Time…or the lack of it…seems to be something we all complain about. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any busy woman utter the words, “I just have too much time on my hands.” Instead, most of us are struggling to find more hours in our day. And while that isn’t going to happen, we can implement better time management strategies to make the best use of the hours we do have.
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If you’re always feeling stressed and like your days are spent running a marathon, then it’s time for some practical time management tips. Implementing even a few of these time management strategies will help you regain control of your calendar, get more done, and end each day with a sense of accomplishment.
Get organized to manage your time
You might be wondering what organization has to do with time management.
We tend to think of organization as something we do to things…and since time isn’t a thing, what’s the connection?
But in reality, organization is simply a process that’s applied to make things function more efficiently...and that includes time.
So that leads to tip number one…
Time Management Strategy #1: Get things cleaned up, decluttered, and organized at home and at work
It’s much more difficult to manage your time well when you can’t find things, when you’re wasting time looking for your keys or that important document you need. The average person wastes nearly 4 hours every week looking for misplaced items, moving things from one pile to the next, and being frustrated.
Getting our physical space under control has a direct correlation on our ability to effectively manage our time – it’s one of the key time management strategies we can utilize.
Time Management Strategy #2: Invest in a calendar system you’ll use religiously!
I happen to be a fan of a paper calendar system and encourage my clients to go with a physical planner but ultimately the choice comes down to personal preference.
However, there are some absolutes that any calendar/planner system must have:
- It must be something you can (and will) access multiple times throughout your day.
- You must be able to carry it with you to appointments, meetings, and any other event where there is the likelihood that another event will be added to your schedule.
- It must have a place for you to add notes and tasks to it.
These features turn your calendar/planner into a truly functional system that allows you to not only know when you need to do something, but lets you track the myriad of other tasks and smaller things that need to happen during your day.
The right calendar/planning system truly does become an extension of yourself and can work like an addition to your brain!
My favorite planning system is Planner Pad. It uses a funnel system so you can categorize appointments and tasks as you work towards your daily plan. It’s upped my productivity and time management tremendously!
Time Management Strategy #3: Get systems in place to deal with regular activities at home and at work
Systems help us deal with the things that we have to deal with regularly. You know, things like paying bills, doing chores, filing receipts for warranties or tax purposes.
But here’s the truth about systems: they need to be as simple as possible in order to accomplish the task. That means we should scrap the elaborate, multi-step systems that are so complicated that we don’t (or won’t) use them.
A system that’s not easy to use, won’t be used (and therefore is worse than no system at all).
So aim for simple systems that make it easier (and faster) for you to get things done. And then use the system repeatedly until it becomes a habit.
What are some examples of simple systems?
- An envelope kept in your purse for all receipts
- An accordion folder where you tuck receipts and other documents you’ll need at tax time
- A meal planning sheet that you fill out every week so you know what’s for dinner
- Assigning certain chores to specific days
These are just a few examples, but the key is remember that systems only work if they’re used regularly (otherwise they’re not really systems at all, are they?).
Time Management Strategy #4: Become a do-er and not a procrastinator
It’s so easy to put things off! Especially those things that we really don’t want to do in the first place.
The problem is that those things we don’t want to do don’t just go away. There’s no “chore fairy” or “cleaning elf” that is going to sweep in and get things done for us. And at my house, there’s definitely no Snow White who is going to whistle and do the stuff I don’t want to do while I do other things.
We’ve got to become masters of ourselves so that the things we don’t want to do don’t end up taking even more time.
Brian Tracy tells us to “eat that frog”. Which is just a (very unappetizing ) way of telling us to go ahead and tackle the things we don’t like as soon as possible. Get them done, mark them off your list, and keep them small.
Eat that frog! – Brian Tracy
(can we smother it in cheese sauce first?)
Related Post: 7 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Success
practice effective scheduling principles
Time Management Strategy #5: Group like tasks together
You’ll hear me talk about batching, and this is simply another term for doing similar things at the same time.
For example, if you need to pay one bill, why not go ahead and pay all of the bills that have come in? Or if you need to run to the grocery store and are going to drive right past the dry cleaners anyway, then go ahead and stop to pick up your dry cleaning while you’re out.
Grouping tasks together cuts down on the number of times you have to start an activity…which saves you time.
Time Management Strategy #6: Work from big blocks to smaller ones
Have you ever faced the day and asked yourself what you should be working on? Often this is a problem when we’re not clear about the big picture. It’s much more effective to plan our days when we know what needs to be done in a particular week.
And it’s easier to know what needs to be done in a particular week when we know what needs to be done during the month.
So we start big…with the monthly overview, and work towards the smaller time periods of each week and then down to each day. This strategy allows us to know that we’re taking the specific steps to achieve bigger goals, which is really the purpose of effective time management.
Time Management Strategy #7: Plan your day the night before
When you stop work for the day, take a few minutes to plan out what you need to do tomorrow. You can open your planner and list your top three activities or even go ahead and block activities into specific time slots.
This allows you to approach each new day with a clear picture of what you need to do and when you’re going to do it. No more floundering around wondering what really needs to be done…or worse, spending time working on tasks that were lower priority.
Lots of people take this idea one step farther and sit down each week to plan out the next seven days. Personally, I do a weekly planning session every Sunday afternoon where I take a look at my overall goals, and then using my Planner Pad I plan out the weekly tasks to make sure I focus on getting the most important tasks done. My whole goal for each week is to make progress towards the bigger goals.
It’s wonderful to greet each day knowing exactly what you need to be doing! At the end of the day you know you got the right things done and can feel good about your progress.
Time Management Strategy #8: Do things at the optimal time
There are some tasks that don’t have to be done every week or every month. They’re the seasonal activities, maintenance chores, and special occasion activities that need to be done, but are more infrequent.
However, even though they don’t come around regularly, we still need to plan for them so that we don’t find ourselves in a mess because the first freeze occurred over night and we never got the heaters serviced.
This is where your planner is a lifesaver!
I suggest you sit down with your yearly planner and assign those more infrequent tasks to a particular month so that you don’t forget about them.
For example, you know that your car is due for inspection and registration every year in March. Go ahead and make note during that month that you need to schedule a time to take the car to an inspection shop, and then plan for when (and how) you’re going to arrange for new registration. Whether you need to actually go someplace to take care of this chore or simply arrange for it via mail, write it in your planner. This way you don’t get a nasty surprise because your inspection and tags are out of date.
This concept applies to other areas as well.
Go ahead and put down all those birthdays and seasonal chores you need to plan for. This way you’ll have a reminder before the actual event that there are things you need to do to prepare.
Time Management Strategy #9: Use only one calendar for work and home
Here’s a mistake that lots of people make…they have one calendar at work…and another calendar at home. This is a mistake because even though you have activities that are divided into work and home, you still have one life. And when you have two separate calendars, something is going to fall through the cracks and get missed.
I know because I’ve made this mistake in the past.
I’d keep my work calendar on my desk at work and would be so efficient at tracking everything that needed to be done. But one day I realized that the next day was a critical one at work…and I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment on the same day. So now I had to scramble to work out the mess I’d created!
All because I wasn’t keeping everything in one place.
Keeping one calendar gives you the freedom to plan both your work and personal life. It enables you to check work events when scheduling personal appointments that take you away from the job. It lets you check your personal calendar before you commit to a new project at work.
One life = one calendar!
determine your priorities
Time Management Strategy #10: Do the most important things first
Ideally, before you even start your day, you’ve taken some time to look at the tasks and appointments on your calendar. While sometimes we get a thrill from checking things off the list and are addicted to being busy, we need to make sure that we’re actually getting the most important things done first.
It’s easy to be busy just for the sake of being busy…but that’s counterproductive if you want to be effective.
Here’s why…in order to be effective, to move forward to meet our goals and achieve the things that are important to us, we must be doing the things that will actually help get us where we want to go. Those other things are basically time wasters.
No one wants to look up at the end of the day – or week – only to find that all the truly important things have been left undone while we filled up our days with a lot of mindless, and mostly trivial, busy work.
Time Management Strategy #11: Determine in advance how much time to spend on social media
Yes, you read that right.
If we’re honest with ourselves then we know we’re spending a lot of time scrolling through different social media platforms. They’re addictive – they’re built this way.
Think about it. Social media platforms want you to spend a lot of time there. It’s good for their business. So they do everything they can to cause you to lose track of time while scrolling, liking, commenting, comparing, and everything else.
And honestly, probably the biggest part of it is a total waste of time (just sayin’).
Now it’s one thing to hop on to a social media platform with a specific goal in mind…perhaps to wish your cousin a happy birthday or check to see if your college roommate’s grandchild has been born yet. But we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that social media can be a huge time suck and take steps to prevent getting sucked in.
Time Management Strategy #12: Learn to say NO
Here’s a cold hard truth…there will always be more things to do than there is time.
There will always be activities, meetings, requests, distractions, and shiny objects. And many of them will be SO tempting!
But every time you say YES to one thing…you’re saying NO to something else. And if that NO is to something that you’ve identified as important to you then you’re the only one who can draw the boundaries that protect your time and schedule.
NO is not a dirty word!
So learn to use it, and use it often. Things won’t fall apart just because you chose not to participate in something.
Time Management Strategy #13: Keep your energy up
Being productive isn’t guaranteed just because you keep working at something. In fact, without adequate breaks your efficiency begins to decrease over time.
Getting up to walk away from your desk, to stretch or get some water, or grab a healthy snack will actually increase your productivity by giving you that second wind you need to get tasks done.
So take those breaks (schedule them in), get up and move away from your desk, and do things that take care of your body and your mind.
Time Management Strategy #14: Take care of yourself
You may wonder what’s the connection between time management and self-care. After all, taking time to rest and relax may seem counterproductive when you’re striving for efficiency and getting things done.
But here is a fundamental truth…if you do not take the time to take care of yourself then you’re going to end up unfocused, exhausted, and doing sloppy work that you have to do over again to get it right.
That benefits no one.
By taking care of ourselves we are mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to do our best, most efficient and effective work. We’ll end up saving the time because we can do things right the first time.
A good resource on this topic is Elevate Your Productivity and Health: A Productivity and Health Manual For The Burned Out Entrepreneur. This is a pretty comprehensive look at the connection between your health and your productivity and it’s part of the Productivity Bundle.
Time Management Strategy #15: Take time off
This is a hard one I know. It’s hard to stop when there are still things to be done and when there are still hours in the day (don’t ask me how I know this). But there comes a point when our efficiency begins to decrease and it’s time to leave work for another day.
But getting past that desire to push ahead and just do “a little more” is so, so hard.
It’s also tempting to bring work home at night or on the weekends, and if you work from home it seems like the lines between work time and home time get blurred…or completely erased.
This isn’t good for us.
So in addition to taking time for self-care, we also need to just take time off. Put work down, walk away, and know that it will still be there when we return.
And here’s one more hard truth that I’ve learned the hard way…
You’ll never be completely done.
So quit telling yourself that you’ll quit when you’re done because that time never comes. We need to set parameters and determine an appropriate quitting time and stop deluding ourselves that we’ll just work “until it’s finished.”
anticipate and plan for interruptions
Time Management Strategy #16: Leave some “white space” in your daily plan
Here’s a common mistake I see people make…and that I’ve made myself: we schedule back to back events and activities and forget to account for the fact that things sometimes go wrong, that they take longer than we anticipated, that we need travel or transition time, and that unexpected things do pop up.
And when those things do pop up, our schedule is thrown off. Or we’re running late. And now we’re behind…and frustrated…and, you get the idea.
Reality is that things are going to happen. It’s called life. And even the best, most well thought out plan is subject to unanticipated events and interruptions. So planning for them – knowing that they’re likely to happen – gives you some wiggle space to get back on track when the interruptions do occur.
It’ll also save your sanity so that you’re not so upset by a derailed plan that you can’t get back on track.
Time Management Strategy #17: Make a plan to deal with phone calls
Let me just state right here that I’m not a fan of phone calls. I dislike being put on hold, I dislike having to be transferred to the right department (or to a real human being!) and I much prefer the efficiency of email or text.
But there are times when a phone call is necessary and unavoidable. So have a plan to make them more efficient…and shorter.
When you’ve got to make a phone call it helps to know exactly what information you need to get or convey. This helps you keep the call short and on point. It also helps when you’ve got several calls to make (remember the tip about batching?) and need to get through them quickly.
Time Management Strategy #18: Plan time to work on emails
Emails, also require a plan. Because emails can turn into huge monsters if left unrestrained.
The best strategy is to have set times during the day when you check and respond to email. Put these times on your daily calendar. Block out some time to deal with what’s necessary and delete things that don’t require your attention.
And for your personal email, do some regular unsubscribing to limit the sheer number of messages that find their way to your inbox. I recently unsubscribed from over 100 email lists I’d managed to get on. It’s wonderful to see a less crowded inbox now when I sign in.
To really get control of your time, turn your ringer and other technology notifications off! It’s hard to concentrate and get things done with the constant distraction of dings, bells, and rings.
Phone calls and email can become huge time wasters if they’re not kept under control.
remaining in control of your self and your time
Time Management Strategy #19: Let go of perfectionism
It’s great to want to do things correctly. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in a job well done. But it’s easy – especially for high achievers – to take this to the extreme.
Here’s the deal…no one is perfect. And no job, task, or anything else is ever likely to be perfect either. Stressing over every detail is often a sign of something else (often fear) and can become an excuse for procrastination.
And perfectionism is the enemy of effective time management! Because you can’t be efficient and master your time when you’re redoing things over and over again until they’re perfect. You’ll waste a ton of time…and things still most likely won’t be perfect.
Time Management Strategy #20: Stop multi-tasking
The idea that we can get several things done at once is a myth. In fact, multi-tasking isn’t even a thing. Research has proven that what our brains are really doing is switching between one task and another. Granted, this is happening very fast, but it still requires time for you to refocus.
So while we think we’re getting several things done at the same time, all we’re really doing is forcing our brains to switch gears and focus on one thing, and then another, and then another, and…you get the picture.
This is a very inefficient strategy and one that actually slows us down.
Better to focus on one thing at a time. Your brain will thank you for it (and so will your calendar!).
Time Management Strategy #21: Set time limits for everything
You’ve most likely heard of Parkinson’s law…that work expands to fit the time we have available for it.
But have you actually put this principle to work for you?
Evaluating how much time a task should realistically take…and then allotting only that amount of time, gives you a deadline for completion. And the funny thing is that with deadlines, we’re more effective and tend to get things done more quickly.
So take a look at your calendar/planner, and block out a reasonable amount of time to get tasks done. If you’ve got a project that is going to take multiple sessions then block out a set amount of time each day to work on it. And then stick to the time limit.
Time Management Strategy #22: Keep a master To Do list
And I don’t mean a bunch of sticky notes stuck here, there, and everywhere.
An effective master To Do list is one big list, kept in one place, with everything that you need to get done written down. And brownie points if you’ve got this list broken up into categories.
That way when it’s time to work on winterizing your home, you know where to look to find all of the related tasks that need to be done so that you’re not relying on your memory.
It also helps to have a master list of items that recur regularly as well as those that are project specific that once done are totally finished and don’t need to be revisited again. Lots of people prefer a digital method to track this list and a good digital tool that I use regularly is Trello. This gives you the ability to handle lists in a variety of ways without the annoyance of a messy notebook with things scratched out.
But if you like keeping track of things on your phone or if you’re interested in an app with a lot of versatility then take a look at cozi.com. I’ve used it for ages and it’s great.
However, for the paper lovers among us, I find that a disc-bound notebook works well because you can easily move pages around for those things that are recurring.
Always be improving your time management skills
Time Management Strategy #23: Make waiting time work for you
You don’t have to twiddle your thumbs when you’re waiting for an appointment or standing in line.
If you’re headed to an appointment where you’ll be sitting waiting for a bit, it’s a good idea to carry a book, Kindle, magazine, or something to work on. You’ll be less frustrated by how long you’re waiting and can actually turn this time into some much needed relaxation depending on what you take to occupy your mind while you’re waiting.
And if you’re waiting in a line, this is the perfect time to whip out the phone and catch up on the social media you’re otherwise limiting. You can scroll guilt free while others fume.
Time Management Strategy #24: Determine what to dump
You’ve probably heard it said that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing well.
But what often isn’t said is that some things really aren’t worth doing in the first place. And to do something well that wasn’t worth doing at all is a total waste of time.
The problem is that we often are acting on autopilot instead of doing a critical examination of how important specific tasks truly are. Just think how much time you can save when you quit doing things that aren’t all that important!
Time Management Strategy #25: Learn to delegate
Along those same lines, there are probably things that you’ve put on your schedule that would be better done by someone else.
At home, are you the only one who can cook dinner, put away laundry, or clean the bathrooms?
The same principle applies at work. There may be someone else who can better perform certain tasks than you can. If you’ve got an assistant then don’t be afraid to use them. Or perhaps you and a co-worker can help each other by exchanging tasks (assuming that it’s not against company policy, of course…be sure to check).
Time Management Strategy #26: Try to get ahead when possible
Last, but certainly not least, always try to work ahead when possible. If you’ve got extra time and know that something is coming up, why not go ahead and get a jump on it?
I’m not advocating that you never take a break or work all the time…far from it. But since we know that the unexpected is going to happen, it never hurts to create a cushion for yourself by having some things done ahead of time.
Kind of like an insurance policy against the unexpected.
Become a time management master
While none of us can really master time (we don’t control the forces of the universe after all) it is possible to get very good at using time management strategies to control our schedule and plan for maximum efficiency. It basically boils down to knowing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and having a plan for getting it done…and then sticking to it.
A product I’ve purchased for myself that is packed full of books and courses to help me get more done is the Productivity Bundle. Check it out for yourself. For a low price you get access to lots of information to improve your time management strategies, increase your productivity, and become more efficient at reaching your goals.