Most of us could be better at managing our time. But when it comes to effective time management, what actually makes a difference? Which actions have a lasting positive impact on the way you work? As a company that only exists to help people get more quality from time, we’ve learnt a thing or two! Here are the seven essential time management skills that everybody should employ:
1. Time blocking
Time blocking is an effective way of setting time frames for your work. Rather than making a list of tasks and simply working through until you’re done, time blocking breaks your day up into dedicated portions of focused time for each task. Your time blocks can be as big or small as you like; email might only require a five minute block, but a different task may warrant a whole afternoon.
What are the benefits, exactly? You may find it easier to stay on-track. Knowing you have a finite amount of time to spend on a task can hone your concentration, making you more focused and results-driven, and less prone to distraction. There’s a reason Elon Musk loves it.
2. Seeing how you use your time
You simply can’t use time better without knowing how you use it in the first place. Are certain tasks taking longer than expected? How much time do you spend on internal processes? Where and when do you get distracted? Getting an overview of how you spend your time helps you make effective changes that actually improve the way that you work.
Luckily, you don’t have to waste time actually getting that information. Automatic time trackers like Timely capture and process it all for you without manual input, so you can focus on your work. It can be enormously revealing: you’ll not only see how long you spend on each task, but how long you spend in meetings, commuting, returning emails or working in specific apps.
3. Protecting your time
Feel like the days just aren’t long enough to get everything done? Once you break down your working day and see where your time’s going, you may find you’re being far too generous with it – or at the very least, you aren’t ‘protecting’ it as you should. Time is the one thing we can’t ever get back – so choose wisely where you give it.
Learn to say no – to that long meeting you don’t need to be in, to taking on new work when you don’t have time, to helping a colleague out by “quickly looking over” something they’ve done, often at the expense of your own work. It’s nice to be nice, but prioritize your own work over other people’s.
4. Prioritizing what matters
Making a prioritized plan is essential to good time management, but it’s often misunderstood. People tend to prioritize urgent tasks ahead of important ones: urgent tasks have looming deadlines and need instant action, but they are often linked to achieving someone else’s objectives. Important tasks, while not as timely, usually result in us achieving our own goals.
Always think long-term. Don’t fritter away an afternoon replying to frantic emails someone else could reply to, or letting your concentration be syphoned off to a less important task. Focus on what matters to you.
5. Creating the conditions for quality work
Being able to work your best means understanding the ways that you work, and creating an environment that enables your best performance. Another perk of time tracking is you’ll see where and when you work best, so use this information to intelligently plan your day. If you experience concentration lulls in the afternoon, for example, schedule your most cognitively difficult work for the morning.
But you also need to master your productive environment. If you work well around other people, consider a co-working space. But if you need silence and zero distractions, find somewhere quiet you can immerse yourself in work – whether inside the office or working remotely. Whenever you perform to an unusually high standard, take a step back and try to isolate the factors that helped: even things like working in sunlight can make a difference.
6. Controlling daily communications
From Slack notifications and meetings, to the hardwired urge to check your email, a ton of different communications derail your productive attention every day. The amount of time we lose to non-essential communication is shocking – as is the realization that it takes 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction.
Setting a plan for communications can completely reign this in. Consider setting availability hours, so you can leave the unproductive world of “immediate availability” behind. Similarly, set boundaries for when you will check email, perhaps limiting yourself to just twice a day. Push for an opt-in approach to meetings, so you only attend what you can actually bring value to, and get to grips with the notifications settings on all your communications apps, to stop “harmless” pings getting in the way of progress.
7. Taking breaks and knowing when to stop
While having a breather is vital, procrastination doesn’t count. Take a proper break: go for a walk round the block, enjoy a coffee with colleagues, listen to music, do something you enjoy. Breaks are essential, not only for your creativity but for your own health and wellbeing.
Good time management also means knowing when to stop. Working too hard can lead to burnout, insomnia, depression, stress and a host of physical problems too. On a less severe scale, an unsustainable workload zaps your energy. Work hard… but not so hard you drive yourself into the ground. Take a step back to value what you’ve accomplished, and try to work in a way that plays to your strengths.