Everyone seems to have trouble with time management. That’s why we all wish that we had more hours in a day. The strategies that we describe below can help you get a handle on your time so that you can finally feel more organized.
Time Management Strategies to Help You Complete Any Task
Time management strategies help you be more productive, feel more organized and work efficiently. You can use these techniques in any order. Perhaps you already do some of them. Incorporate more of them into your life, and then move on to the next section, which explains how to schedule your day to take advantage of your natural energy flow.
Understand How You Spend Your Time
You can’t change anything that you’re not aware of. You say that you want more time in your day, but do you know precisely how you’re spending the hours that you already have? Most people don’t.
You might think that it takes you 5 minutes to check your emails, but it really takes you 30. Because you hop and off of social media throughout the day, you may not realize that those minutes add up to more than an hour.
Spend a week recording how you spend your time. Be as detailed as possible. Record every instance that you check your phone or run to the water cooler. You can monitor your time on a scrap piece of paper, in a planner or using time-tracking software. Keep it handy, though. You’ll need to refer to it at the end of the week.
When you do sit down to analyze your time, look for patterns in your schedule. Are you more efficient at the gym when you get it over with at the beginning of the day? Do you get your work done faster in the afternoon when you’ve spent the morning on your hobbies? These clues will help you schedule your time more effectively moving forward.
Spend Time Planning
Most people don’t devote enough time to planning their time-management strategy. It can seem like a waste of time to plan your day when you could be taking action. But you’ll notice that doing the prep work makes everything easier.
Planning isn’t the same as overthinking, however. If you tend to mull everything over before you take action, you’ll need to transform that pattern into a more effective time-management strategy.
Start by taking some time to write out goals. You might keep a list of long and short-term goals in various categories, such as health, household, and career. Then, when you write out your to-do lists, you can make sure that your actions line up with your goals.
When you plan out your day, use urgency and importance to prioritize your tasks. Identify which items you must accomplish. Distinguish the ones that are important but not urgent.
Then, schedule all of your tasks. Estimate how long they will take, and set deadlines. More importantly, decide ahead of time when you’ll do them. Now is a great time to pull out your planner.
But don’t stop there. At the end of every day, go back through your schedule. Make a note of everything that you accomplished. Were your time estimations accurate? What else came up that interfered with your plan? How did you handle it? Identifying these issues will help you plan better in the future.
One way to easily visualize your schedule is to use time blocking. This practice encourages you to block out everything that you have to do for the day, including personal time, meals and work obligations. You can do this on paper or in a digital format.
Doing this lets you see where you spend your time at a glance. Make sure that you account for things that you usually wouldn’t schedule in a planner, such as showering or commuting. When you get into this habit, you’ll start noticing how you can adjust your time to make more room for your to-dos.
Try the Rapid Planning Method
Tony Robbins uses the Rapid Planning Method for optimal productivity. The steps involved in this method include:
- Capturing what you need to do today – As you’re writing a massive to-do list, ask yourself, “What results to I want to gain from my activities?” Write those down first. Then, place each task under the specific results that you want to achieve. Doing this will help you chunk together similar functions so that your to-do list doesn’t overwhelm you.
- Creating an RPM plan – For everything that you plan to do, ask yourself what you really want (results), why you really want it (purpose), and what your action plan is (massive action). Remove anything from your to-do list that isn’t necessary or important.
- Schedule and commit – Use a calendar or planner to decide when you’re going to take each action. Commit to doing everything that you wrote down.
- Complete your to-dos and celebrate – As you cross items off of your list, pat yourself on the back. At the end of every day, reflect on everything that you accomplished. Then, start planning the next day.
Keep a To-Do List
Time blocking shouldn’t replace your to-do list. The blocks of time should be relatively general. For example, you might segment out creative work time in the morning and meetings with clients in the afternoons.
But you’ll still need to plan the tasks that you’ll accomplish during your creative time. You might have to write some to-dos to help you prep for your meetings.
One of the secrets that successful people know about time management is that you should focus on minutes instead of hours. When you block off chunks of time, you usually do so in 15, 30 or 60-minute increments. But there are plenty of tasks that only take 5 minutes to complete. Master the ability to schedule these obligations into your day, and you’ll get a better handle on time management.
Another key to keeping an effective to-do list is to account for the time that each task will take you. If you don’t, you’ll likely leave jobs uncompleted, which can lead to anxiety and even insomnia.
After you jot down your to-dos for the day, estimate how long each one will take you. Then, pull out your calendar. Do you have room to schedule these items into your day? If not, they don’t need to be on your to-do list.
You might consider keeping more than one to-do list. One can be a brain dump list, which contains everything that you’ve ever wanted to do. You can color-code that by highlighting the following categories in different hues:
- Things to do today
- Things to do tomorrow
- Things to do this week
- Things that repeat daily
- Things to do someday
Think About the Future
With all of this talk about scheduling the present moment, you might think that you shouldn’t get caught up in thoughts about the future. Indeed, you shouldn’t spend a lot of time living in the past or future, but instant gratification can make you procrastinate.
That’s because you’re wired to do what’s best for you right now. If you were told that you could choose to get $1,000 today or $1,005 tomorrow, you would probably choose to get the money immediately. When you’re deciding whether to go to a friend’s house or study for a test, you might spend time with your buddy because right now, it’s more rewarding than preparing for the exam.
You have to put yourself in your future shoes to avoid procrastinating. When you do, you might realize that you’ll feel better at the end of the week if you spend time studying and get a good grade on the test. Then, you can reward yourself by hanging out with your friend over the weekend.
According to the principles of time inconsistency, people tend to discount the benefits that they will receive in the future. You tell yourself that you’d rather watch Netflix than fold towels because watching TV is more pleasurable. After all, you can still grab a towel from the laundry basket when it’s time to take a shower tomorrow.
One time management technique to avoid procrastination is to consider the benefits of doing the task that you’re putting off. Put it in writing. When you see that the pros outweigh the cons—today, tomorrow or next week—you will be more likely to take action now.
Get Comfortable With Good Enough
So many people strive for perfection that they spend more time on their projects than they need to. It’s helpful to be realistic about when perfection is necessary.
Whenever you take on a new habit or practice, it feels hard. You’re not going to do it right the first time. It’s more important that you do it, especially if it’s something that you want to continue.
The belief that you have to do it perfectly may cause you to spend inappropriate amounts of time on the task. Perfectionism may also prevent you from doing the task altogether. If you don’t think that you’ll be good at it, you might avoid starting.
When you procrastinate, though, you shift all of your priorities. The schedule that you meticulously planned goes out the window. Your entire time management strategy disintegrates.
There are many times in life when good enough is good enough. Learn to become aware of those instances so that you don’t waste time doing things that aren’t important.
If you do want to get better at anything, schedule in practice time. The more you work at something, the better you’ll be. Spending countless hours beating a dead horse isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Automate as Much as Possible
You probably spend a lot of time on repetitive tasks. Consider whether you can use technology or delegation to take care of these items. Would you be able to spend your time on something meaningful if you hired someone to clean your house every week? Could you filter your emails into specific folders?
Even if you can’t use a robot to take care of your tasks, you can automate them in other ways. If it’s something that requires you to follow complicated instructions, write those steps down.
When it comes time to take action, you won’t have to think about what to do next. If you have the opportunity to delegate the task, you won’t have to spend too much time training someone because you’ve already written the manual.
Try to lump similar tasks together into your automation flow. For example, take care of all of your texts at once instead of responding to them as they come in. Record your expenses once a week instead of dealing with receipts every time you go shopping. You’ll be more likely to be productive when you’re in the zone compared to switching quickly from one task to another.
Don’t Stop Halfway Through
Are you the type of person who can focus diligently until something else comes along? Perhaps you remember that you haven’t planned dinner while you’re writing a blog post. You start searching for healthy meal ideas instead of researching the article.
Now, you have veered off of your schedule for the day, and you’ll have to readjust everything. If you’re tracking your time, you have to account for the activity shift. Plus, you’ve become distracted, and it can take up to 25 minutes to harness your focus again. Focus on closing out your blocks of time by concentrating on your task without interruption.
If something important comes up while you’re working on something else, make a note of it, and keep doing what you’re doing. During your break, look at your planner or schedule for the day, and determine how you can fit in the new project. You might realize that it’s not as urgent as you thought, and you can add it to tomorrow’s to-do list.
Look at Your Lifestyle
It’s easy to neglect your health and well-being when you’re busy. After all, who has time to exercise as much as they’re supposed to? Successful people who have great time management skills do.
Exercise, high-quality sleep and a nutritious diet will help you be more productive. When you have the energy to tackle your to-do list, you’re less likely to procrastinate. You’ll follow your time estimates realistically.
If you’re sleep deprived or sick, you might move sluggishly. You’ll find it harder to accomplish your tasks with the same kind of pep that you have on your best days.
Lack of sleep makes it harder for you to pay attention. It reduces your mental alertness and makes you more easily confused. You might find it difficult to stick to your schedule when you’re exhausted. Eating highly processed foods and living a sedentary lifestyle can also impair your energy and mental clarity.
How to Organize Your Time to Get off the Hamster Wheel
Even if you use the strategies above to accomplish everything on your to-do list, you may still feel like a hamster on a wheel. What’s the point of being productive if your tasks don’t lead up to something bigger or more meaningful?
Do you really want to be able to do more loads of laundry throughout the day? Or would you rather use time management strategies to finish your chores efficiently so that you can devote the majority of time to your passions?
Christine Kane explains that you need to manage your energy throughout the day if you really want to get a grip on time management. She says that every task that you do throughout the day either nourishes or drains your energy. Understanding which encounters protect your energy and which ones create leakage can help you better leverage your time.
Determine What Energizes You
Begin creating some awareness surrounding this idea by reflecting on your to-do list. As you check off each item, make a note about whether that task made you feel energized or drained. Keep those notes somewhere that you can refer to when you’re planning your day.
Start Your Day With Passion
Once you know what invigorates you, you can create a more effective schedule. Start your day with something that fills you up. Doing what matters exhilarates you. Therefore, doing a meaningful activity first thing in the morning will give you some momentum for the rest of the day. Even if you do nothing else worthwhile, you’ll feel as though you accomplished great things and had fun doing it if you begin your day with something that you’re passionate about.
- Work on your novel
- Write poetry
- Practice your dance moves
- Read a chapter in an inspiring self-help book (and take notes that you can use later)
Follow It Up With Something Easy
You can transition into your day by checking off some simple items on your to-do list. If you usually avoid certain tasks, try lumping them together and getting through them as quickly as possible.
This is a great time to:
- Check and respond to the first batch of emails for the day
- Throw in a load of laundry
- Fold and put away the laundry from the day before
- Water your plants
- Write the first draft of a short memo or document
- Plan your daily social media posts
- Reflect on what you accomplished yesterday
- Watch an educational video
Next, Do Something Challenging
While you’re riding high on the confidence from completing your initial activity and a few simple tasks after that, you’re ready to do something a little more difficult. You’ve transitioned into your day, and you should plan to devote a significant amount of focused time to this task.
You’ll be more effective at completing a difficult task if you get into a flow state. Getting into the zone involves:
- Strong concentration
- A clear goal
- Loss of judgment and self-consciousness
- A feeling of timelessness
- Feeling confident that you have the skills to accomplish the task
- Feeling in control of the situation
- Avoiding distractions
It takes time and practice to enter a state of flow. It’s hard to get into a zone if you only have 10 or 20 minutes to do an activity. Therefore, plan to do this challenging work for approximately 45 to 120 minutes.
Getting into a flow state is easier when you’re doing something that interests you. Therefore, you may have to work on adjusting your mindset if you’re having trouble getting in the zone.
For example, if you’re studying for a test, telling yourself that you’d much rather be partying with your friends will prevent you from shifting into a flow. Reminding yourself of the accomplishment that you’ll feel when you ace the exam can keep you feeling positive about the situation.
Cal Newport talks about a similar concept, which he calls deep work. He says that you should concentrate only on what’s incredibly important during this time. Do the tasks that are important for building your project instead of completing busywork that clears space for your goals but doesn’t contribute to them.
If you get ideas for smaller tasks that you need to finish to accomplish the larger one, write them down. You can work them into other parts of your day.
Take a Break
Even if you’re on a roll, don’t try to work for more than two hours before you take a break. Your brain can only focus for so long.
When you’re working, you’re engaging the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that’s responsible for critical thinking. When you’re at rest, your mind makes connections between everything that you focused on while you were working. Therefore, your breaks can help you solve problems, think more clearly and come up with ideas that weren’t coming to you while you were involved in deep work.
If you’re feeling stuck on something important, thinking about it isn’t necessarily going to help you resolve the issue. Try doing something completely different. Look at your to-do list for the day and move on to some of the more mundane tasks. You might have an epiphany while you’re working out, cleaning the shower or vacuuming.
Taking mental downtime can improve your memory. Giving your brain a break allows it to reconsolidate information that you’ve recently learned. It helps you retain the most crucial data and ditch the rest. This may have happened to you if, after struggling to memorize vocabulary words, you remember everyone after a good night’s sleep.
It also happens when you’re practicing an instrument. At a certain point, you seem to revert, performing worse with every run-through. When you pick up the instrument the next day, you play the piece seamlessly.
Incorporate buffer times into your time blocking or scheduling. You will probably need to use the bathroom, stretch or grab a snack after finishing one task and before beginning the next. Make yourself some time for that. If you’ve been focusing for an hour or two, schedule a longer transition period. If you’ve only been working on a task for 20 or 30 minutes, you can get away with a 5 or 10-minute break.
Refresh Your Energy
Next, you should do something that brings your energy back up. You can also do this on your break. Eating a snack, going for a walk, doing a handstand or reading an inspiring book chapter can help.
The key is to know ahead of time what will help amp up your motivation. If you spend 20 minutes looking for a book to read, you might feel frustrated and irritable when you’re done. Once you have a list of energizing and draining tasks, you’ll be able to plan this part of your day much better.
Schedule a Day for Energy-Draining Tasks
It’s hard to shift your mindset to handle the various types of activities that you need to accomplish every day. For example, you might wake up feeling refreshed, but when you realize that you have to clean your house in the afternoon, run errands or make a doctor’s appointment, the energy leaks out. If you avoid doing those tasks, they’ll sit with you, subtly influencing your energy as a whole.
Christine Kane suggests scheduling what she calls “sniggly days” to take care of these items. On these days, you might take your car in for an oil change, declutter your desk, plan your grocery list for the week or do your taxes. You can put aside any big projects and take care of all of the little things.
The best part is that when you devote a day to doing these tasks, you can take care of them with a positive mindset. They’re not something to get out of the way so that you can move on to more important obligations; they’re exactly what you’re supposed to do at that moment.
At the end of a sniggly day, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment. You usually don’t feel drained because you set a goal and accomplished it. The next day, you’ll be able to focus on the things that energize you once again.