Time management is the process of planning and organizing the time you need to divide between specific tasks or activities. To do this effectively, you would have to allocate the ideal amount of time to an activity to get it done. This allows you to make the best and most productive use of your time—whether in your professional or personal life—through a process of prioritizing tasks in accordance with their importance and estimated turnaround time.
Time management is a skill that not only project managers should possess. Having a daily routine and maintaining a good work-life balance are good examples of day-to-day time management, and struggling with any of them can have negative consequences. Here are some effective time management strategies to turn into habits.
1. Set Priorities
You only get enough time in a day to get things done, so you would need to properly allocate your hours on important tasks. But how do you know which tasks you should prioritize? It may be helpful to refer to the Eisenhower Matrix, which sets guidelines for prioritization:
- Important and urgent - These are tasks you should attend to first.
- Important but not urgent - You can schedule these tasks for later.
- Not important but urgent - These are the tasks you can possibly delegate to others
- Not important and not urgent - These are the tasks you can skip or attend to last.
Tip: The Eisenhower Matrix is a great thing to keep in mind when preparing your to-do lists. This will help you organize your tasks by importance and urgency.
2. Avoid Waiting Around
More often than not, a huge chunk of some tasks involves waiting around for others to get back to you. While being patient is valuable, waiting around only eats up too much time that could be spent doing other tasks. That doesn’t mean you should be looking for leisure distractions either. Try filling in your waiting time by checking up on emails or glancing over your schedule to see how else you could be productive.
Tip: If there are really no more task-related things you can do while waiting around, why not listen to podcasts or read articles connected to them? This will help keep you motivated, and may even help you learn something new about what you’re doing.
3. Break Large Jobs Into Smaller Pieces
Large projects can be draining, exhausting, and even lead your brain into looking for distractions and procrastination. Breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces can help you feel more in control and even let you give your brain and energy levels much-needed short breaks.
You can try out the Pomodoro Technique. Translated from the Italian word for tomato, this technique was inspired by kitchen timers and consists of focusing on tasks in time blocks of 25 minutes at a time, in between breaks.
When you’re dealing with a large task with many subtasks, here’s how you can apply the Pomodoro Technique to it:
- Set dedicated times to attend to little things like checking emails or making calls. This can also give you a respite after finishing a previous task.
- Divide the task and give yourself shorter, 25-minute deadlines for each. This is especially helpful for tasks that require large attention to detail.
- Hone your time management skills by setting all possible distractions aside and dedicating all of your energy and attention to the 25-minute task you have at hand. One of the benefits of time management is it gets you focused.
4. Make Efficient Decisions — Even If That Means Saying No
You would need to be able to make quick decisions when it comes to your work, not only for yourself but when others are involved as well. This is how you can quickly establish your limits and boundaries, and be able to foresee the outcome of certain tasks.
This could even mean saying “no” and turning down difficult tasks your supervisor or manager comes to you with. While we all hesitate to refuse tasks from our bosses, there are effective ways to do it:
- Explain - Give a reason, such as citing important tasks you’re working on at the moment, and how taking on a new task can derail your progress.
- Avoid lying - Made-up excuses are a terrible way to deal with new task requests, and there’s a risk of your boss finding out you’re fibbing. Try to always be open about why you can’t take on new tasks at that time.
- Present your priorities - Show your boss what you’re working on. This lets them gauge how their new task measures up in importance and urgency from your other projects and understand why you’re turning them down. This could even lead them to help you with some tasks or delegating them to others.
- Ask for postponement - Sometimes the final deadlines on new tasks aren’t truly set in stone yet. You can ask for the task to be postponed or rescheduled to be addressed at a later date.
Making decisions quickly and saying “no” tactfully can help save you from missing deadlines and experiencing burnout from taking on too many things at once.
5. Focus On One Thing
There may be a lot of praise for multitasking, but it seems to be more counterproductive than anything. Doing many tasks at the same time may look impressive, but it can be inefficient and ineffective. This also robs the brain of the proper time to prepare itself and mentally catch up in between tasks, which could lead to more mistakes to have to iron out, taking up more of your time.
Tip: Try focusing on one task at a time instead, then put your effort into completing it before moving to another one. This way, your brain can have enough time to transition between different tasks, and you can have some closure before hopping onto another assignment.
6. Keep A Time Log
Keeping a log of your workday can help you keep track of work time, related tasks, and other specific activities you need to or are yet to do. It is also a good habit to get into for going over what you’ve finished at the end of the day. Not only will it give you a sense of accomplishment, but it will inform you of things that need to be done the next day.
Tip: A convenient way to do this is to keep a planner or take notes in an online calendar you can easily access on your phone.
7. Schedule In Buffer Time
It may be tempting to just barrel through all of your tasks for the sake of efficiency and finishing early. But this may actually be the opposite! The human brain actually needs to take a break every 90 minutes just to be able to sustain consistently high levels of motivation as well as concentration.
Tip: Be sure to schedule 10 to 15 minutes of buffer time between finishing and starting tasks. Go for a quick walk, watch something funny online, or enjoy a small snack.
If you’re working on a lot of tasks with a deadline that is looming ever closer, delegating them could be a good idea. There will be people in your company who have the time and skills to be able to help you out.
Look out for team members who are available and start delegating. This also shows that you value their input, and empowers them into growing professionally.
Tip: No man is an island. Delegating can even strengthen your professional relationships.
Setting boundaries and a healthy pace set an ideal foundation for good time management. However, learning when to reach out and ask for help is one of the best time management techniques. This is why outsourcing employees such as virtual assistants have been on the rise, as remote work is becoming more common in the digital age.