No matter how you slice it, there are only 24 hours in a day. Time is a finite resource, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. If you lose money, you might get a chance to make it back; but a wasted hour is irreplaceable.
Have you ever found yourself wondering how some people seem to have enough time to do everything they want to, whereas others are always rushing from task to task and never seem to finish anything?
It seems that there is never enough time in the day. Since we all get the same 24 hours, why do some people achieve so much more with their time than others? The answer lies in good time management.
Those who achieve the best results out of their job are the ones who manage their time exceptionally well. Using the time-management techniques, you can improve your ability to function more effectively – even when time is tight, and pressures are high.
Good time management requires an important shift in focus from activities to results: being busy isn’t the same as being effective. (Ironically, the opposite is often closer to the truth).
Spending your day in a frenzy of activity often achieves less because you’re dividing your attention between so many different tasks. Good time management lets you work smarter – not harder – so you get more done in less time.
What Is Time Management?
Time management is the ability to use your time productively and efficiently. You could also think of it as the art of having time to do everything that you need, without feeling stressed about it. Time management refers to the way that you organize and plan how long you spend on specific activities. While in theory, it sounds simple, it is much harder in practice.
Employees who manage their time well are more productive, more efficient, and more likely to meet deadlines. They focus on the most critical and time-sensitive tasks and limit the amount of time wasted on non-essential duties.
The importance of time management
Time management skills are essential because few, if any, of us ever have enough time to do everything that is asked of us or that we want to do. People who are good at time management are good at getting on and doing things. However, they are better at prioritizing, working out what needs doing and then discarding the other things.
They can do this because they understand the difference between urgent and important:
- ‘Urgent’ tasks demand your immediate attention, but whether you give them that attention may or may not matter.
- ‘Important’ tasks matter, and not doing them may have severe consequences for you or others.
This distinction between urgent and important is the key to prioritizing your time and workload, whether at work or home.
It enables you to work out what to do first and what can be left either until later or not done at all. For example, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix. This system facilitates the separation of all your activities into four priority levels. You will quickly see which ones to drop (Not Important/Not Urgent), so really, it’s only three categories of attention-worthy tasks to focus on (see the picture below).
The Eisenhower Matrix’s basic idea is that there are different levels of urgency and importance for all things we “need” to get done in a day. Some of them don’t need to be done at all or can be handled by someone else.
Remember! The urgency and/ or importance of a task is not absolute; only you can decide what is important and urgent. Also, urgency and/or importance are not a fixed status: you should regularly review and update your task list.
Why are management skills so essential?
Probably you are asking this question yourself right now. The answer is simple, and it lies in the definition of “skill”: an ability to do an activity or job well, mainly because you have practiced it.
Without proper time management skills, you cannot simply organize your time (even less as a manager) and structure your work in a way that allows you to accomplish your goals and observe your deadlines. Managing your time well enables you to be creative and proactive with your goals. When you have a specific time set aside to complete your tasks, you can also allow for time to look at the big picture for yourself and your company.
Get a handle on why managing your time effectively is important and what you gain from it by reviewing these eight reasons why time management is crucial:
- Time is limited. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you do, the day has only 24 hours. That applies to you and to your colleague who seems to do half of what you do. Twenty-four hours are also available for the former coworker who consistently accomplishes more than you and was promoted as a result. If you want to succeed, you have to acknowledge the importance of managing this limited resource.
- Accomplish more with less effort. When you take control of your time, you improve your ability to focus, and with increased focus comes enhanced efficiency, and you will cruise through tasks more smoothly and quickly.
- Improved decision-making ability. When you feel pressed for time and have to make a decision, you’re more likely to jump to conclusions without fully considering every option. Through effective time management, you can eliminate the pressure of not having enough time, and you will feel calmer and in control. When the time comes to examine options and make a decision, instead of rushing through the process, you can take time to carefully consider each choice, thus diminishing your chances of making the wrong decision.
- Become more successful in your career. Time management allows you to take control of your life. As you accomplish more each day, make more sound decisions, and feel more in control, people notice. Leaders in your business will come to you when they need to get things done. And that increased exposure helps put you in line for advancement opportunities.
- Learning opportunities are everywhere. The more you learn, the more valuable you are to your employer. And great learning opportunities are everywhere around you if you’ve got time to stop and take advantage of them. When you work more efficiently, you have that time.
- Reduce stress. When you don’t have control of your time, it’s easy to end up feeling overwhelmed. Once you learn how to manage your time, you no longer subject yourself to that level of stress. Besides it being better for your health, you have a clearer picture of your time demands.
- Free time is necessary. Everyone needs time to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t get enough of it. Having good time management skills helps you find that time. When you’re busy, you’re getting more done. You accumulate extra time throughout your day that you can use later to relax, unwind, and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
- Self-discipline is valuable. When you practice good time management, you leave no room for procrastination. The better you get at it, the more self-discipline you learn. Self-discipline is a valuable skill that will begin to impact other areas of your life where a lack of discipline has kept you from achieving a goal.
10 most common time management problems & solutions
Up to this point, you’ve learned that efficient time management enables you to work smarter, not harder, so that you get more done in less time. It also helps you balance your life by reducing, if not eliminating, stress and useless pressure.
Next, in this article, you will find out more about ten time management mistakes we all made and even more pieces of tips we’ve all learned from. Save this list and get back to it whenever you feel your days are shorter 🙂
- Being perfectionist
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, perfectionists strive to produce high-quality work as well as show more discipline, engagement, and motivation. However, their high and inflexible standards and all-or-nothing mindset often cause stress, burnout, and anxiety that impair their performance.
Time management tips:
- Get comfortable with imperfection. Diligence is a good trait, but sometimes it may take more of your time and effort than required. Attention to detail is also a great one, but it can be very time-consuming.
- Reflect on your progress regularly. Review your performance on a weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly basis. Try being less worried about some of the tasks with little or no damage to the outcome.
- Take some pressure off yourself. If you want to accomplish more in less time, allow yourself to be less perfect and concentrate and what’s important.
- Ask for perspective and support. Show your work to your manager or supervisor regularly to learn if you are doing good and the current quality of work is sufficient; be ready to take criticism.
- Not being able to concentrate
Most of us at least once experienced this state when we read a paragraph of text over and over and can’t get a grip on what it says. Or you need to write an article or prepare a report, but your mind is wandering and unable to concentrate. Here are a couple of ideas on how you can get back on track
Tips for focusing:
- Know your enemy. Identify workplace distractions that interfere with your ability to focus and be productive. Take a short assessment test by Harvard Business Review, learn which distractions damage your concentration most, and get some tips on eliminating them.
- Take better care of your health. Sleep deprivation can disrupt concentration, memory, and attention. Regular workout improves concentration and attention. Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer multiple benefits, including enhanced concentration.
- Use your peak performance time. Identify the most productive parts of the day and use them to perform the most demanding tasks. Don’t use peak time to process emails or make phone calls and use it wisely.
- Take breaks. They help you refresh your mind, replenish mental resources, restore motivation, and reduce decision fatigue. Spending time in nature alleviates fatigue. Even 10 minutes of exercise improves attention and performance.
- Set daily goals. Our brains like short-term goals due to physiological reasons. When we succeed at something, our brain releases dopamine, making us feel more concentrated and inspired to experience this sense of accomplishment once again.
- Practice single-tasking. Multitasking has many adverse effects on your concentration and performance: it slows down your progress, makes you prone to making mistakes, and stresses you out. Instead, focus on one task at a time. For even more concentration and focus, start a timer – it will give you the mental commitment to start working on the task.
- Limit your Internet and social media time. In his article, Nicholas Carr highlights a dangerous tendency that most of us probably noticed but didn’t pay much attention to social media, and search engines narrow our attention span and our ability to focus.
- Ineffective scheduling
You can’t manage your time and focus if you prioritize the wrong things and invest time into tasks that return little or no goal-related results. Here are a few tips on how you can distribute your workload effectively:
- Consider the Ivy Lee method. At the end of the day, write down the six most important tasks for tomorrow and prioritize them. The next day, start working on the most important ones.
- Avoid the mere urgency effect. Humans are wired to choose urgent tasks with objectively lower payoffs over important tasks with more significant and long-term consequences. Prioritize tasks that are both urgent and important (see the Eisenhower Matrix above). Next, choose important tasks over the urgent ones, which are ineffective in most cases.
- Eat the frog. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Do the most important or challenging task – the one you are most likely to procrastinate on and probably the one that can have the most significant positive impact on your life or project.
- Lack of Vision
There’s no need to master your time management skills if you don’t have a clear vision of where you are heading. Without a vision, you have little chance to create the results you want and feel joy and excitement to keep ongoing.
Time management tips:
- Get a bird’s eye view. Think of how your tasks contribute to your personal or corporate goals. Maintain your focus on the result – it will bring you inspiration and energy to keep going. Adjust your vision, but never lose sight of it.
- Create a backup plan. There’s always a possibility that things won’t unfold as expected. Think about best-case and worst-case scenarios, prepare the “Plan B” and “Plan C” to manage risks and problems with grace.
5. Not Tracking Time
You can’t improve your time management skills and approaches if you don’t keep track of your time. Time tracking sounds like a tedious task, but once you implement it into your routine, it will reveal unexpected trends and insights. When you analyze how many hours phone calls, emails, and distractions take, you can develop a more strategic approach to your time.
Time management tips:
- Consider time tracking software. Choose the one that meets your needs and doesn’t overwhelm you with a complicated interface and unnecessary features.
- Review your performance regularly. Use Excel sheets, Google Sheets, timesheet apps, or time trackers with project management features to record time against the tasks and use your time logs to build reports.
6. Not Being Ready to Cope With Stress
Stress management and time management often go hand in hand. If you wait until the last minute to complete your task at hand, fail to plan and prioritize, you will more likely feel stressed. Not all stress is bad, but persistent exposure to stress can put your health and performance at risk. Time management tips:
- Identify your stressors and develop healthy responses. Practice journaling for a few weeks to record your stressors, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Review your notes to find patterns and look into ways to avoid or cope with stress: choose to exercise, yoga, meditations, hobbies, favorite activities, quality sleep.
- Set boundaries. Whether you work from home or the office, stick to your working hours and leave work at work. Avoid thinking about work and answering emails, mute corporate chats, and other work-related notifications on your smartphone at the end of your workday.
7. Doing Everything On Your Own
It doesn’t matter if you are an employee, a business owner, or a self-employed person, you can’t do everything independently. We all have 24 hours in a day and limited energy capacities as human beings. So if we push ourselves too hard, we are more likely to become stressed, less effective, and deliver low-quality results.
Time management tips:
- Outsource. If you are a business owner or a self-employed person, consider outsourcing a part of your efforts. Weigh the opportunity costs, and you may find out that your time and energy are more crucial for your success than your money.
- Automate your routines. Let’s say you are an HR manager, and you need to keep an eye on your employees’ working hours, time offs, reports and vacations. There are time tracking software that can do most of this work for you, so, again, consider the opportunity costs, and, most likely, you’ll make a choice towards its purchase. Automated routines will save weeks of your time in the long run.
- Delegate. Consider delegating some tasks to one of your most reliable and detail-oriented team members. This way, they’ll learn some new skills and will be able to back you up in the future, while you will have more time on tasks that require your direct involvement.
8. Not Breaking Down Big Projects
Big projects look overwhelming and often lead to stress and procrastination. When you break them down into small digestible parts, individual tasks seem more approachable and doable. After you finish a small task, you will feel accomplished and motivated; your progress becomes more visible, you’ll feel more productive and efficient.
Time management tips:
- Break it down. Whenever you start a new task, break it down into steps that you can complete in 20-30 minutes, even if they look trivial.
- Develop a logical sequence. The easiest tasks may seem more attractive, but you should better complete them in order, one by one, which will bring you closer to your project’s goal.
- Review your progress regularly. When working on a big assignment, you may not always feel the progress. Try the solutions from the Checklist Manifesto book – break your tasks into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step checklist.
9. Not Conserving Your Brain Power
According to Nelson Cowan (Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri), our average working memory capacity is limited to three to five items. Anything that exceeds these limits has a high chance of falling out of our brains. Knowing the limit of your brainpower is essential to keep our brain uncluttered to have more space, energy, and focus on accomplishing the tasks at hand.
Time management tips:
- Use external storage for anything you aren’t focused on right now. Use organizers, notes, tasks apps, and software to unload your mind and return to these tasks when needed.
- Use collaboration software. Implement a collaboration environment to take off ideas from your mind, ask your team to brainstorm more ideas, or provide feedback. This way, you’ll set your future tasks in motion in background mode and will be able to get back to them later.
- Simplify everyday choices. It is believed that Albert Einstein had seven identical suits for each day of the week not to waste his brainpower on mundane tasks. Most likely, Steve Jobs preferred to wear black turtlenecks for the same reason. Reduce the number of everyday choices not to waste your energy on trivial decisions.
10. Being Unmotivated
Motivation comes from the intention to work toward a goal. But every person’s motivation is triggered distinctively. Let’s see what else can fuel you with motivation.
Time management tips:
- Review plans. Think about how your current work can help you in the future. Even if you aren’t excited about your current project, a long-term perspective may give you enough motivation to keep on going and manage your time better.
- Trick your brain. Whenever we accomplish a task, our brains release dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning, and motivation. Break your tasks down into small goals to keep yourself motivated during long-term projects.
Before wrapping up this article, let’s review the most important time management skills that will allow you to evolve professionally and personally.
- Goal setting
The most fundamental of time management skills is the ability to use your time to serve your goals. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to set your goals in general areas like money. Money is good, no doubt about it, but it is only a result of achieving your goals. It is not money that makes you happy; it is what you can do with them. When establishing your goals, look inside yourself.
As strange as it may sound, prioritization should not begin focusing on getting more work done but with the urge to avoid/ eliminating unnecessary tasks. Once you are done with this, you can switch your focus on completing the most valuable work. Prioritization is one of the most misunderstood and misused time management skills, but your time management will improve rapidly when you get it right.
This skill allows you to foresee all of the tasks needed to complete a project and save time. Planning is one of the time management skills that come naturally to us; that is why it is quick and easy when it’s done right. Unfortunately, we lost our natural path, and we have been educated to overcomplicate things.
- Decision making
Decision-making is one of those time management skills which if you are not good at, you will see the negative impacts in every aspect of your life. If your decisions only affected you, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But they don’t, which means that every decision you take has consequences both for you and others.
- Delegation/ Outsourcing
If a task is more suited to somebody else’s skill set, you should consider delegating as others will delegate work to you. You want to ensure that all the important work gets completed, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to complete it. It is an extremely important skill to know when you are not the right person to perform a task.
Time management skills are essential if you want to get the best results possible from your life. As you improve and furbish these skills, you will find out that you will get more valuable work completed in less time. It is not about increasing the quantity of work; it ensures that you fulfill your most important tasks, enabling you to achieve your goals quicker and with little to no stress.
There are many different time management skills, and the above list is by no means exhaustive. If you take one time management skill at a time and work to improve it, you will notice the wave effect on your entire performance. Stop wasting your time; pick one of these skills today and start your journey towards a better you.