How To Quickly Improve Your Time Management Skills
Time, to be honest, folks. Hands up if you write endless to-do lists and never finish crossing them off? Do you start cleaning the oven when you have a task? How about scrolling endlessly on social media with the promise of ‘just one more minute?’ These bad habits are a barrier to increased productivity and a common problem with managing time.
The world we live in today demands our attention in a billion little ways, and we get a ridiculous amount of notifications demanding to be seen and dealt with immediately: phone calls, emails, messages, social media, games, advertisements, and on and on and on.
There are only so many hours in the day. These distractions add up to hours of lost productivity for many of us. Other impacts of poor time management can be an unhealthy work-life balance, lack of motivation, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
So how do you overcome all the distractions and focus on what matters? In this guide to time management, let us show you how to improve time management.
What is time management?
Time management is managing your time effectively, which means not procrastinating, wasting time, or trying to do too much at once.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of working smarter, not harder. When you work smarter, you can prioritize and complete tasks and end the day feeling successful. At the same time, it also doesn’t mean that you should have your nose to the grindstone.
Signs of poor time management
Without effective time management, you’ll probably be stressed, rushing your work, procrastinating and wasting time, and aimlessly wandering backward and forward between tasks.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by everything you had to do that you procrastinate further instead of buckling down and getting on with it? The consequences of poor time management could include missing deadlines and not doing your best, which never feels good.
Some other signs of poor time management include not being able to:
Organize your workspace.
You don’t use time blocking on your calendar.
Don’t blame yourself. Human instinct from way back during our caveman days has always been to expend as little energy as possible. But life has moved on, and our instinct is not always right anymore.
Life is not about survival anymore, and it’s about juggling the commitments of home, work, and education.
Effective time management techniques
If you Google time management, you’ll come up with many time management methods and explanations.
People like Tony Robbins and David Allens have made a living by advising people on how to improve focus and personal productivity. Businesses strive to hire effective, motivated employees.
There are thousands of books on time management, and some like Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ have become very popular.
There are so many time management tips because different people’s brains work differently, so you need to figure out what works best for you. The following methods will give you a wide range of approaches that you can use to improve your time management skills.
1. The Eisenhower method
Now it’s time for a quick history lesson to explain this one. Dwight Eisenhower was an American president from 1953 to 1961 — during the Korean War and the height of the Cold War. Before that, he was a general in the armed forces and the Supreme Allied Commander during World War Two.
As you can imagine, he had to make many decisions, including some adamant ones. Hopefully, the decisions you need to make won’t change the course of history, but sometimes it can feel that way. So how did Eisenhower do it?
Eisenhower developed a matrix that allowed him to delegate tasks into four categories:
2. Not urgent.
Urgent and important tasks are marked in the matrix as ‘Do it now.’ Not urgent important tasks mean you need to ‘Decide’ on time to complete it. Unimportant tasks fall either into the ‘Delegate’ or ‘Delete’ category.
This approach works well because every task can be divided up into one of the quadrants of the Eisenhower matrix, and it helps you distinguish between urgent and not urgent tasks.
That said, it’s important to point out that this is a task-oriented decision-making tool, which doesn’t give you any guidelines for how long to work for at a time.
2. ABCD method
The ABCD method is very similar to the Eisenhower matrix. The ABCD method is another prioritization framework that sorts tasks by rating them A through to D (or sometimes E).
In contrast to deciding the urgency and importance of your tasks, it suggests organizing your tasks based on the level of consequence.
What will happen if you don’t complete the job? Well, this method implies that your time management will be good if your task management is good.
3. Pomodoro method
Unlike the previous time management strategies, the Pomodoro method is a time-blocking or time-tracking technique.
It was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, a university student at the time. ‘Pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato, referring to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used while studying.
Cirillo found that he was most productive when he worked for a set amount of time, called the Pomodoro, and then a short break.
The Pomodoro is traditionally 25 minutes working on a single task and 5-minute breaks as a rule of thumb. Once you complete four Pomodoro’s, you reset the timer and get to have a more extended break.
When you have a large project, the Pomodoro technique allows you to break it up into achievable chunks, and it won’t seem so daunting. Having a simple timer to race against can help some people be very productive in those short bursts.
It helps to have a concrete goal in a non-intimidating way. Having regular breaks also gives workers something to look forward to and helps split up their day.
4. Pareto’s principle and improvement
The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto came up with several concepts for social analysis. Pareto's ideas are not explicitly related to time management.
That said, the principles most certainly apply to managing our times better. Like Eisenhower and the ABCD method, you must also identify vital tasks.
The Pareto Principle is often referred to as the 80/20 rule. The rule suggests that we are automatically drawn to the easy tasks when trying to get things done because they are quick. The ratio comes from the idea that 80% of our rewards come from 20% of our effort.
Under this principle, completing them gives us a false sense of accomplishment because they lack significance. We will see the most impact if we prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones, which requires some self-reflection.
According to the theory, any change made to a process that harms no one and benefits at least one person is a Pareto improvement. We know this more commonly as a no-brainer because it sounds so obvious. What is less apparent is to apply it to your time management repertoire.
5. Eating the frog
Eating the frog is not a tangent on French cuisine; it is a time management technique. The term was coined after advice from Mark Twain, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."
With the frog first principle, the idea is for you to get the biggest, bad-ass job done and out of the way first thing. You'll feel a great sense of achievement, and you'll have ticked off a critical box on your to-do list. The negative of this technique is that it assumes that everyone works best in the morning.
Your lizard blood might take a while to warm up (does three coffees and a bagel sound familiar?), and you work better in the afternoon. Or you might be a night owl instead. So understand that just like 'eating the frog' is a metaphor, you can also interpret 'morning' as you see fit.
8 top tips for being productive
Some of the best minds in the world have come up with strategies to become more productive. But perhaps you don’t want to commit to any of the methods, or you need a slight nudge in the right direction rather than a full-blown strategic plan.
Consider starting your day with some of the specific approaches mentioned above. But that said, here are some time management hacks and simple tips that productive people all have in common.
1. Create habits and routines
Recent research has shown that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to build a behavior into a habit.
If you want to improve your time management, you’ll have to commit to building good habits and be ruthless about sticking to them. That’s up to eight months! We’re not mentioning this to frighten you, but it’s better to have a realistic expectation of yourself.
Hold yourself accountable and create a morning routine. Develop an afternoon routine. It doesn’t matter what time of day, but get yourself a schedule and, most importantly, stick to it.
2. Eliminate time wasters
The best productivity tip is to identify the root cause of wasting time. What are the things that distract you, either external distractions (small children, playing music, that new Netflix show you’ve been dying to binge) or internal distractions (worry, hunger, daydreaming)?
Not even successful people can work without a break for the whole day. Pay attention to what is consuming your attention and consider how you can mitigate it. If it is too daunting to eliminate distractions, you could consider another tactic: schedule dead space. Outsourcing tasks is another great way to eliminate time wasters and allows you to spend time on more important tasks.
Like the Pomodoro technique, give yourself five-minute breaks or longer, and that’s your vegging-out time. If you can’t give up scrolling through Instagram, commit only to spending time doing it in your breaks.
3. Set SMART goals
We know this sounds like some high school career advice, but honestly, it works. Setting goals gives you a sense of purpose and a target to work towards.
If you’re a competitive person, compete against yourself. Set yourself a hard target and see if you win. If you’re feeling a bit down, tired, or need some self-care, set an achievable goal for yourself and chip away at it.
The SMART acronym is a helpful way to set goals and make sure they’re appropriate. SMART goals are:
Specific: Have a narrow focus for practical work.
Measurable: How will you know when you've achieved your goal? Perhaps it's a specific word count or desired result.
Achievable: Make your goals challenging, not impossible.
Relevant: Make sure it’s helping your work towards long-term goals.
Timely: Set deadlines that give you enough time to complete the delegated task.
4. Stop multitasking
While many people extol the virtues of multitasking and gleefully poke fun at people who can’t, the advice is firmly in the opposite camp. Multitasking should come with a disclaimer: don’t try this at home.
When you work out your to-do list and you’ve triaged the tasks into life-threatening, and those that can sit back and wait, and you’re about to sit down and get cracking, work on one thing at a time.
If you try to multitask, you may think you’re getting more done, but you’re not. The evidence shows that multitasking causes more stress and decreases your efficiency. Be your most effective self, focus on what matters, and set aside all other tasks and activities.
5. Keep track of your deadlines
Using a tool to help keep track of deadlines, work, social events, and other important dates can be extremely helpful to keep you on track and help you plan to use your time efficiently.
While some people like nothing better than a good old-fashioned handwritten to-do list, there are more and more digital platforms for improving your time management.
Some are readily available and free; a tool like Google Calendar, which you can access on any device or share with friends or family, helps. You can break it down into hours of the day, days of the week, or weeks in the month, whichever scale you need.
6. Manage all your distractions
Today, it’s easy to get distracted at work each day. We have distractions coming at us everywhere, just waiting to slow us down. Things like:
Social media notifications.
Desktop push notifications.
Zoom video conferencing calls.
Slack direct messages.
Despite trying to avoid procrastination, managing our time has become much harder. And as a result, the cumulative cost of daily distractions on our reduced productivity quickly adds up each day.
That’s why it’s crucial to have procedures set up to eliminate distractions which can be things like:
Turn your cell phone on silent mode without vibrations.
Have specific time slots to check your email.
Modifying the setting for all of the apps you use on your computer to ensure they do not send push notifications.
7. Take frequent small breaks
Simply standing up, walking away from your desk, and taking a 5-to-10-minute break once every hour or two can result in you becoming significantly more productive.
When you allow yourself to have a little downtime now and then, you refresh yourself and clear your head. Refreshing and clearing one's head helps people get back to completing a task faster, and better.
Plus, not to mention, it helps you to stay focused and motivated. Having frequent breaks is also essential for your emotional, physical, and mental states.
8. Put time limits on your tasks
To-do lists are essential. Once you’ve started creating a list of tasks each day, you must put intentional time limits on how long you can work on each one.
Simply setting a time constraint to complete tasks fully will help you keep focused on each one, increasing your efficiency. Sort the most important tasks into high-priority jobs that can be:
Broken into smaller ongoing tasks.
Writing down how long each task will take you on each daily list will help you in other ways. If you don’t finish a task in the allotted time, you stop when the time slot is over and then come back to it later with a fresh start.
Time management software and productivity apps
Of all the tips to improve, keeping track is vital. Most of us don’t have photographic memories. More advanced tools are available to help you manage your time.
You can download a web app at the click of a button, and it can help you plan a schedule, track your time, provide reminders, or lock you out of social media or aimless browsing.
Some of these management tools require payment or a subscription, but if you need a boost in the right direction or work in a team with strict deadlines, this is money well spent.
These management apps are excellent for people with transferable skills like soft skills. It’s worth your time to check out what productivity apps are available and consider what might work best for you.
A Trello board is a visual productivity resource and increases productivity and efficiency. It works well as a collaborative tool and is easily customized to highlight urgent items. The method of organizing your workflow works best for those whose learning style means they prefer a visible solution for time management.
Image credit: Trello
Asana is a project management tool to help keep teams on track. It allows businesses to manage, collaborate, communicate, and organize multiple projects. People can use Asana for various project styles and workflows with powerful customization, including Agile, Kanban, or PRINCE2.
Image credit: Asana
Harvest is another time management app that offers an intuitive, easy-to-use tracking software to see how you use your time. A lot of virtual assistants use the tool for reporting their time-tracking.
Image credit: Harvest
Likewise, agencies and enterprises may use the software for budgeting. I.e., working out how much time an employee is spending on a particular task by allocating an employee's hourly wage or salary to work out things like profit per person, time wasters, etc.
Harvest provides summaries and analyses of how you use your time for team management. It'll help you eliminate time-wasting activities and work towards improving time management, whether on an individual or group basis.
There is only one major pitfall when using Harvest for time tracking. Staff needs the discipline to turn on/off the time tracking app. Hence, some employees might forget to turn it on or off, which may skew the data.
These are a visual record of how tasks relate to an amount of time. It works best for organizing long-term projects. Working on multiple projects at once can help you keep track of due dates, and you can schedule when you need to start working on each task.
Image credit: TeamGantt
You can break down the task into chunks and estimate how much time each takes. The Gantt charts visually show you what tasks require immediate attention.
What are the benefits of time management?
Of course, the fundamental goal and benefit of good time management are to increase your productivity. But the importance of time management goes beyond just learning how to use your time.
1. Personal development growth
Now you’re so good at avoiding distractions you complete more tasks per day, boost your productivity, and operate at peak performance.
2. Deal with stress better
Your emotional intelligence allows you to be aware of and manage factors that negatively impact your wellbeing. If you get stressed out by the thought of multiple, looming deadlines and the amount of work you need to spend to complete those tasks, then you are not alone.
Time management and stress management go hand in hand. It puts you in control and provides direction. Having excellent time management skills will help you plan out and prioritize your tasks and help lower stress levels.
3. Save time
Rather than procrastinate, you now take immediate action on your tasks. Hopefully, your life is no longer filled with multiple snack breaks throughout the day, Instagramming your progress, or going down a YouTube vortex.
Your effective planning means you start work early and submit it on time. If you wasted time today, it was your hard-earned right while taking a break.
4. Produce quality over quantity
Now that you’re a master of your time once more, you can focus on improving the quality of your work. Once you understand how you are spending your time and take some of these easy steps to develop time management skills, you’ll find that you also work better.
Producing quality over quantity corresponds with the work of Joseph Juran, who is the guy responsible for the trilogy of quality planning, quality control, and quality improvement. After all, if it’s a job worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
What time management online courses can I take?
If you want to improve how you can manage the time in your life, you should consider completing an online time management course. The best results will come from a deeper understanding of people's specific time management challenges when working in high-pressure, stressful environments.
At Courses for Success, we offer a Time Management Online Certificate course. The course provides training in delegating, organizing workspaces, dealing with e-mail, using calendars, managing workflows, planning, learning how to prioritize your time better, and organizing your days better.
You'll become a master of your destiny because you will have the necessary skills to finish more urgent tasks within limited time frames, which means more control over your daily schedules. Complete the course in your own time, with lifetime, 24/7 access from any computer or smartphone. On completion, you'll gain a certificate of completion.
Why Courses for Success?
Courses for Success offers over 10,000 online courses, all of which aim to help you in your personal development and career progression. Not only that, but you can also study them anywhere and at any time, and take them at your own pace, too.
You don’t need career diplomas or specific experience to get started. With every course we offer created to be as accessible as possible, you can be sure that all of them, from our coding courses and trading courses to design courses and developer courses, will help to boost your prospects, no matter who you are.
Beyond just the education itself, students will be issued with a certificate online after successful completion of each of the learning courses they do. Our time management skills courses are no exception and are recognized by industry leaders. You could really make a name for yourself by signing up for a Courses for Success short course today.