Are you constantly pulling your hair out because your to-do list is too long? Or perhaps you're feeling overwhelmed because you've missed another deadline and issued another heartfelt apology.
Struggling to get things done in the time allotted is pretty common. It can happen if you underestimate how long a task takes. Or when you're interrupted by an urgent inbox ping, another Zoom call, or the sudden urge to declutter your sock drawer in the middle of a deep work sprint.
But unless you enjoy living in a state of perpetual chaos, there is another way. Time management strategies hold the key to completing your workload and keeping your sanity.
What does an effective time management strategy look like?
A time management strategy is a set of rules and practices you follow to be more deliberate with how you spend your time. Think of each strategy as a roadmap that will help you:
- blitz through your to-do list
- prioritize your tasks by importance
- stay focused on the tasks that matter
- eliminate distractions
- regain control of your workload.
Timely tip: many time management tips focus on how to plan out a specific day, but you can extend some to map out a whole work week or even a long-term project.
Why do we need time management strategies?
Getting granular with your time does require some prep work. But put the effort in, and you'll notice some distinct advantages.
- Improved productivity
Time tracking converts know that any great strategy puts a stop to context switching. That’s when you hop around from one task to another, checking social media when you’re supposed to be drafting a presentation or answering an email instead of updating your project management software.
This type of unrelated multitasking decreases productivity by as much as 40% but is easily reversed when you focus on one task at a time.
- Increased health benefits
When people struggle with work overload and the constant feeling that there aren't enough hours in the day, this negatively affects their mental and physical health.
A study published in the Iranian Journal of Public Health describes the positive impact of time management techniques on 114 study participants. 50% of them received six weeks of time management workshops, but the other half did not. After the training, the time management group reported lower anxiety and depression levels along with improved sleep quality.
- Better priority-setting
Time tracking allows you to be more intentional with your to-do list. Knowing what to focus on and how to set deadlines keeps your work life organized and rewarding. You’ll easily identify which activities are a priority and which belong firmly on the backburner.
Best of all? You'll become a scheduling pro. When someone requests your availability on a project next month, you'll know for sure if you have the bandwidth.
15 top time management strategies to supercharge your day
Are you itching to work smarter, not harder? We have 15 popular time management techniques to keep you productive and on top of your game.
1. Eat The Frog
Productivity expert Brian Tracy created a popular time management framework based on a famous Mark Twain quote: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Eat the frog relies on frontloading your workday so you’ll identify your “most important task” (your frog) to complete first. Your frog should take one to four hours to complete before concentrating on additional tasks like answering emails or attending meetings.
No procrastinating, no excuses—get your frog out of the way, and the rest of your day will be a breeze. Repeat the process with a different frog tomorrow.
2. Ivy Lee Method
Most of us can pick out six tasks that demand our attention, which is the premise of the Ivy Lee method.
At the end of each day, you’ll jot down the six tasks you want to achieve tomorrow and prioritize them. The following day, you’ll tackle them in priority order.
Only move to the second task once you've completed the first, and so on. If any tasks remain at the end of the day, you'll move them to tomorrow's list.
3. Pomodoro Technique
Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro technique is a timeless classic designed to help you stay focused and productive while avoiding burnout. (Pomodoro comes from the tomato shape of Cirillo’s kitchen timer.)
The technique suggests breaking down tasks to complete in 25-minute blocks, separated by 5-minute breaks. After four Pomodoro intervals, take a longer restorative break of 15 to 30 minutes.
The Pomodoro technique is ideal for short-burst tasks requiring higher concentration levels. Try it out for brainstorming, admin work, or even creative tasks. It's also versatile enough to work alongside other time management techniques, like eating that frog.
Ryan Turner, Founder of Ecommerce Intelligence, told us, "I usually schedule my mornings around this strategy, and it allows me to get a huge amount done in the earlier hours. By 11 am, I've completed many of my biggest and most important tasks."
Flowtime could be a good fit if you're tired of a Pomodoro timer interrupting your flow just as you're getting into your groove. While Flowtime also encourages you to dedicate yourself to a specific task, it also gives you free rein to plan the duration of your work sprint and the frequency of your intervals.
Tasks like coding, writing, or strategy planning all lend themselves to Flowtime, as you have the flexibility to schedule your work sprints around those creative peaks without a time limit.
Get started by picking a suitable task from your to-do list and manage your distractions so you can achieve a perfect flow state. Kick off your work session and only stop when you feel mentally or physically drained and need a break.
Timely tip: use a time management app to note your focus throughout the day and identify your most productive hours for Flowtime.
5. Biological Prime Time
Ever wondered why you have a burst of energy as soon you wake up, but others seem to accomplish their best work past midnight? Biological prime time is different for everyone and is connected to our ultradian rhythms, which control our energy levels throughout the day.
Identify your prime time by tracking your energy level for a few days and noting when you feel most productive. Plan activities according to your prime times and leave the mundane admin tasks for when you're feeling a little groggy.
6. Deep Work
Cal Newport, the author of "Deep Work," believes that "profoundly impactful work" requires intense focus and uninterrupted hours of dedicated concentration. Deep work is about pushing your intellectual capacity by scrapping distractions from your workflow to maximize learning and productivity. It's the opposite of shallow work time when we're just going through the motions to complete low-level administrative tasks.
Start by creating a distraction-free zone—there's no need for hazard tape; you can just silence notifications on your devices, set your Slack status to ‘Away’ and tell your colleagues (or family if you're working remotely) that you're unavailable.
Set a timer and work on one task until complete. Balance out the intense concentration with quality breaks every 90-150 minutes so you can stay productive for longer.
7. Time Blocking
Deep work partners well with time blocking, also known as time chunking or monotasking. You'll assign time blocks to a single task, so you know exactly what you're tackling throughout each portion of the day.
Cal Newport explains why this technique is so effective. "A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure."
But how long do you dedicate to each chunk of time? The answer: it depends on the task.
Matthew Ramirez, Founder, and CEO of Rephrasely, explains his approach: “If I’m working on a project that requires a lot of brainpower, I’ll block out four hours to focus on just that one task. If I have to do something that requires less mental effort, I’ll create a two-hour block. This helps me stay on track and get things done without getting distracted by other things.”
8. Task Batching
Task batching works in tandem with task blocking, so you know which tasks you’ll complete in your blocked-out time.
With this method, you’ll create a concentrated workflow filled with similar batched tasks to blitz through in one hit. For example, you might use the time to create a month’s worth of scheduled social media posts, edit a batch of blog posts, or answer your daily emails.
Task batching works because it eliminates the “switching tax” that normally happens when you flit from one job to the next—a refocusing problem that takes as long as 23 minutes to fix.
9. Rapid Planning Method
RPM was created by motivational speaker Tony Robbins who created this system to focus on task outcomes. Use the RPM acronym to stay on track with meaty, long-term projects:
- Result: be specific about what you want to achieve (example: publish my first eBook within 90 days)
- Purpose: define why you want to achieve it (example: increase my visibility and credibility in the industry)
- Massive action plan: outline the steps you need to take to reach your goal within a planned timeline (example: write one chapter each week, send it to the editor for feedback after two chapters, and launch the eBook in three months.)
Feel the momentum start to build as you break down each task into smaller, achievable goals, and use your massive action plan to incorporate deadlines, so you remain accountable.
10. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Do you find yourself trudging through the day completing the same mundane work? Asana’s Anatomy of Work report finds that modern-day workers spend 23 out of 40 hours of the week on repetitive tasks, using an average of 9 different apps every day.
But automation tools can win back valuable hours of the week by using integrations to create a streamlined workflow. Essentially, the apps in your tech stack talk to each other without your manual input.
For example, you might set up an automation to send a templatized email whenever someone schedules an appointment using your online calendar booking system. Or you'll send a message to a Slack channel when a teammate updates your project Notion page.
Timely tip: Timely integrates with 5,000+ apps, making it a cinch to create a new Timely project for every new Asana project or automatically share time entries in your Slack messages.
11. Time Buffering
Time buffering protects you against unexpected challenges that crop up during the day, such as tech glitches or creative blocks. The idea is to provide a cushion between meetings and tasks so you don't feel rushed if something takes longer than expected.
Plan your buffers between tasks with at least 10 to 15 minutes of free time for every hour you work. This buffer allows you to pause, practice deep breathing, grab a snack, or jump on priority tasks.
12. Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is the gold standard framework for identifying priorities. Developed by former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower, it’s a four-quadrant system that zooms in on the most urgent tasks and ignores those least important backburner items. Choose which of the four quadrants your task falls into:
- Urgent and important (tasks you must do immediately)
- Important, but not urgent (tasks that need to be done but aren’t time-sensitive)
- Urgent, but not important (tasks that need to be done quickly but are of low importance)
- Neither urgent nor important (tasks you can ignore or delegate)
The hardest part of using the Eisenhower matrix is working out which task fits in which quadrant. It might feel as though all your tasks are urgent and important, but by asking yourself, "what are the consequences of not doing this task today?" you'll identify the tasks that are truly pressing and start to reduce overwhelm.
13. Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Analysis) is another powerful tool to help you prioritize tasks. It boils down to the idea that just 20% of our actions create a whopping 80% of our outcomes. But how do you find the 20% that delivers your best results?
- Make a list of tasks
- Identify those tasks you predict will create the most impact
- Complete those tasks first.
Focusing your attention on the 20% most important tasks maximizes your time, but it can be challenging to identify the most crucial tasks. Try tracking your time over a week or month and go through the intel with a fine tooth comb to pinpoint where your 20% lies. If you're stuck, look at historical data to predict future performance.
14. Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain Method
Jerry Seinfeld may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking about productivity experts. But there's a reason why he's a world-famous and uber-successful comedian: his commitment to writing new jokes. Every. Single. Day.
Fellow comedian Brad Isaac once asked for advice on crafting better jokes, and Seinfeld shared a calendar system that encourages consistent daily action to drive extraordinary results. His strategy involves hanging a giant wall calendar in a prominent place and using a red magic marker to draw an X over each day that he writes at least a funny line for a new joke.
Isaac recapped Seinfeld’s advice: "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain."
Even if you don't tell jokes for a living, you can apply the same strategy to larger projects you need to work on regularly. Break them down into daily milestones, and enjoy the buzz as you check them off.
15. Automatic Time Tracking Tools
We've reached the end of our list, and by now, you'll realize that the key to effective time management is understanding where you're spending your time and what your output is for the hours logged.
Sure, you could use a pen-and-paper approach to track and analyze the details, but this in itself could end up being a time-suck.
Instead, try using an automatic time tracking tool like Timely to accurately measure your efforts throughout the day. You'll gain a complete overview of how you spend your work day and where you can improve. It's an excellent way to boost productivity and get more done in less time.
Get started with your favorite time management hack
Time is a constant—we can't conjure up extra hours out of thin air, but we can find ways to organize our workload to make the most of the time we have. Add one or more of these time management skills to your toolkit, and you'll be amazed at how much you can squeeze into your workday. Even better? You'll feel refreshed and less frazzled at the end of it.
Whether task batching or time buffering, frog eating, or flow finding, remember to regularly evaluate your time management strategy and adjust the approach as needed. And if all else fails, take a break and come back with fresh eyes.