a guide to effective time management

Your Essential Guide to Effective Time Management

Useful tips to effectively manage your time so you can spend more of it getting things done.

How we spend the time in our days defines us as humans - how we feel, what we do, and what we achieve in our lives. That’s why the way we manage our time is so central to the lives we lead and where we stand in the world.

Whether it’s on an individual or company level, effective time management is key to both professional success and personal satisfaction. In essence, it represents how skillfully we dedicate the hours in the day to our different priorities and obligations.

The level of effectiveness in this process depends on a long list of factors, both internal and external. The higher it is, however, the better we can realize our goals — and the better we can become at balancing work and leisure.

In this guide, you’ll learn the basics about what time management is, and the most important and proven strategies and tips for mastering it.

The importance of time management

Striving for effective time management is on the minds of many people today. Whether you want to boost your personal productivity, improve your work-life balance, or you’re a team manager looking for ways to improve your employees’ performance, it all starts with the well-planned use of your hours in a day.

The benefits of time management are countless, and they all contribute to your own and your team members’ overall well-being.

  1. First and foremost, an effective time management means less stress. When you know what you have to do and when you can do it, the buzz in your head is reduced, leaving space for concentration and relaxation.

  2. There’s also the concept of saving time for what’s truly important. Instead of scattering your hours on side tasks, with good time management you can redirect this time and dedicate it to the essential stuff that you want to complete. This is how you can align your goals with real-life efforts.

  3. With adequate time organization and management, you can also reduce the efforts you put into tasks in order to finalize them. This means that you can accomplish more in your day, if your time planning is combinative and smart, and most important of all, properly focused.

  4. Ultimately, good time management will translate into a better ability to make important decisions. Why? Simply because you’ll have more headspace. When you have clarity over your work and a solid plan on how to achieve each goal consecutively, you free up your potential for imagination, creative thinking and innovative problem-solving.

Seasoned professionals also note that managing your time well leads, down the road, to higher chances for success. As you regain control of your days and direct your work with solid decision-making, you’re better able to realize your goals.

What are the essential types of time management?

When it comes to time management in the workplace, there are diverse styles for handling time allocation and organization. They relate to the way managers direct employee time management, as well as to how individuals go about organizing their daily hours.

Some of the most prominent time management strategies for managers and for individuals alike include:

Strictly time-based / cliff-hanger approach

Managers are focused on goals and getting them done efficiently. In some cases, this can lead to overload for employees, if their time isn’t properly balanced. In the case of personal time organization, reaching quick results and respecting deadlines can be just as important as the quality of the work itself.

Initiative/ impulsive approach

These types of managers are more spontaneous and prioritize relationship-building in their team. While this strategy is more sensitive to the differences in people, it can result in reduced productivity and loss of direction. As for individuals, the impulsive approach is often seen in the artistic professions, leading to spurs of creativity, but sometimes also to delays in completing tasks on time.

Steady approach

The most balanced strategy usually brings the best outcomes for both managers and solo professionals. With this approach, time is perceived as a source of healthy pressure but is not the only leading factor in day-to-day work. Managers juxtapose the needs of the team and the project tasks at hand while seeking harmonious ways to make the two meet. Individuals take a steady approach to tasks, balancing due dates with their current workload and potential.

How to determine if you’re a victim of poor time management

Do you feel like your workday is a huge ball of chaos? It might be that you’re trying to handle way too much at one time. Then again, the problem might also lie in the way that you organize your time and the way that you plan (or fail to plan) your tasks.

It’s useful to regularly take a minute and assess the state of your time management.

There are a couple of factors you can check that will give you an idea of where you’re standing. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I often interrupt working on a task to answer emails, calls or chats?

  • Do I often feel like I don’t know where my day went?

  • Do I get negative feedback on my recent projects?

  • Do I often miss deadlines?

  • Do I feel overwhelmed by the number of pending tasks?

  • Do I feel like I’m losing control over my workflow, or even my life?

If you have more than one yes, then there’s a big chance that you’re not handling your time management in the best way possible. The good news is that there are ways to fix it.

How to improve your time management skills

What are examples of time management skills?

  1. The most crucial one is the ability to plan and prioritize, based on careful goal-setting. Other important skills include cutting distractions and setting work rhythms. They allow you to achieve higher levels of concentration and productivity.

  2. Naturally, self-discipline is at the heart of it all. This is the essence of effective time management, as well as an overall feeling of control and sense of direction. It’s also related to self-awareness. Through practicing it, you can gain insights about the conditions under which you achieve your best.

  3. Many people find time management apps to be a huge help. Solutions like Hubstaff allow you to track time spent on each task and project. They can also provide you with information on your daily use of different platforms and social media, so that you can detect major distractions and address them.

21 proven time management tips

What is the best way to manage your time and what are some good time management tips? In this list, you can find a careful selection of the most powerful time management practices. They can help you streamline your personal or your team’s work processes, optimizing the use of working hours and the quality of the resulting output.

If you want to expand your knowledge of top time management techniques, don’t miss our detailed article on the best systems for time management.

#1. Plan, plan, and then plan some more

Planning is the simple, but relentlessly powerful mantra of time management. It starts with creating a list of your tasks and then distributing them in the most appropriate way across your week. Creating daily time management plans also comes in handy. You can even preview the order in which you aim to go through the pending work in your day, as well as the breaks you want to take in-between tasks.

It’s imperative to juxtapose your daily and weekly plans against your overarching goals.

You can guide your goal setting by embracing the SMART goals - make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. That’s how you can ensure you spend your time on activities that help you accomplish your goals.

#2. Prioritization is key

The way you create your action plans should be based on a thorough understanding of your goals and their hierarchy. You should learn to recognize which tasks directly contribute to achieving what you aim for, and which don’t.

Once you have identified the different levels of importance and urgency, you should stack the essential ones at the top of your to-do list — the ones that are both important and urgent. By doing this, you can prevent losing track of their status, or postponing them unnecessarily.

#3. Conduct time management audits

If you want to know where your time goes throughout the day, your best helper is the time management audit. It’s very easy to prepare and its benefits are many. There are various time audit templates online, so you can also consult one of them when preparing your own audit.

First of all, you have to write down how you plan to use your time during a certain week or month. Then, track the hours each day and note what kind of activities you complete. When you have the real-life data, you can easily compare whether your intentions match what you accomplish in your working time. Afterwards, you can make the necessary adjustments so that you gradually bring together your targets and your actual daily schedule.

#4. Reduce distractions in your workflow

You probably (and secretly) are well-aware of the various distractions that you give in to daily. We all have our digital guilty pleasures, like endlessly scrolling social media. However, efficient time management depends on reducing distractions.

Eliminating them is far too ambitious, but restricting the time you dedicate to them is definitely possible. You can, in fact, turn distractions into a treat after each accomplishment in your day. Thus, they can work towards your productivity rather than against it.

#5. Learn to delegate

One of the main causes of exhaustion and burnout with entrepreneurs and many other professionals today is the inability to let go of tasks. Delegation is priceless when it comes to your personal time management, and is a method for developing trust and cooperation in your team.

The first steps can be difficult, if you’re not used to surrendering responsibility. However, you should find the balance between your healthy diligence and the unhealthy feeling that you’re the only person who can get the job done. With time, this will improve your relationships with partners, colleagues or teammates, and delegating tasks will become natural and much easier.

#6. Assign time slots for your tasks

Put clear deadlines for each task. Even if you don’t have a clear date from a client or partner, it’s imperative to have one in your schedule. You don’t want to be dragging out a task for weeks, while putting the rest of your work on hold. Procrastination gets to all of us, so it’s up to us to enforce an effective approach for overcoming it.

You can start by assessing the time you project that you would need for completing the task. Then you need to come back to prioritization and see when to schedule it, considering the rest of your responsibilities. You can split the task into smaller bits, so that you spread it over a few days, if necessary, but make sure that you set a clear time target for each bit.

#7. Embrace single-tasking

And defend it relentlessly. One of the biggest sources of stress in the way that we work (and live) today is multitasking. While a few years back handling multiple tasks at once was seen as a top skill, nowadays people have come to realize this approach has detrimental effects on productivity, concentration, and overall well-being.

There are various methods you can use to bring your focus on a single task and get rid of “half-work.” It’s useful to close your mailbox and social media channels, for example, and work on the task at hand only. You can also restrict calls and other potential distractions. Then you can set time slots for focusing, such as half an hour or an hour.

#8. Organize similar tasks together

This tip is tightly linked with the previous one. Instead of scattering them across the day, it’s more effective to batch tasks of the same kind together. By doing this, you can save time by completing them at once.

For example, you’ll be more productive if you send a couple of emails at once, rather than handling them individually throughout the day and breaking up the work on other tasks.

#9. Plan the most important tasks first thing in the morning

This strategy is obviously connected with good prioritization, but needs special attention. The reason why the most significant tasks should go first is not only the fact that you might forget them otherwise.

For most people, mornings are the most productive time of the day. Even if you don’t feel fully awake yet, your brain is still fresh and able to process information in a much better way. That’s why it’s best to use this time for the most complex tasks, or the ones that need the highest level of focus because of their priority.

#10. Know when to stop

Even if you have allocated time slots for your tasks, you may be easily tempted to continue working on them after their allotted time is up, especially if you feel they are important or complicated. However, you should learn to set limits no matter what.

Seeking perfection is admirable and is a powerful quality. At the same time, it can turn into a great enemy to your effective time management. As you tackle more and more projects, you’ll get better at judging when you’re truly done with a job, and when you’re just wasting time trying to make it more “perfect” than it really needs to be.

#11. Plan pauses between work streams

Having breaks between different activities is essential for keeping your brain fresh and for escaping the mental overload that is so pervasive today. When you’re planning the slots for different tasks, it makes sense to also schedule pauses for stretching and switching gears.

For example, if you have to work on legal contracts all morning, it’s good to plan a quarter or half an hour break before you dive into writing emails. This will give you a chance to do the mental jump, and will help you fight exhaustion. It’s up to you to find the best way to spend the pause. However, it’s best if it is not related to using any of your digital devices, so that you truly have some screen-free downtime.

#12. Find your work pace

Planning time slots for tasks and scheduling breaks between them is only the beginning. With time, you should go to the next level and discover the right work tempo that fits your personality.

You can achieve this by paying attention to the hours when you’re the most productive, as well as to the moments when your energy and concentration go down. It’s very useful to also consult your logged hours and check efficiency throughout the day. By analyzing the data and being aware of how you feel, you can discover what needs to be altered in your daily routine to maximize productivity and reduce stress.

#13. Set clear goals for work meetings

For many types of professionals, a big chunk of their daily working time goes into meetings. Whether you’re a freelancer, a small business owner, or a team leader, you’re probably facing the same situation. Because meetings are time-consuming (but important), you need to make sure that you are well-prepared for each one.

First of all, make sure that each meeting you agree to is truly necessary. Sometimes a call or a chat can serve the same purpose. Once you establish that the meeting is important, then you should prepare a clear agenda of what you expect to accomplish from it. Of course, you should also set a timeframe, so that you don’t end up spending half of your day in chit-chat.

#14. Learn to refuse work

Saying “no” is a healthy mechanism that we need in most areas of life. When it comes to work, however, it can be the approach that saves you from burnout. It’s worth trying, despite the fear of how the other party will react.

Whether it’s a new freelance gig or another task for your team project, you should know when to refuse. If you’re swamped with work and you can clearly see that extra tasks will be a heavy burden, your best bet is to be honest and straightforward with where your limits are.

#15. Don’t work on vacation and on weekends

That’s a strict rule that you should respect, whatever it costs you. The only work-related thing which is worth tackling on a weekend is planning. It may take you an hour, but it’ll pay off during the week.

Other than that, working while on a holiday or during other time which is dedicated to leisure is harmful. In fact, your performance will eventually suffer from this bad habit because you truly need some downtime away from work.

#16. Think about single items, not your whole task list

Here is another overarching strategy that will save you a ton of trouble: never zoom out on your whole (and super-long) task list when you are busy. It will only bring you stress. In moments like this, it’s very easy to start feeling like you can’t handle it all. But actually you can.

Instead, break tasks into smaller parts, and look at single items rather than the whole pile of work that’s waiting for you. Then you can adapt to the smaller tasks that need to get done right now, and handle them one by one, calmly and productively.

#17. Analyze your daily habits

When you’ve done your time audit and adjusted your work schedule accordingly, you can also take a step further in managing your time by analyzing your habits. It’s useful to take a close look at the rest of your activities beyond work.

For example, if you’re working from home and not from an office, you can take a look at how often you find distractions in household tasks, or jump to the fridge for snack breaks. In the case of office work, you can pay attention to your rituals, necessary and unneeded interactions with colleagues, and even eating habits. Once you have a good overview, you can figure out how you can eliminate excessive distractions, and bring in meaningful relationship-building with teammates and partners.

#18. Use the best time management apps

Even though applying all these good practices is quite a lot to take on, the good news is that you’re not alone. Today there are loads of time management apps that can be your faithful partners in crime in achieving effective organization and productivity.

There are multiple types of platforms that can help you streamline your workflow — calendars, task managers, and many more. The calendar is a good starting point for your planning, as you can visually arrange your tasks for the week and month. You can also make use of organizers and task managers, where you can input projects and tasks, add information for them, and set deadlines for completion. Naturally, having a time tracking app is highly recommended, as it will help you with your time audits and overall planning.

#19. Sneak exercise into your day

You already know that exercise is very important for your overall well-being. But what’s more, it turns out that regular physical activity also contributes to better time management.

How? Exercise helps you better cope with stress and feel more solid in your life. It’s proven and it works. The first step is to find, you guessed it, time for it in your schedule. The best approach is to have a couple of training sessions per week before or after your working hours. You can add stretching, meditation, or physical relaxation pauses throughout the day as well. If you’re just getting started, begin with small steps that you feel comfortable with, and expand gradually.

#20. Diversify your routine

Nobody likes feeling bored. If you feel stuck in your everyday routine, take a step back and figure out what can bring some freshness to it. The best solution, of course, is to take a vacation, but if that’s not possible, you can use some tricks.

You can work from home, if you’ve been in the office for too long. Try rearranging your working space as well. You can also start the day with exercise, or reorder the typical way in which you plan your working hours. The trick is to create physical and mental space for innovation and unconventional thinking.

#21. Change your landscape now and then

You won’t believe how much of a load you can take off your shoulders if you just switch to a different physical location. This counts both for working away from the office or your home desk as well as going on a proper vacation. Changing scenery is a preferred method for rekindling creativity for writers and artists, but it also works for all types of professionals.

When you get the first signs of anxiety, boredom and overload, hit the road. If you don’t have days off, or if a project can’t be abandoned right now, then just change the landscape. It can be your cottage, a day in the park, or a trip to the beach - any place that will give you a breath of fresh air.

Get started with your improved time management approach

Once you analyze and realize how you are spending your time, you can improve your organization habits to achieve more and reduce stress. With these useful tips, you can remodel your daily routine for the better. Learn how to avoid time management challenges here.

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