If you take the time to learn this set of time management skills – I promise you: You’ll be more productive, you’ll achieve more, and you’ll have far more time to spend doing what you love with your family and friends!
1. Begin With Yourself
Let’s start with a hard truth: you can’t manage time; you can only manage yourself.
We all have the same amount of time in a day; it’s how we manage ourselves in that time that produces the best results.
Time management requires:
When you master these skills, you’ll be able to prioritize and complete the most important tasks in your personal life and work. Your workload will be manageable, and you’ll feel better in yourself.
2. Use Advance Planning To Achieve Your Goals
Planning in advance is an essential time management skill.
- Plan every week in advance – spend some quiet time over the weekend to map out your week ahead. Plan your work around known deadlines leaving some ‘slack’ time for emergencies.
- Plan every day in advance – each evening before you pack up for the day take a few minutes to reflect on your achievements and prioritize your tasks for tomorrow.
When you plan in advance, you get a clear picture in your head, as well as a task list. Keeping that vision helps you focus on achieving your tasks. And you’ll also find that your subconscious mind works on those upcoming tasks in the background providing ideas and insights when you tackle them.
And you’ll also find that your subconscious mind works on those upcoming tasks in the background providing ideas and insights when you tackle them.
3. Schedule Tasks
It’s important for you to find your natural rhythm. You’ll know when you’re most productive. For some people, it’s the morning. For others, it’s the afternoon or even late at night.
Once you know your best time of day, then schedule your tasks accordingly. If you’re a morning person, schedule your most important tasks first thing. Likewise, if you’re least productive in the afternoon, then schedule less important tasks like checking email.
Remember you don’t find time for important things; you make time for important things best by scheduling.
4. Focus on One Task at a Time
Learn to focus on one thing at a time.
It’s so easy to think you’re doing more when you’re jumping from one task to another. But, in fact, it’s the opposite.
According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, switching tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time
It’s not just time you’re wasting when you multitask. The quality of your work drops, too.
Gary Keller explains why it’s so important to focus on one thing at a time and shares some examples of what happens when you get interrupted.
5. Track Your Time
Have you ever used a time-tracking tool?
Most of us think we know how much time we spend on particular tasks. But in reality, we fool ourselves.
Try tracking your time to build up an accurate report of what you actually spend your time on – you’ll be surprised.
It’s important to spend the right proportion of your time on the most important tasks.
For example, if you’re an accountant and your report shows that you’re spending 3 hours a day on emails, then something is wrong. (In fact, unless you’re a PA, anyone spending 3 hours a day on emails is wasting time.)
6. Set Realistic Time-Frames for Different Tasks
When you know how you’re spending your time, you can evaluate your results and plan changes.
To use our example, an accountant should be devoting his time to accounts – checking ledgers and balance sheets, preparing reports, paying invoices, etc.
Of course, there will be some admin time required for emails, but probably one hour maximum, not 3 hours.
If you don’t make regular checks on your time, it’s easy to slip into bad habits. Set yourself realistic goals of how much time you’ll allocate to specific tasks each day.
7. Start Your Day Early
If you want to increase your productivity, try starting your day early.
That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to start work first thing in the morning. Instead, develop the habit of getting up early, so you have some quiet time to think and plan, instead of rushing around like a lunatic.
Some people use the extra hours to reduce their emails and achieve zero inbox before the day starts. Others prefer to meditate or exercise.
Filipe Matos set himself a goal to wake up at 4:30 AM every day for 21 days. Writing about his challenge he said:
“I’ve known for a long time that I am a morning person, and so the goal was to increase my morning time to see if it would increase my productivity.”
8. Complete Your Most Important Task First
Like Filipe, there are plenty of stories of successful people and the benefits of waking up early.
Glen Allsopp had a clear goal when he started his 30-day challenge to get up at 5:00 AM – to complete his most important task of the day first.
“I want to wake up earlier as I get more done in the early hours of each day. It’s imperative that I spend these hours focusing on the most important task I should be doing to achieve my goals.”
Even when you wake early, it’s easy to put off getting your important task completed. But that would be a waste of time. Nail your important task and feel energized for the rest of the day.
9. Organizational Skills
Some of us are more organized than others. That’s just the way we are as individuals.
But there are a few basic things you can do to stop wasting time. For instance, you can develop a good filing system for your computer.
Any successful secretary or PA has a good filing system, for both electronic files and paper files.
They know exactly where each file is stored because they’ve created a logical system, usually in a hierarchy of folders and files.
Dumping files on your desktop or scattering them in a mix-mash of bizarrely-named folders won’t work. Create a system that is both easy to save to and retrieve from.
Did you know: The average office employee spends 1.5 hours a day (6 weeks per year) looking for things.
Get organized – save time looking for misplaced items.
10. Travel Productivity
An important area where organizational skills are essential is travel. When you travel by air or sea or rail, you have time on your hands that you can use for offline work tasks.
As Brian Tracy recollects:
Some years ago, Hughes AirWest, a regional airline that once served the western U.S., hired a consulting firm to compare the efficiency of flying first-class with working in a traditional office.
They discovered that one hour of uninterrupted work time in an airplane yielded the equivalent of three hours of work in a typical work environment.
The keyword is ‘‘uninterrupted.’’ This relates to an earlier point. You can achieve more when you don’t get interrupted.
So, next time you’re going to be traveling, plan ahead and organize your work. You’ll increase your productivity by accomplishing those uninterrupted tasks.
11. Set Some Boundaries
When you’ve prioritized your tasks, and you’re focusing on the most important thing right now, you feel good.
And then it happens.
- A colleague pops round to your desk to ask you a question.
- The phone bleeps.
- Your doorbell chimes.
There’s nothing worse than an interruption.
The best way to combat unwanted distractions is to set some boundaries. Try these:
- If your office cubicle or workstation is too noisy, then book a meeting room for a few hours.
- You can make time in your calendar for collaboration and discussion later.
- If your phone is constantly ringing, then switch it off.
- You can answer voicemails later when you are working on less productive tasks.
- If you’re working from home, try putting a ‘Do Not Disturb’ notice on your door.
- You can talk to family when you have a break
12. Boost your productivity with physical activity
Previously we talked about the benefits of getting up earlier and completing your most important task first.
The most important thing varies for individuals.
Richard Branson prefers to exercise first when he gets up early.
When asked what makes him “come most alive,” Branson remarked:
“Being fit and healthy. There’s nothing like the endorphins from being fit, and the incredible endorphin rush that goes with that.”
Research confirms this. When we exercise, our brains produce chemicals that make us feel good. And when we feel good our energy levels rise, too, leading to improved concentration and productivity.
Try starting your mornings off with some form of exercise. It doesn’t have to be overly aggressive. While Branson may prefer kitesurfing or playing tennis, you may prefer yoga or walking.
You could also try partnering with a ‘Workout Buddy.’ Exercising with a friend helps you stay motivated and accountable.
Whatever physical activity you choose, you’ll find that exercising clears your mind and helps you focus on your work.
13. Eat and Drink Healthily
Nutrition and hydration play an important part in maintaining your energy levels.
Eating the correct types of food and the right quantities of food are equally important.
If you eat too much food, then your body has to work harder to digest it, and as a consequence, your energy levels drop. And then you become less productive.
Certain foods are proven to boost your energy levels (without expanding your waistline).
You might be tempted to grab a quick fix of chocolate, but it will only give you a quick boost in energy.
It’s better to eat foods like turkey, spinach, and banana. These can help with the production of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness.
And remember to keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Not coffee. Water.
Scientific research shows that even mild dehydration can have a major effect on energy levels and brain function. Aim to drink about 2 liters of water a day.
14. Delegate When Possible
Sometimes it’s not possible to do every task yourself. Perhaps because you’re not the right skilled person to complete the task or you don’t have enough time in your schedule.
If this is the case, then consider delegating work to your team or colleagues. Or if you’re a freelancer then consider hiring a virtual assistant.
Remember what David Allen says:
“Only do what only you can do.”
15. Allow for Intentional Breaks
When you plan your schedule for the week or the day, always allow for some breaks and unforeseen distractions.
You just have to accept that you will get interrupted from time to time, or unexpected events or meetings will crop up.
Nobody should work hours on end without a break anyway. It’s unproductive. So add in your breaks for drinks and lunch and exercise.
Taking a walk at lunchtime is excellent for clearing your mind ready for your afternoon tasks.
You can also use your breaks to try some stress management techniques, like mindfulness breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
16. Slow down and breathe
Sometimes in our haste to accomplish as much as possible we forget to slow down and breathe deeply.
Managing your time involves pacing yourself correctly. There’s no point rushing from one task to another. It’s better to take your time and focus on one thing at a time.
Try practicing mindfulness to help you focus on your breathing.
17. Practice Self-Control
Social media is one of the biggest distractions that can interfere with your daily routine.
You know the scenario:
I’ll just check Facebook to see if there are any updates from the weekend.
I’ll just check Twitter for any mentions.
And before long, your 2-minute check turns into a 20-minute session. Time wasted on trivial stuff.
You need to master self-control so that you can restrain yourself from becoming engrossed in social media and other time-wasting activities.
18. Know Your Limits
Should you really be working 12 hours a day?
Most people would struggle to do this for a prolonged period. You might be able to do it occasionally when a deadline is looming. But on the whole, you should be aiming for less.
What’s important is to know your limits. Different people will have different concentration spans.
Take a look at these various work rest recommendations:
- work for 25 minutes and then rest for 5 minutes
- work for 50 minutes and then rest for 10 minutes
- work for 52 minutes and then rest for 17 minutes
- work for 80 minutes and then rest for 6 minutes
- work for 90 minutes and then rest for 20 minutes
Working non-stop is not good for your health or your productivity. Find the best work/rest ratio for you.
19. Work more when you’re in the zone. Relax when you’re not.
It’s a fact. No matter how good our intentions are, some days our bodies just say no.
One day you can be in the zone, completing task after task. The next you’re as flat as a pancake.
I’ve tried to push myself on those bad days, and the results are not good. The next day I end up having to redo some of the work again because I made such a mess.
If your job allows it, then learn to go with the flow. Take an extended break on the bad days. And come back firing on all cylinders the next day.
It’s far more productive.
20. Set time limits
When you plan your schedule, try setting shorter deadlines for tasks. It’s all too easy to drift for hours deliberating over a powerpoint slide.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
When you set yourself a limited time to complete a task, you’ll find that you’re more focused and productive.
Try running a countdown timer to create more urgency.
Work smarter, not longer.
5 Things To Avoid
1. Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination is one of the most devastating things that can affect your productivity. It’s almost like a silent killer, creeping up before overwhelming you.
When procrastination strikes, it saps your time and energy.
Learn to recognize when you’re procrastinating and put some escape mechanism in place to get back on track. For example, you could try the “Eat That Frog” method by Brian Tracy.
Tackle your most troublesome task first to relieve the pressure and enjoy the rest of the day.
2. Avoid Stress
Stress often occurs when we accept more work than we can handle, either through a lack of ability or time.
When we feel overwhelmed with all the tasks in front of us, our body has a physical reaction that leaves us feeling tired, and consequently our productivity drops.
When facing a mountain of tasks, you have start delegating either to team members or virtual assistants.
Take the time to plan your schedule first so you know exactly what tasks you can handle for the day or week.
Remember to start with the most important tasks. Anything else should be delegated leaving you time for relaxation.
3. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking doesn’t work. It’s a myth.
In fact, multitasking decreases productivity rather than increasing it.
Scientific studies have proved that our brain works best when it focuses on one thing at a time.
When you try to do more than one thing at a time, your brain gets confused as it tries to split its processing power.
So avoid multitasking.
4. Avoid Perfectionism
Perfectionism is not unlike procrastination.
Sometimes we strive to achieve perfection instead of just getting a first iteration produced.
Entrepreneur Shane Melaugh recommends creating a Minimum Viable Product rather than a Perfect Product.
He claims that it’s much better to get a MVP to the market rather than trying to develop your product.
Because in reality, it will never be perfect – there will always be something that needs tweaking.
You can apply the MVP principle to other areas of your work; e.g. producing powerpoint presentations, providing business reports, creating websites, etc.
Avoid striving for perfection.
5. Avoid Time Thieves
Always be on your guard against time-thieves.
A time-thief is something that distracts you and consumes your time.
We live in a world of technological advancement surrounded by the latest gadgets and gizmos. They look appealing, but are they really going to help you? Or are they more likely to distract you?
You need to be careful not to be tempted by the wrong technology. Learn to evaluate what resources will help rather than hinder your productivity.
As you become more successful as an entrepreneur the demands on your time will increase.
You need to remember our first lesson and manage yourself so that you remain in control.
Don’t be tempted to deviate from the proven skills and strategies that you’ve learned and put into practice.