Work & Career
15 Time Management Tips That Actually Work
Sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Instead of lamenting your lack of time, make the most of the time you do have with these time management tips.
Time management tip: Use Post-it notes to organize tasks
Before you begin your work for the day, it’s important to take a moment and consider everything that you are hoping to complete. A great way to do this is to visually map out your agenda using Post-It notes. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, told Reader’s Digest, “I arrange items based on priority/deadline and add other agenda items I would like to try to accomplish before the day ends.” Each time that Sweeney finishes a task, she crosses out the corresponding Post-It note. “The act of physically crossing off makes me feel even more accomplished and keeps me encouraged to tackle more assignments as the week progresses,” Sweeney explains.
You may be wondering why you should use Post-It notes over an agenda or online calendar. By closing your agenda or minimizing your online schedule, you are more likely to become distracted and lose track of time. Conversely, hanging Post-It notes above your desk is an efficient way to maintain a sense of urgency and stay focused on a task—one of many productivity tips incredibly busy people always use. Another benefit to this time management tip is that “Post-Its are highly mobile,” says Sweeney. “I can take my list anywhere with me and stick it on any desk or screen as needed.” Whether you’re working from a cubicle, kitchen table, or airplane, this is one of the time management tips that is CEO-certified to help you meet important deadlines.
Time management tip: Wake up at the same time every day
This time management tip may be a bit tricky for sleep-lovers, who welcome the monotonous blaring of their alarms as kindly as the stomach flu. However, adopting a steady sleep schedule really does improve productivity. Kristin Marquet, CEO of FemFounder, told Reader’s Digest, “I make it a point to wake up every morning at the same time so I stay on schedule. This is on the weekends, and holidays, too!” While everyone knows that getting seven to nine hours of sleep strengthens our cognitive abilities, you may be surprised to learn that it’s important to sleep the same seven to nine hours each night. Experts have found that irregular sleep patterns can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, which prevents biological processes from working favorably together. In turn, this can negatively impact our cognitive capacities, productivity, and health.
Marquet explains, “If I end up sleeping in a bit (even 15 to 20 minutes), I am very groggy and cranky, almost making me not able to think straight.” By maintaining a regular wake up time, Marquet says “I can think clearly, which means I can meet deadlines and get more stuff done overall.” Bottom line? Committing to a consistent sleep cycle is a great way to optimize your efficiency and manage your time.
Time management tip: Don’t multitask
When you have a busy schedule, it can be tempting to open multiple tabs on your computer and flip back-and-forth between assignments. Why not kill two birds with one stone? However, while it may seem as though tackling several projects at once improves your time management, it actually has the opposite effect—an insider tip that career coaches won’t tell you for free. According to researchers at Stanford University, multitasking weakens our attention spans, makes us prone to distractions, and increases our processing times. As a busy CEO, Kristin Marquet has been tantalized to improve her time management through multitasking, but ultimately found that it is “just not effective.” Now, rather than responding to emails as they emerge on your screen and working across numerous projects, Marquet says “I only do one thing at a time with laser focus.” Concentrating on each task separately enables Marquet to manage her time well, move quickly through her schedule, and produce thoughtful, quality work.
Time management tip: Record how long each task takes
Tracking your time might sound like one of the extremely obvious time management tips. However, if you’ve ever misjudged how much work you could accomplish in a day, week, or even month, chances are you didn’t really know how long each task would take to complete. John Breeze, the Founder and CEO of Happysleepyhead, advises that you “write down the time when you start your task and the time when you finish it,” in order to “determine your working pace.” After spending a week tracking how long it takes to complete a range of different duties, you will be better equipped to estimate how much time future assignments will take. Additionally, this time management tip can also help you “find out where exactly you are wasting time” so that you can improve your working methods and optimize your productivity, says Breeze.
Bottom line? “Knowing what you do and how long it typically takes to do it is fundamental to ever being able to control it,” asserts Dory Wilson, talent development expert and founder of Your Office Mom. “Without time tracking, any efforts to establish deadlines for projects or assignments is merely a guess, not founded on anything tangible,” says Wilson.
Time management tip: Assign themes to each day of the week
When your profession requires you to work across divisions or contribute to many different operations, switching gears can be the most time-consuming part of your day. It’s hard to jump between assignments, trading a marketing hat for a sales hat—and then fumbling to grab your marketing hat again. That’s why Laura Hertz, CEO of Gifts for Good, suggests assigning a theme to each day of the week. “Theming” our days “helps us become much more efficient because we are grouping similar tasks together,” and “it establishes a rhythm of attention and focus,” says Hertz. Plus, this time management tip completely eliminates the long, wasteful minutes that you would otherwise spend shifting your focus between departments.
To theme your days, all you have to do is “pick a handful of categories that are recurring for you, and that, together, create your business,” instructs Hertz. “Then, you create a schedule around your categories, so each day has a theme and each chunk of time is dedicated to a specific task related to that day’s theme.” For example, Mondays might be dedicated to marketing, Tuesdays to administrative tasks, Wednesdays to meetings, and so on. “Theming” your days is a quick, easy, and organized way to improve your time management and efficiency.
Time management tip: Don’t send the same email twice
If your job requires a lot of outreach or communication, chances are you spend a lot of time writing redundant emails. An easy tip to reduce the amount of time you spend emailing and increase the amount of time that you have for important projects is to standardize your communication process. Put simply, never write the same message twice. “If you write the same email more than a few times, save it as a template. Even if it’s just in your ‘Drafts,’’ suggests Hannah Attewell, a success and business coach for Force of Nature Coach. Even if your emails do not follow the exact same format, you can save time by creating a template introduction that you copy and paste into every email. You’ll also be more productive if you check your email less often! While personalizing your emails can be important to fostering professional relationships, creating messaging templates will greatly improve your time management techniques.
Time management tip: Prioritize your tasks
One of the most effective time management tips is prioritizing your assignments. This might sound simple, but many people actually have difficulty recognizing the difference between urgent, important, and standard tasks. Making this distinction is extremely important, as it enables professionals to “organize their day more effectively and minimize the distraction of low-value activities,” says Dory Wilson.
Even when people do recognize that some projects are more important than others, procrastination often gets in the way of beginning our bigger projects first. According to Jason Patel, former career ambassador at the George Washington University and founder of Transizion, letting significant assignments take the backseat in your schedule is very dangerous. Patel reasons that “it’s easier to fill a tank using large rocks first and small pebbles second than it is to fill it with pebbles first and large rocks afterword. The same applies to your time. Prioritize and give your energy to the most important tasks first.” How do you recognize which projects have the most value? “The importance of these tasks will depend on your company goals, growth, and values,” says Patel. If you expect a project will greatly enhance your company’s success, make it a high priority. Otherwise, save it for later.
Time management tip: Plan your day the night before
When we arrive at work each morning, we are faced with a daunting pile of assignments and no clue where to begin. In these groggy hours, we slowly sift through each task and waste the first block of our days constructing a schedule. Although organizing might feel like productive work, it is actually extremely time-consuming and inefficient. That’s why Romy Taormina, CEO and Founder of Psi Health Solutions Inc., suggests planning your day the night before. “Working out the logistics and priorities in advance will minimize last-minute changes, rushing, and frustration, increase your chances of getting done what is most important,” and enable you to “start off the day on a positive and productive note,” advises Taormina. Plus, planning your schedule in the afternoon, while your brain is still in work-mode, takes much less time than it does in the morning, when your mind is still fuzzy from sleep.
Wondering how much of your day you should plan in advance? The best way to manage your time is to make a priority list, lay out your clothing, buy or prepare meals ahead of time, and pack your work bag, says Taormina. While this may seem like a lot to do after a long day of work, it actually takes very little time. Rolling out of bed to find that your outfit is already chosen, your meals are all lined up, and your work can be started immediately is extremely gratifying. This tip is one of many ways to ensure you’re never late, and you might even find some new time in your day to relax!
Time management tip: Make your commute count
Whether you walk, drive, or take the train to work, we all have a period of the day that is lost in transit—literally. Instead of blaring music and staring mindlessly out the window, “fill time on your commute with tasks that can be accomplished,” such as “taking phone calls or listening to a beneficial podcast,” suggests Lindsay Junk, president of YogaSix. Even if you usually don’t bring work outside of the office, you might as well capitalize on this dull and necessary chunk of the day. If you do tend to bring your work home, here’s how to be successful working from home. Plus, scheduling quick conference calls or consuming helpful news on-the-go can help you foster professional relationships with co-workers or clients, meet deadlines, and even slip out of the office at a reasonable hour. Hello, personal time!
Time management tip: Leave your cell phones out of the bedroom
When you’re asleep, your brain is working hard to organize your memories and thoughts, but your body feels totally relaxed. As you’re waking up, that combination makes it among your most creative points in the day—perfect for coming up with new solutions or having entertaining thoughts. But adding a cell phone into that equation gets in the way of that creative flow. “There is nothing on the internet that cannot wait for 20 minutes while you do some mindful breathing and think grateful thoughts,” writes Samantha Bennett in Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists. Use an alarm clock (yes, an actual clock!) to wake you up in the morning, and if you’re worried about emergency calls, leave it near the door, in earshot but out of arm’s reach.
Time management tip: Start the day with your most important work
As soon as you settle into your desk in the morning, get started on your most important work—the creative, strategic tasks that only you can do. If you start by checking your email or social media, you’ll end up wasting half your morning. “The next thing you know, two hours have gone by, you haven’t gotten to any of the important stuff, and the rest of your day is crowded with meetings and calls,” writes Bennett. Instead, follow these steps to be more productive in your first hour of work. Set a timer for two minutes to skim your inbox for emergencies, but if there’s nothing that requires your immediate attention, shift straight into your important work for a more productive morning that sets you up for a successful day.
Time management tip: Make replies prompt but not immediate
You should still be a reliable communicator, but dropping everything to answer people’s requests immediately not only forces you to adjust to their schedules and puts you off course, but it also doesn’t give you time to fully think out your reply. Bennett says she likes to wait 24 hours before responding to emails, calls, and other messages. “I find that this gives me time to prioritize, to consider people’s requests, and give them a solid answer,” she writes. If you’re saying no to someone, no need to give a long-winded explanation—just be vague and thank the person for thinking of you as you kindly decline.
Time management tip: Put everything on the calendar
Your calendar shouldn’t be limited to big meetings and deadlines. Use it to schedule every little thing, from clearing off your desk to taking an afternoon walk. “I hear from people all the time, ‘I wish I had time to write a book,’” writes Bennett. “You do. You are just spending that time on other things.” If you don’t write down nonessential activities, there’s a good chance you’ll let other tasks get in the way. In addition to these productive tricks to help you stop procrastinating, commit to blocking your time with a calendar. This will increase the chances that you’ll actually accomplish everything you’d hoped.
Time management tip: Be intentional with news consumption
Set aside dedicated time to consume news, rather than getting drawn into the 24-hour news cycle. Read the newspaper in the morning rather than scrolling through Twitter all day to find out what’s going on. And keep in mind that at its core, the news business is part of the entertainment industry, designed to tug your emotions and keep you engaged. “When you let other people—particularly people in the entertainment industry—form your opinions for you, or tell you what’s important, you give away your power,” writes Bennett. Watch and read mindfully, asking yourself whether your opinions on current events are yours or theirs.
Time management tip: Seek out new media
“Get out of your rut,” writes Bennett. “Doing, watching, or listening to the same things every day makes time feel like it’s slipping right through your fingers.” Instead of falling back on the same media, use one of many daily habits of naturally productive people and search the Internet for new ways to learn and stay entertained. Whether you’re into podcasts, games, meditations, craft projects, or artwork, you don’t have to restrict yourself to mass-market media. Spending time making new memories and finding new media will expose you to new culture and enrich your life.