Creating effective time management strategies is all about prioritizing the most important tasks and accomplishing them in less time, while maintaining a high quality bar. Sound hard? Don’t worry, we have you covered with 8 tips on how to get there. And, these skills will help you advance in your career, deliver your projects successfully, and create more personal time.
Developing these skills is similar to starting a new workout routine. It might be tough when you get started to stay motivated, create new habits, and flex muscles you’ve never used. But, just like with exercise, you’ll look back at your progress months later and be glad you stuck with it.
The better you get at maintaining focus and managing your priorities, the more you will achieve. We all want to leave the office on time and have energy for our personal lives. Many people may equate time management skills with your work life, but the benefits are even greater for your personal life. When there’s more time for your family, friends, and hobbies, trust me – your work will improve too.
Does this sound appealing? Then follow these eight essential time management strategies to turn even the biggest procrastinator into a Smart Planner.
1. Start your day with a healthy morning routine
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Is it to scan social media or read the news? Psychologists recommend avoiding your phone as scientific studies show that this habit can put you on a negative trajectory for the rest of the day. If you start off your day with a positive and productive mindset, then you’re more likely to continue on to have a successful day.
“Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later.”1
Having an intentional approach to the start of your day can lead to more productivity, says Engle, a licensed clinical psychologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Instead of reaching for your phone, set your day off right by replacing these time wasting habits with more productive ones.
In his book Make Your Bed, Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven suggests the simple act of making your bed each morning can change your life. If you are seeking that intentional way to start each morning, this is an excellent option to consider.
2. Create a to-do list
This to-do list should include not only the work tasks that need to be accomplished but also your personal tasks. A healthy balance of work and personal accomplishments will leave you feeling more fulfilled at the end of a long day.
Remember to capture the tasks and activities you must work on today and mark them as the top priorities. It is too easy to fill your day with odds and ends that you can quickly accomplish, putting the most crucial work at risk of not getting done. Next, list the secondary tasks that you would like to accomplish and finally a list of ‘stretch goals’. It’s important to separate out these tasks into these three buckets so you can help yourself prioritize more quickly and easily.
As your day progresses, be sure to check the list and update it regularly. Add new items as soon as they are known so you remember them and prioritize them accordingly. This last point is important as completing lists of unimportant tasks may feel good initially, but will not advance work or personal goals meaningfully. Which leads us to the next key item, understanding the #1 priority.
3. Start with the highest-value task
Before you start working on your tasks, identify the task or project that has the greatest impact and accomplish that first. Sometimes it may seem easier to start the day with lower value tasks like checking emails or analyzing reports. Those are both very important parts of your job, but how much value do they actually create? Instead, start with work that creates the most value for your team or project.
While potentially more challenging, many of us are more productive early in the day. Applying your full attention to advance important work in the first half of the day will also create momentum that carries through the balance of your day. Don’t be afraid to put calendar blocks to carve out time for this, your team will thank you in the long run!
Not sure what to focus on first? Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the most time sensitive project you’re working on?
- What is the biggest contribution I can make to my team and company right now?
- What task will cause other people chaos if it doesn’t get done today?
- Which strategic tasks will help me work smarter tomorrow?
4. Minimize distractions
Even minor distractions accumulate and negatively impact our productivity. It’s critical to create pockets of focus time to make sure you accomplish your most important tasks. Remember your list of must-do’s? Carving out time to accomplish these will allow you to be more effective in the long run.
Identify the things that tend to disrupt your productivity, and minimize them. This is one of the most critical time management strategies to master.
For example, avoid checking emails, answering Slack messages, and answering the phone when you’re in the middle of something important. You can do this by silencing your phone and computer notifications until your task is completed. Once you have broken your focused work flow, it can be difficult to reestablish it quickly.
Instead, discipline yourself to work on a task single-mindedly until it’s complete. This should mitigate wasted time in your day.
5. Understand why you procrastinate
If you have difficulties staying focused or tend to procrastinate, try to understand why that’s happening. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are specific types of tasks more prone to procrastination?
- Are you avoiding work that you don’t like to do?
- Are you avoiding more difficult tasks?
- Do you have work that is outside of your skillset?
- Do you tend to be less productive during a certain time of day?
- Are external factors affecting your concentration?
Once you identify the problem, then you can create a plan to stop procrastination in its tracks. For example, carve out time and schedule tougher tasks during the part of the day you are most focused and productive. Or if you’re avoiding tasks that you don’t like, allow yourself small rewards once you’ve completed them. If you have work that is better suited for someone else, work on getting it in the hands of the right owner.
6. Stop multitasking
Many of us multitask and believe we’re more effective when we do so. But studies show that we can’t effectively focus on more than one thing at a time. Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says ‘today’s non stop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves”.
In order to stop multitasking, try these tips:
- Set a timer for yourself to focus on one task for 15 minutes. After that, you can take a break to check email or respond to messages. Planning your day in blocks helps you create this habit in short spurts of time.
- Whenever you find yourself multitasking, stop and reassess what’s more important to do at this moment. And shift your focus back to that most important task.
- Organize your work area to minimize distractions. When we see a mess of papers, it can take our attention away from the task at hand. You may not realize you’re doing this at first, so just set aside some time at the end of each day to organize the clutter.
7. Reduce meetings
Everyone has been in a meeting that they realize after the fact either should have been an email or was unnecessary for them to attend. Meetings can be a great way to connect with your team to be sure everyone is working on the right priorities, but they can also be a giant waste of your time.
Instead of attending those status update meetings, try a project management tool like LiquidPlanner. Team members can update their tasks in real-time so you know where a project stands without discussing it. Consider how many meetings you have on a regular basis that can be completely eliminated with this technology. Wouldn’t you love to have those extra hours each day again?
8. End your day with housekeeping
Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of your day reviewing your list of tasks. This can give you a jump start on your day tomorrow so you can hit the ground running. Now you’ll know exactly what the #1 priority is that you’ll need to tackle when you get into the office (virtual or otherwise).
If there are other tasks that aren’t on your list yet, make sure you write them down before you leave the office. Capturing these items while they’re fresh in your mind will increase your productivity for your future self and setting time to address them later will free your focus for more immediate work.
Are there any emails you forgot to respond to? Flag them for follow up or accomplish them quickly so they aren’t hanging over your head. Is your desk cluttered with paperwork? Organize it quickly before you leave for the day.
Just as it’s important to start your day off right, it’s important to end it in a healthy way too. Take the time to collect your thoughts and get a jump start on that to-do list for tomorrow.
Key time management strategy takeaways
Remember to be patient with yourself as you learn to incorporate these time management strategies into your routine. Creating new habits is difficult, give yourself the time to embed those habits into your daily routines. Remind yourself:
- You’re not more productive when you multitask
- The importance of starting your morning with a good routine and ending your day with one too
- Take the time to understand why you procrastinate on certain tasks to solve the root cause of lost productivity
- Always create your task list in priority order
With consistent and concerted effort, and you’ll find your days and projects running much more smoothly!
About the Author
Missy Day has over ten years of experience developing and executing marketing strategies for various industries. She runs and operates her marketing consulting firm and various other small business ventures. She also specializes in burnout management and prevention for other corporate professionals.