You could say that effective time management is everyone’s dream. Employers would love it if they could manage their own time more efficiently, but they would also like a more productive workforce. On the other hand, employees want the same thing - the ability to complete more in less time.
However, this dream can seem far-fetched when you’re working in an open space, where someone is always talking, eating, making coffee, and so on. Distractions are a main cause of low productivity, but there’s a way to beat the system, improve time management and excel at work at the same time.
What is Time Management?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, time management is the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work.
Having good time management skills means you’ll be able to excel at your work and private life. You’ll quickly develop new habits, stick to them, and advance. Yet, poor time management skills can lead to stress and anxiety, missed deadlines and uncompleted projects.
Why Does Time Management Matter?
Good time management allows you and your team to complete more in less time. Meaning you’re all able to take on new tasks, projects and clients, and ultimately make more money.
It’s crucial you work on your time management skills because your time is limited. The days last for 24 hours, workdays are usually around 8, and there’s only so many things you can accomplish during this time.
Furthermore, once you’ve mastered the art of time management, you’ll be quicker on your feet and able to make better decisions. You’ll rely on previous experience, have a better insight into your current load, and therefore, it will be easier to decide whether you can take on more work or not.
The pressure that comes from thinking you don’t have enough time wears off as your time management skills improve. You’ll feel like you have more control over your work and private live, thus feeling calmer than before.
As you’re learning how to manage your time more efficiently, you’ll also learn how valuable self-discipline is. It’s easy to “take a break” from work and browse your favorite entertainment websites. It’s much harder to motivate yourself to keep working and not pay attention to distractions.
How Do You Know That You Have Poor Time Management Skills?
There are a few clear indicators that your time management skills might need a bit of a boost. One of them is poor workflow. It means that you’re not able to plan your workload, and stick to that plan. You usually jump from task to task, keeping busy throughout the day, but ending up with no real results.
Another indicator is the time you waste, which includes browsing social media, chatting with coworkers or doing anything that’s not task-related while you’re supposed to be handling that assignment. If your company uses a time tracking software you can easily check how much time you’re spending on unproductive activities.
Low work quality is often caused by poor time management. So, if you’ve been hearing complaints about your work recently, it might be time to change some habits.
Improving Time Management with Tools
Good news is that there are many tools that can help you out on the quest to conquer your time management skills. We’ll now present you with a few of our favorites.
You’ll notice that this list doesn’t include your usual project and time management tools like Trello, Jira, Asana, etc. But, I’ve decided to exclude them this time because they seem like an obvious choice, and I’d like to present you with something you maybe weren’t using before.
Time management tools list can’t be complete without Workpuls on it! This time tracking software helps you stay on top of your employees’ attendance, tasks, projects, as well as time spent on those assignments.
Furthermore, it gives you insights into everyone’s productivity and activity levels, serving as an amazing productivity booster for any team. For optimal results, we recommend you let your employees see the data the software is collecting. That way, they can always know if they’ve spent too much time finding a perfect playlist for the day, and adjust their behaviour.
Todoist is a task management app, but it’s definitely helpful when it comes to improving your time management skills. Let’s say you’re not using a time tracker, so, if you’re not tracking your time you must at least track your tasks.
It’s a great tool to have to make sure all your ducks are in a row. But what makes this app different from most others is gamification. It actually levels you up as you’re completing tasks. Which is pretty cool, because it acts kind of like a motivator. If you have a 5-day streak, you get additional points, if you complete 5 tasks per day you get additional points and so on.
I don’t know about you, but features like this one really help me stay on track because it’s fun seeing how you progressed over time, and you don’t want to break that streak.
So simple, yet often overlooked. I prefer using an actual paper planer, but most of the people around me just rely on the calendar. It’s convenient - you can access it from your phone while you’re on your commute, or check it from your laptop when you get home. Once you’ve agreed on a certain deadline, meeting, coffee break or even a movie night - write it in your calendar. Set up a reminder for a day or hour earlier, whatever works for you best.
When someone asks you to handle a new task or a project - go back to the calendar and check if you have the time to do it. Somewhere along the way, you’ll learn how to say “no” to some tasks, and that’s fine. It’s much better than overpromising.
As I already mentioned, I love apps which have some sort of gamification built into them. A few months ago I discovered Forest. It’s a mobile app which blocks you from using your phone for a certain amount of time, while it grows a virtual forest. There are different types of plants, but you need to block the phone for some time to grow them, and you collect coins which you can use to purchase various trees.
You can see the overview of the whole forest you planted during that day, week, month and year. Also, if you want to stop the app to use your phone you must “kill the tree”, as their copy says, and nobody wants to kill a tree.
There is also a paid version of the software, which allows you to use coins to finance the planting of an actual tree somewhere in the world.
My phone is my biggest distraction - at work and at home, so using this has helped me stay focused on what I’m doing instead of scrolling through Instagram mindlessly.
Improving Time Management with Different Techniques
Tools aren’t the only helpful factor if you’re looking to improve your own time management skills. There are tons of time management techniques you can use, but I’ve selected some which I’ve tried and that seem to be quite popular.
Timeboxing is a time management technique as much as it is a project management method. It’s useful because it allows you to focus on one thing at a time (given that you actually follow the rules).
In short, in timeboxing you create timeboxes in your calendar for different tasks. For example, you set aside 30 minutes to respond to emails, and you do it for 30 minutes only. Once the time’s up, you take a break and proceed to the next task.
At the end of the day you look back on the assignments, and what you’ve achieved to evaluate your success rate. If you didn’t manage to complete the task, try to find the issue and resolve it next time you’re working on something similar.
You can pair this with your favorite time management tool for optimal results. I like to use Workpuls to track time while I’m in one timebox, and Forest to limit the use of my phone so I can stay completely focused.
Pomodoro technique is quite simple but it doesn’t work for anyone. I usually use it only when I have a lot of smaller similar tasks which piled up, otherwise, I prefer sticking to a timebox.
Here’s how it works: you get a timer (an app or an actual kitchen timer - whatever works), set it up for 25 minutes and spend 25 minutes working on one task. When the timer goes off, you mark the task as completed, and take a 5-minute break. After you’ve completed 4 pomodoros, you should take a longer break, at least 20 minutes. During this time you shouldn’t do anything that’s work-related.
The reason I don’t use this on a daily basis is that it takes much longer than 25 minutes to write an article, and if my creative juices are flowing, there’s no way I’m taking a 5-minute break to do anything. So, if you don’t have a way to break up your projects into tasks that can fit into this time frame, you might be better off with another technique.
Getting Things Done (GDT)
GDT is a method introduced by David Allen in 2001. He’s published a book on it back then, and he released a new edition in 2015.
The process consists out of 5 stages, and it’s quite simple:
- Capture - create a list of your tasks
- Clarify - review the list, check what is urgent and do that, everything else on the list you either archive, delete or delegate.
- Organize - create categories for actionable items on your list
- Reflect - update and review the list at least once per week, to plan next steps
- Engage - use this system as a way to improve your decision-making
People all over the world swear by this method, and you could say that it is one of the most popular time management techniques out there. It’s perfect for creatives, who like making their own schedules and priorities, and they’re in need of a system that can be customized.
The gist of this method is that you remove the reminders from your subconscious and put them on a piece of paper, or your docs. This is a way to free your mind from thinking about deadlines, and let it focus on productive work.
Eisenhower Matrix, otherwise known as Urgent-Important Matrix has a goal to help you prioritize tasks and handle the most important and urgent things first.
The idea is to separate your tasks into four different quadrants marked:
- Do first - important and urgent tasks that should be handled right away
- Schedule - important, but not as urgent tasks which can be done later, or another day
- Delegate - tasks which are urgent, but not very important, which you can delegate to others
- Don’t do - tasks which are neither urgent or important
When I tried this method on its own I ended up procrastinating a lot. Maybe it’s just me, but I need to have a timer, to get that sense of urgency in order to stay completely focused on the task. In any case, I would definitely recommend that you use this in combination with another tool or method, and not as a standalone technique.
The 4D System
The 4D System is great for people who keep switching from task to task as soon as they get something new to do. First of all, it focuses on your communication tools. By following this system you can either:
- Delete the request
- Delegate it
- Do it yourself
- Defer it
If what you’ve received doesn’t require your attention, or it’s not worth your time - you can simply delete it. This is especially applicable to emails where you’re CCed, and other company or team-wide communication.
When you receive a request, you should ask yourself if it’s necessary that you do the task, as well as if it’s your responsibility to handle it. If it’s not - delegate the task to the person who should do it.
If you can do the task right away, and it doesn’t interfere with more important things you’re handling - just do it. It’s simple as that. But, you must stay focused on that one task, otherwise you’ll just end up wasting a lot of time by task-switching.
The defer stage is made for tasks which you should do, but they’re as important as the previous group. If they can wait, let them wait. Also, if it’s a task that can’t be completed quickly and it’s not so important, it can wait.
None of these strategies are flawless, especially on their own. I’ve probably tested dozens of different methods and tools before selecting those that suited me, so I recommend you do the same.
The selection of time management tools and methods is really wide, thus, you should experiment and take your time experimenting. Combine different things, use key takeaways from each method to create a system which will work for you.
In the end, that’s the most important thing in this situation - finding a system which works for you and sticking to it.