Time: it’s the one thing that everyone can’t quite seem to get enough of. How many times has each of us wished there were more hours in the day? How often do you look at the clock and wonder where the hours went?
Those who have successfully mastered the art of time management truly have something special. Luckily, there’s good news; with a few innovative strategies and techniques, you too can achieve time management.
So, how do we get you there? We’re going to take some time to run through some useful time management activities and exercises that can help you make the most of every 24 hours you have.
What is Time Management?
The dictionary defines time management as such: “The analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritization of tasks in order to maximize personal efficiency in the workplace.”
That’s a very accurate and helpful definition, but I wouldn’t call it completely comprehensive. Time management is vital in the workplace; it’s true. However, it is also effective within other areas of our life. You can use this skill to improve productivity throughout all of life’s ventures, big and small, professional and recreational.
Most people would define time management as the ability to effectively use your time to best support your to-do list.
Why is Time Management Important?
As we have already mentioned, time management allows you to make the most of the time you have. Rather than wasting time or spending inappropriate amounts of time on a small number of activities, time management strategies let you do more with less, maintaining a productive reputation and achieving a fulfilling lifestyle.
The main goal of time management is to work smarter rather than harder. Though you may not always have as much time as you’d like, time management lets you get things done regardless. Under tight deadlines and high levels of pressure, this skill certainly comes in handy.
There are several benefits that coincide with effective time management. The first and most obvious is one we have already alluded to: with time management, you are more productive and efficient, accomplishing more tasks in shorter amounts of time.
Additionally, time management often leads to a stronger professional and personal reputation. When you handle your time well, others tend to offer greater amounts of respect and hold you to higher standards. Nobody likes the office slacker, but someone who gets things done is someone who gets noticed – especially by their bosses.
The same goes for your personal life. It’s harder to rely on a friend who takes weeks to complete one task, but the friend who’s always on the move crossing things off her to-do list is the one everyone trusts when they need something.
We all know that anxious feeling that comes with a new, long to-do list on Monday morning. Time management experts don’t have to fear these lists because they have the skills it takes to get it all done without worrying that things will be left uncrossed come Friday afternoon.
Those of us who don’t manage time well are all too familiar with the feeling of stress. Time management reduces stress and the anxiety that often hangs around our head as we stare at that seemingly massive list.
And just as there are benefits to having great time management abilities, so there are negative impacts to brushing off this valuable skill.
One of the consequences that come with poor time management is missed deadlines. Whether you’re a key player in a team project or the soul manager of a client account, someone is relying on you to meet your deadline. Poor time management usually means you’ve run out of time, but there are still things that need to get done.
On the flip side, poor time management can mean that you’ve gotten everything done, but your work isn’t up to the standards it should be. This is just as bad, if not worse, than not getting your work done at all. “I didn’t have time” doesn’t usually pass as a good excuse for your boss, your friends, or your family who is relying on you.
At the end of the day, the worst time management will get you is a negative reputation. Those who can’t manage time well are not referred to as reliable or professional. People don’t trust these individuals with big projects, important responsibilities, or crucial tasks. In fact, many employers won’t even hire someone who cannot demonstrate good time management capabilities.
Add up the late assignments, the missed deadlines, the poor work reviews, and the bad reputation, and you end up with a heaping pile of stress. Of course, we all know that stress is bad for your health, both emotionally and physically.
When is Time Management Useful?
One of the ways you can work towards better managing your time is by identifying specific areas in your life where it will be helpful. It’s easy to say that time management can be used in all areas, but pointing them out by name can help spark interest and effort.
You may have heard that time management is really life management. I couldn’t agree more with that phrase, as effective time management can improve several aspects of your life.
The first area that pops into most people’s minds when they think of time management is at work. Time management is essential to achieving professional goals and escalating your career – as well as making your superiors happy. Workplace time management is essential.
The second area where you can implement time management is in your personal life. Too often, people find themselves stressed out because they are all work and no play. Good time management doesn’t mean you should constantly be working and only producing results in the office. A good manager of time knows when to quit working and make room for friends, family, and themselves.
That’s the sub-sector of personal life: you time. While you should use your time to catch up with friends and build relationships with your significant other, parents, siblings, and children, you also need to make sure you have carved out time for yourself.
Time to yourself is very healthy and highly recommended. Spending time alone and with yourself builds mental, boosts creativity, improves productivity, and helps you get to know yourself. More simply put, alone time lets you think in peace and quiet. Therefore, it’s necessary to plan your time well enough to include a little bit of “me time” every now and then to clear your mind and enjoy the luxury of doing nothing.
Finally, we can also section off productivity outside of work as an area to implement time management. What I mean by this is productive activities that you perform outside of the office. This can be things like volunteer work, chores around the house, financial planning, schoolwork, grocery shopping – anything you can think of that needs to be done.
Strong time management can help you finish the mountains of assignments you have for your college courses. It can also aid you in tackling your Saturday to-do list of household chores. Without the skills of planning and using your time wisely, you may find your chore list running into your weeknights and your grades dropping.
Poor time management of these kinds of things forces you to choose between activities based on their importance. It’s easy to fall into the habit of neglecting a small task because it doesn’t fit into your schedule. You had to put off raking the leaves in the yard one too many times, and now that task is going to take up a whole Saturday on its own.
As you can see, time management is a super important and useful skill to have in your repertoire. With that in mind, we can start to dive into specific activities and exercises to help you better coordinate the hours in your day.
Activities and Exercises
Below we are going to list a series of activities and exercises that can help you grow in your time management abilities and achieve all of the benefits that come with that growth.
Track Your Time
Sometimes the best way to start better planning your time is to figure out what you’re currently doing with it. It’s hard to make improvements in unexplored areas, so make an effort to identify your habits and strategize for your goals.
You can do this by quite literally writing down everything you do in a regular workday. Mark the number of times you get distracted and what distracted you. Record what you do first thing in the morning along with the last thing you do before you leave the office. Make a note of how much work you accomplished in a day.
Once you have accurately and honestly tracked how you spend your time, you can determine your personal areas of weakness and make a plan to improve upon those areas. The more detailed you are, the better you can plan.
Use SMART Goals
SMART goals are defined by the following:
SMART goals let you set goals that you can actually achieve, which is an important part of managing your time well. If your goals don’t align with this SMART model, you may realize too late that you’ve been wasting your time on something.
Prioritizing your work or to-do lists will help make sure you accomplish the most important things first. The most important tasks are often the most difficult as well, so prioritizing can also help by making your list easier as you go.
Urgency is key in prioritization. Let’s say you have a project due on Wednesday and another one due on Friday. If you spend all of your time on Monday and Tuesday working towards your Friday project, you leave yourself very little time to complete Wednesday’s project.
The logical and most beneficial thing to do here is to prioritize the project that has the closer due date. Doing so is an effective use of your time, allowing you to do the most and best work possible.
Learn to Say “No”
Though you may want to be the person who can do it all, it’s sometimes just not a possibility. It’s okay to say no here and there. Of course, you don’t always have that option in the workplace, but you can say no to plans with friends or dinner with the family.
You can also say no to volunteering on days you’re feeling a little strung out. And certainly, don’t feel bad saying no to a chore on a day when you’re just overwhelmed.
No one is going to punish you for needing a little breathing room. Saying yes all the time has its benefits for sure, but you’re not obligated to do everything and anything that comes your way.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Excellent planning is key for good time management. Details are great. Plan by the week, by the day, and sometimes every by the hour. Plan around the times you feel most productive and motivated.
For some, the first thing in the morning is their most productive time period. Others really kick things into gear after lunch. Still more people find that planning their day the night before as they are getting ready for bed is effective. Figure out what time is your time and start planning.
Say Goodbye to Distractions
By eliminating distractions, you can make better use of your time. Distractions pull you away from what you should be doing. They sneak up on you. One minute you pick up your phone to check a message, and suddenly you’re scrolling through Facebook and an hour has passed. That’s an hour you won’t get back.
It may seem like a good idea to have the TV on in the background while you’re doing some cleaning around the house, but you know that once you sit down to watch something that catches your eye, it will be a long time before you pick the vacuum up again.
Distractions come in many shapes and forms, but they all do the same thing: slow down your productivity and minimize the number of items you get to cross off of your list. By creating a distraction-free zone, you can get more done in a shorter amount of time.
Delegate if You Can
Delegating often has a negative connotation to it, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Many workaholics have the issue of doing too much, especially bosses. Don’t be afraid to give your subordinates a few things to do off of your to-do list. That’s why you have employees!
Also, delegating doesn’t have to exist only within the workplace. Are you a mom? Delegate your chore list to the kids! Even young kids are capable of completing small tasks, like dusting or picking up their toys. This doubles as a great learning and growing experience for your children as well.
Even if you aren’t in a position of some form of power or leadership, you should never feel afraid to ask for help every once in a while if you’re feeling overbooked and stressed. That’s what teams and co-workers are for.
Reach out to your office buddies or even your boss if you know that your workload is just too much. Everyone will appreciate the ability to plan for an extra task or too rather than learning it hasn’t been completed at the end of the week.
With every great thing in life comes the human’s ability to make a mistake to royally screw it up. Time management is no different. There are a host of common mistakes that individuals make to ruin completely – or at least, lessen – their chances of having good time management. Rather than avoiding them, let’s talk about them to make sure they don’t happen to you.
Procrastination is the number one negative trait that affects us all at some point or another. It’s the downfall of many people, successful and unsuccessful. Some people say that procrastinating works out because it forces them to get something done at the last minute.
But what way is that to live a productive life?
Procrastination literally uses up all of your time until you’re rushing and panicking and using every last second to meet your deadlines. Procrastination is the arch-nemesis of time management. Combating your procrastination habits by using motivation, good planning, and organization can truly enhance your time management capabilities.
Bad habits are meant to be broken, and procrastinating may be one of the worst ones out there.
Waking Up Late
I’m sure by now you have heard the phrase, “the early bird gets the worm!” at some point in your life. And I’m also sure that you probably wanted to slap whoever said it. However, if you haven’t discovered the truth in that statement yet, you might want to think about it a little more.
Because it’s true.
Waking up early gives you a huge advantage in terms of time. These days, with all of the work from home options and flex hours offered by employers to make our lives easier, it can become a bit of a luxury to sleep a little later rather than getting to the grind bright and early.
Those who choose to go into the office or open their laptop at 7 a.m. are doing it right. The ones who are waiting until 10 a.m. are heading in the wrong direction.
Waking up late is a surefire way to begin a downhill domino effect. Just as starting your day early with your most important tasks sets you up for daily success, so does starting your day late lead to a downward spiral that pushes all of your tasks back and ultimately misuses your time.
Failure to Prioritize
We mentioned the importance of prioritizing earlier. It can truly make sure a positive impact on your daily, weekly, even monthly schedules. It’s a great way to make your week get easier as it goes along and makes the most of your time.
So, it makes sense that failing to prioritize would have the opposite effect. Without prioritizing, you will likely find your schedule for the day is more of a scrambled list of random things you need to do. You may end up completing a series of small, fairly unimportant tasks, while the largest, most important tasks are left on Friday afternoon.
That’s not a very good use of your time, and you’ll regret not tackling those bigger things sooner. The best time manager uses their fully fueled tank early in the week to do the most important tasks, leaving the lesser ones for the end of the week.
Not Planning Ahead
The key to good time management is the ability to plan. Those with poor time management sorely lack in this area, and they quickly regret it every time. When you don’t plan ahead, it’s hard to keep your mind focused on the tasks at hand. You become distracted by your unorganized thoughts about everything else you need to get done or what you’re going to do on the weekend.
Not planning ahead also leaves you vulnerable to being unprepared for changes and unexpected events. Someone who doesn’t plan ahead is akin to the person who doesn’t save their documents regularly as their working and then feels the shattering feeling when their computer shuts down, and they lose it all.
Even planning ahead in your personal life is important. If you don’t plan out your weekend time, you may end up doing nothing with it at all. You’ll return to work on Monday with the nagging feeling that you missed the opportunity to do something fun, meaningful, or productive.
Lack of Goals
A lack of goals quickly leads to a lack of direction. When you don’t set goals, it becomes very difficult to prioritize your time and focus on what needs to get done – because there is no end goal in sight. Setting goals not only gets you organized, but it motivates you to do better and achieve more.
You should have a set of goals every day. On top of that, many people find it helpful to have weekly and sometimes even monthly goals. Keeping a list in front of you lets you see what needs to be done, and that helps you better organize your time towards achieving it.
Don’t make the mistake of avoiding goal setting. You will never find yourself moving forward, and you will never know when it’s time to take a break or congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Not Taking Breaks
Speaking of breaks – take one! A huge common misconception about time management is that taking breaks will slow you down. After all, when you’re on a break, you’re not being productive, right?
Not taking a break can lead to you feeling stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed – all of which will certainly affect not only your quality of work but the amount of work that you are able to accomplish. Your mind needs a few minutes here and there to slow down, clear out, and restart.
If you’re in the office, take a few minutes to walk to the water cooler or the coffee pot to get a drink. Step away from your work environment to clear your head. Your body and mind need rest to stay productive. Make sure you give yourself a break and don’t overdo it.
A big mistake to make is underestimating the amount of time that a task will take. Doing so can mess up any plans you may have made. You could have been super organized and laid everything out hour by hour, day by day, but if you haven’t properly anticipated the time needed for each item, then your plan will quickly fall apart.
Trying to Be Perfect
Perfection is a gift and a curse. On the one hand, a perfectionist always does good work. On the other hand, perfectionists can often take too long to accomplish a task, and they tend to stress themselves and sometimes others out in the process.
When you’re dealing with time management, being a perfectionist can be a big drawback. This quality leads you to never thinking anything is good enough. You can become so focused on perfecting every last detail that you go over deadlines and make your co-workers stay late and never feel comfortable moving to the next task.
While it’s good to put a focus on quality work, sometimes it’s best to remember that nothing in this world is perfect, and you don’t have to be either.
Who says time management has to be a difficult thing? With a few techniques, tricks, and changes, you can officially call yourself a good manager of time. Don’t be afraid to jump in full-force to transform your lifestyle.
Whether you’re craving productivity in your personal life, work-life, relationships, or mental health, time management can get you there.
Implement some of these activities and exercises to start seeing some productive change in all areas of your life.