The working day can feel like we’re battling a ticking time bomb. It’s a constant race to complete all our tasks (and then some) before the end of the day.
Even our lunch hour can feel frantic as we cram in sandwich-eating, errand-running, and leg-stretching before returning to the grind again.
But what if we told you the clock could become your best ally as you crush your to-do list, working with you rather than against you? Follow our 15 best time management tips to meet your goals in less time—completely frazzle-free.
A word of warning: use time management tips wisely
Time management isn’t about using as many of your 24 hours to work, work, work. Far from it. Bear the following in mind as you build a productive daily schedule:
Listen to your body and mind
With the best will in the world, sometimes the human brain won't stick to our schedule. We get a headache, we start yawning, we can't concentrate. All these are signs that we need a mental reboot and should go for a walk, switch to a less intensive task, grab a coffee, or give ourselves permission to log off early for the day.
Understand you’re not perfect
Perfectionism is the curse of holding ourselves to excessively high standards and not accepting that things can and will disrupt our workflow.
We're often our worst critics, but focusing heavily on what you've failed to check off in a day rather than your accomplishments can set you on a negative trajectory, with the potential for numerous anxiety disorders and depression.
Beware of toxic productivity
Toxic productivity happens when we become obsessed with filling every waking moment with something scheduled and productive. Why? Because being busy makes us feel valued and fulfilled.
But this addiction to time management zaps spontaneity and riddles you with guilt every time you set aside your to-do list. Downtime is vital too, and we only have to look at the TV show Friends to see that not everything needs to go in the planner. When the character Monica tells her on-screen husband Chandler, "I have you scheduled for nudity at 2300," that's a shining example of time management gone bad.
15 time management tips you’ll be excited to use
The best time management skills rely on planning how and when you'll work and what you realistically want to achieve within the allotted time.
1. Complete a time audit
Start by using an automatic time tracking app like Timely to conduct a time audit and dig into how you’ve been spending your time—there might be a few surprises.
Your audit could unveil that you spend 2 hours a day scrolling on social media. Or that you're one of the workers who spend up to 30 hours of the week checking email. (Gasp.) Either way, once you see the numbers in black and white, it's easier to make adjustments and kickstart your productivity.
2. Learn to say no
Saying "No" to requests for your time is a powerful move that helps establish boundaries and protects your priorities. Apple Founder Steve Jobs famously said,
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
So, if you constantly feel pressured to volunteer for more projects even though you're already maxed out, learn to say no (loud and proud) and forge ahead with the work you’re already committed to.
3. Craft a to-do list
70% of workers rely on a to-do list to provide a complete overview of the tasks on their plate. This can be a short list of things you need to achieve, or it can include actionable task planning details such as deadline dates, priority orders, estimated time frames, and the skills you need to complete the tasks.
4. Prioritize your tasks
A long list of tasks can feel overwhelming without a plan, so the next step is to work out what to tackle first. Natasha Maddock is a qualified lawyer and co-founder of Events Made Simple who uses a three-question approach to understand her task priorities and decide what to delegate. She asks:
- Does it have to be done?
- Does it have to be done by me?
- Does it have to be done now?
Another prioritization technique is the Eisenhower Matrix which separates work into four quadrants:
- Urgent and Important (example: responding to a customer crisis)
- Not Urgent but Important (example: hiring a new staff member)
- Urgent but Not Important (example: attending a low-priority Zoom meeting that starts in the next 2 minutes)
- Not Urgent and Not Important. (example: sorting through your junk mail folder.)
Decide which quadrant your work fits into, and you're less likely to spend your time putting out fires.
5. Tackle your most important tasks first
Work through your priority list in a process known as Eat The Frog. You start with your most challenging high-priority tasks (your frogs) and then switch to lighter and less crucial work as the day progresses. Yemisi Iyilade, Senior Project Manager of the Eminent Coaching Academy uses this time management hack as follows:
“One strategy that has been most beneficial for me is focusing on the first three tasks of the day in the first few hours. Making a list of these objectives helps me stay organized and targeted, ensuring that I prioritize my most important tasks.”
6. Plan out your week
Get ahead of your work week by setting aside time on a Sunday evening (or Friday evening if you prefer to switch off completely at the weekends) to plan out the tasks you want to complete each day.
Create time estimates for each task and use historical data from previous time audits to ensure accuracy.
Timely tip: try frontloading your week by working more hours when you feel refreshed on a Monday and Tuesday, then cutting back on a Thursday and Friday when you're struggling with waning energy levels.
7. Create a not-to-do list
Hear us out, but there's also an argument for going in the opposite direction and creating a not-to-do list. What now? A not-to-do list empowers you to eliminate all the distractions, tasks, and activities that are depleting your energy without moving you closer to your goals. Feel free to create a list of items like:
- Do not engage with social media followers today
- Do not take on my colleagues’ responsibilities
- Do not overcommit my time.
- Do not work through my regular breaks.
HR writer Tracy Rawlinson explains, “There’s something really productive about giving yourself permission not to complete everything. It allows you to really focus and concentrate on the tasks that matter.”
8. Pad your deadlines
Being up against a deadline can be seriously stress-inducing, and you might hear that little voice inside your head saying:
- “What if my kid gets chickenpox tomorrow, and I can’t work the rest of the week?”
- “What if I test positive for COVID-19 and I’m out of action for a couple of weeks?
- “What if my colleague is late briefing me on the project, and I can’t meet the client deadline on time?”
The truth is: any of these what-ifs (and more) could happen—you can’t control everything. But you can pad your deadlines to give you a little extra time when life gives you lemons.
Example: Let’s say you have a project due March 15th. Set the deadline in your planner for March 8th to give you an extra week….just in case.
9. Eliminate distractions
From the lure of the office water cooler chat to picking up your phone in the middle of a deep work sprint, there’s seemingly always something to interrupt our focus time. But while it only takes a second to be distracted, the average worker takes 23 minutes to regain their focus, wasting 2 hours each day overall. Get around this with the following tips:
- Don't fall into the trap of using asynchronous tools like email or Slack synchronously. You don't need to respond to every message immediately, so turn your notifications off and crack on with your work.
- Close your open browser tabs to focus on the work that matters. Worried you’ll lose something? Use the Toby extension to organize your browser tabs and reaccess them later.
- Use airplane mode on your devices, so you're not disturbed by an incoming phone call, WhatsApp message or news update disrupting your concentration.
10. Go cold turkey on multitasking
Multitasking has long been regarded as a time management skill—if you can complete several jobs in the same amount of time, that certainly sounds appealing.
But the reality is that people who context switch between several conversations, projects, email chains, or meetings reduce their productivity by 40%. Ditch the chaos by concentrating on one task at a time using methods like:
- Task batching: completing a series of related tasks in a single work session. For example, set aside an hour to focus on any of the following: blog editing, email writing, social media posting, or updating your project management boards.
- Time blocking: divide your work day into time blocks and dedicate chunks of time to specific tasks.
11. Lean on accountability partners
Accountability is a powerful time management tool. And publicizing how you intend to spend your time encourages you to be more responsible and stick to your goals so you don’t lose face in front of others.
Founder and CEO Dan Troha outlines how this works when managing a small team of employees at Trivia Bliss.
“Every day at 9 am, we all gather around my office clock for a quick pow-wow. This helps ensure everyone is on the same page and aware of the tasks that need to be completed in the coming hours. Everyone is also accountable for their own assignment, so there's no wasted time. In addition to the laughter and camaraderie, we review yesterday's successes and failures, which helps us improve our process moving forward.”
12. Set meeting agendas
Meetings can be a timesuck, with workers spending up to 18 hours of the week in them. Although you can use video recording tools like Loom asynchronously to reduce the need for real-time meetings, some remain essential.
One way to keep meetings on track and within the allotted time is to set an agenda beforehand and distribute it to each meeting participant for better preparation.
Your agenda should include:
- The main topics to discuss.
- The information required.
- The expected outcomes from each meeting.
13. Quit procrastinating
88% of workers procrastinate daily, with 31.9% procrastinating for 2 to 3 hours daily and 17% putting off tasks for up to 4 hours daily. Wow, that's quite a waste of time.
Eran Galperin is the founder and CEO of Gymdesk, a gym management software company. She recognizes that procrastination is the enemy of productivity, explaining, “There is no time like the present and to procrastinate is to stagnate. You'll feel better being able to cross out all those niggling little administration details with relish and feel minor accomplishments continually throughout the day for completing small irritating tasks.”
But how do you overcome procrastination? One tip is to estimate how long your task will take and stay grounded in realism when figuring this out. Then take early action to start moving towards the finish line.
14. Break larger projects into manageable chunks
If the task ahead feels like a veritable mountain, try following in the footsteps of PrimoStats founder Shayla Price and break it down into manageable chunks.
“My to-do list consists of smaller actions to complete a task. Let’s say I want to write a blog post. I’ll write the introduction one day, the first section the next day, and so on. It may take me 7 days to complete a blog post, but it gets done.”
Use a method like the Pomodoro technique to divide your tasks and work within strict time limits. You’ll start off working for 25 minutes before a 5-minute break, then take a longer restorative break of 15 to 30 minutes after four consecutive Pomodoro intervals. Rely on a stopwatch or use a Pomodoro time management app to make it easier.
15. Depend on automatic time tracking apps
Time tracking helps us stay accountable to our goals by monitoring our activity and giving us an overview of how we spend our time on different projects and daily tasks.
But the act of tracking time shouldn't waste more valuable hours from your week. Instead, automatic time tracking tools like Timely provide an effortless way to track how you're spending your day without manually starting and stopping timers or filling in timesheets.
Start working time management techniques into your day
The feeling of never having enough time may be familiar, but it doesn't need to be forever. Whether you incorporate a single time management hack or a whole bunch into your work day, the key is to use them regularly, so they become a habit.
Start by turning on your automatic time tracking tool to complete a time audit. You’ll quickly become more productive and far less stressed!