasks into four quadrants:
    • Quadrant 1: Do First. Tackle these tasks immediately. Use a timer if needed to complete these.
    • Quadrant 2: Schedule. These are tasks that, although important, can be scheduled for a later date. Add these to your calendar.
    • Quadrant 3: Delegate. While these are important, they can be handled by someone else.
    • Quadrant 4: Don’t Do. These are unimportant and non-urgent tasks and therefore do not need attention.

Who it appeals to

People who juggle different tasks and need help prioritizing what to work on first will benefit from the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s also helpful for managers to figure out which projects to handle independently and which to delegate to their staff.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Matrix PDF: This is a downloadable PDF with the four quadrants you will need to use this technique.
  • Eisenhower Matrix App: The Eisenhower Matrix app is built specifically for this time management system. It includes a built-in timer, a function to send delegation emails, and a way to add calendar items.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

a simple method for successful time management - Getting Things Done

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” —David Allen

Getting Things Done (GTD) has helped many bring order to chaos and has become one of the most popular time management systems. The method enables greater performance and innovation and helps eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed. It gives you focus and confidence to complete your task list.

David Allen, a leading authority in organizational and personal productivity, wrote the original book on this time management system in 2001 and released a new edition in 2015.

How it works

  1. Capture. Record, write or type your entire professional and personal task list.
  2. Clarify. Look at your list, decide what needs your immediate attention, and take action. Everything else should be archived, deleted, or delegated.
  3. Organize. Make categories and list all action items under each category.
  4. Reflect. Go through all list items at least weekly, determine the next steps, and make list updates where needed.
  5. Engage. Now that you’re organized, you’ll start to make decisions faster, eliminate stress, and bring balance and clarity to your life.

Who it appeals to

Getting Things Done is for people who need help organizing everything. From chores around the house to work to hobbies, GTD applies to all aspects of life. It’s especially great for creative types who enjoy making their own schedules and setting their own priorities.

Compatible apps and resources


Kanban time & productivity management method

“We have had enough of productivity. Let’s create value.” —Kanban

The Kanban approach has been utilized in most major project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Wrike. It’s a great way to organize larger tasks based on the smaller steps that make them up. 

How it works

  1. Visualize your work. Look at your task list and determine what to work on first, what to save for later, and how long each task will take.
  2. Limit your work-in-progress. Try not to multitask and turn down additional assignments when you know you are working at your max. This also avoids burnout.
  3. Create a Kanban board. Make three vertical columns: Backlog, Doing, and Done. Have no more than three things in the Doing column at once.
  4. Try a Kanban-based project management tool and add more columns for complex projects. 

Who it appeals to

Kanban is for visual thinkers and people who prefer to reference a simple, graphical system for time management. People who multitask will appreciate the limit of three things in the Doing column.

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If you want even more visualizations, one of the best apps for this time management system is Hubstaff Tasks. In addition to a normal Kanban view, Tasks allows you to toggle to a Sprint view as well. 

Struggling to sort your work? Just like a Kanban board, you can drag and drop Tasks into Sprints, add labels, and set task dependencies. 

Hubstaff Tasks Sprint View

This makes it easy to never get lost in your tasks. Open the app, click on Sprints, pick a task from the current sprint, and start working. It’s free for teams of up to five.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Hubstaff Tasks: A Kanban-style project management tool that helps you apply this thinking to your workplace.
  • Personal Kanban: This book talks about the technique in general and how to apply this productivity framework.
  • Kanbanote: This app syncs with Evernote and turns it into a Kanban board.

The Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique

“The Pomodoro Technique isn’t just about helping you get things done today; it’s about learning how you work so you can save time in the future.” —Pomodoro

Interruptions and burnout are two common, time-wasting challenges of day-to-day work. The Pomodoro Technique eliminates both of these through timing tasks and taking breaks — and it’s one of the simplest time management systems around.

By focusing on the tasks that need immediate attention in short bursts, you’ll learn to ignore interruptions and estimate time commitments more accurately. Then you can adjust your process accordingly.

Avoid feeling overworked by taking breaks, become more productive, and strike a better work-life balance.

How it works

  1.  Choose something that you need to complete right away.
  2. Spend 25 uninterrupted minutes on this task.
  3. If interruptions arise, write them down and table them for later.
  4. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break.
  5. Every fourth break is a longer one. You can take 15, 20, or even 30 minutes to refresh your mind.

Who it appeals to

Just about anyone can use this method thanks to its simplicity. If you work with multiple clients, it’s great for managing client hours.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: A book that outlines the technique in detail.
  • Marinara Timer: A customizable timer for Pomodoro or other techniques.
  • Timer.

Time Blocking

Time Blocking

“This type of planning, to me, is like a chess game, with blocks of work getting spread and sorted in such a way that projects big and small all seem to click into completion with (just enough) time to spare.” —Cal Newport

Time blocking works exactly like it sounds: you block out sections of your day to get a visual idea of your schedule. Successful time blocking can help reduce wasted time on distractions like email and ultimately increase productivity.

Cal Newport, the inventor of time blocking, estimates that a 40-hour work week with time blocking is equivalent to working 60 hours (or more) without it.

How it works

  1. Each evening, divide a piece of paper into two columns.
  2. Dedicate two lines to each hour of the day and then divide that time into blocks labeled with specific assignments.
  3. In the right column, add explanations for these blocks.
  4. If something changes, simply scratch out your time block and reorganize it.

Who it appeals to

Time blocking enables people with several tasks or meetings throughout the day to have more control over their time. People who need to accomplish as much as possible on their daily to-do list can benefit from it too. Methodical thinkers will appreciate the planning aspect.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Google Calendar: A highly accessible online calendar lets you easily rearrange blocks when needed.

Time Tracking

Time Tracking

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” —Lord Kelvin

Time tracking is one of the most straightforward time management systems, and it doesn’t require any practice to execute effectively. The premise is simple: keep track of what you do during your working hours.

If you spend 2 hours debugging code, your time tracker will record that data. If you spend 15 minutes on Facebook? Also tracked. Time tracking software allows you to see where your time went so you can pinpoint distractions and develop productive habits.

How it works

  1. Keep track of everything you do during the workday (or whenever else you’re trying to be productive).
  2. Review reports, timesheets, and productivity data for your workweek
  3. Identify areas for improvement. Is there a task you can hand off or a process that could work better?

Who it appeals to

Everyone can use time tracking. It’s simple, easy to start, and just works. Most time tracking software runs in the background of your computer, too, so they have zero impact on your work.

Compatible apps and resources

  • Hubstaff: For remote businesses, large companies, or in-house teams that want a better idea of where their time goes.

Which time management systems do you use?

These 11 time management systems all offer different ways to maximize your day. Each technique is different, and they’ll all appeal to different types of people.

The Pomodoro and Time Blocking techniques are great choices if you want something simple. You can organize your entire life with Getting Things Done or prioritize better with The Eisenhower Matrix.

Have a method we didn’t list? Contact us, and it just might appear in our next post.

This post was originally published in March 2017, updated in January 2019, and again in August 2023.

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Category: Time Management