Eat the frog: New ways to approach time management

August 24, 2021 - 17 min read

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What is time management?

Why is effective time management important?

What are some benefits of effectively managing your time?

What can result from poor time management skills?

What are some key components of time management?

How to manage time: additional strategies

Put time management tips into practice today

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.  -Mark Twain

We all wish we had more time. 

We want to get everything that’s important to us completed in a timely fashion. But sometimes, it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day.

Thankfully, time management can help to make your days more productive and effective.

Let’s explore what effective time management means and why it’s important. We’ll also give you actionable time management tips that will boost your productivity. 

These time management skills are applicable in both your professional and personal life. Don’t be afraid to give them a try in any area of your life where you’d like to reclaim some time.

What is time management?

Time management is a deliberate process of deciding how to use your time and allocating it across tasks and activities. With planning and control, effective time management enables you to do more of what is important to you while meeting your responsibilities and commitments.

Time management is certainly not a new concept.

From Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line, to manufacturing, to the current rainbow of organizational tools and apps, the modern age revolves around time. 

As individuals, our time is a limited resource. We treat it like currency. We spend it, guard it, waste it, and trade it for value. Yet we struggle to control it. 

Employers and employees are constantly striving to make the most of the time available to them. We all want to complete our work as efficiently and effectively as possible. It doesn’t sound that complicated, does it?

And yet, we wouldn’t still be talking about time management if there were a tried-and-true formula or template that leads to success.

Life and the environment around us is always changing. That can undermine the best of plans. And our own inner conflicts and lack of focus can sabotage our control if we don't have good time management skills. 

For many of us, time management is an aspiration.

We don’t have an easy solution to poor time management. And there are many factors that cause it. 

Let’s look at what we do know and dive into some new ways of viewing how we (and our teams) use time.

Why is effective time management important?

Doing more with less is a strategy that many companies encourage. 

For some it might be a smaller workforce, fewer resources, or leaner budgets. 

Many workers have experienced some sort of “belt-tightening” in the last few years.

But doing more with less can also be a shorthand for understanding and executing on priorities. Time management is how you demonstrate your priorities and your ability to act on them.

Showing effective time management skills can be a way of demonstrating your worth to a company — worth that just might save your job or earn you a promotion.

What are some benefits of effectively managing your time?

When you manage your time effectively, many key benefits come from it. Let’s take a look at four of them.

1. More time 

Not to belabor the obvious, but if you’re using your time more effectively, you’ll free up time in the day or week. And here’s something that might not be so obvious: you don’t have to use that extra time to work. Time management lets you do more of what matters to you.

Try to create a better work life balance for yourself. Head out for a walk, schedule a coffee with a friend or colleague, or take a class you’ve been interested in. The choice is yours!

2. Ability to realize goals

Simply put, setting and realizing goals feels terrific. Make goal-setting a part of your routine. Then you’ll get to experience the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing them on a regular basis. 

Plus, being able to share the goals you’ve set and your successful achievement of them is a great way to earn kudos from your manager and the whole team. 

Creating a personal mission statement can act like a compass to help guide you in the right direction.

3. More opportunities 

Do you want to gain a new skill at work? Are you ready to expand your reach into a new territory or to be considered for a promotion? 

You’re more likely to be afforded these opportunities if you’re consistently seen as a good manager of your time.

Becoming a great leader requires time.

4. Stress relief 

Perhaps the biggest benefit to using your time more efficiently is the potential to lower your stress. This could be finishing a project before it becomes a crisis, keeping your work hours at a reasonable amount, or even being able to carve out time for fulfilling activities. 

These are all ways that an effective time management technique can help with stress and overall mental health.

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What can result from poor time management skills?

Just as there are benefits to effective time management, there are drawbacks that come with poor time management skills. Let’s take a look at five of them.

1. Wasted time

If good time management skills can score you more time, it should be no surprise that the opposite is also true.

If you’re off-task — jumping from one project to another or otherwise using your time inefficiently — your work is going to take longer to complete. Less time will be available for other work projects or time away from the job

2. Lack of delegation

There’s often going to be more on your plate than you can do. And if you’re not managing your time well, you probably aren’t staying very organized either. Because of this, you may struggle to utilize the help that might be readily available.

It’s difficult to delegate if you aren’t clear about the task at hand and exactly how others can help. So it’s inevitable that the work will keep piling up.

3. Loss of control

Simply put, if you aren’t in control of your time, it is in control of you.

Poor time management skills can make it difficult for you to predict when you will complete a project or when you’ll be available to take on something else. Then, you aren’t in control of your time or your work.

What usually happens when we don't feel in control? We can become stressed, frustrated, unhappy, and dissatisfied with our lives. When you don't have control, you also don't have time and attention to give yourself fully to other parts of your life: relationships, health, goals.

4. Poor quality of work

If poor time management leads you to complete projects in a rushed manner, it’s likely that the quality of your work will also suffer.

While it may feel like you do your best work when up against a deadline, here’s the reality: without the opportunity to give your work a final edit or run it past the eyes of a colleague, chances are errors are going to slip by you. 

Proper collaboration and communication are required to deliver the best final product.

5. Poor reputation

If you look at this list so far, you can see that the employee it describes isn’t going to be highly regarded in the company.

Have you become the employee that can’t be counted on during a rush? Is your project management ineffective? Do you want your coworkers to view you this way? 

As your reputation suffers, so will your chances for advancement and growth.

6. Failure to achieve goals

How you spend your hours is how you spend your days. Ultimately, it's how you spend your life.

Sure, we all have days that are chaotic or consumed by endless tasks that we don't love and would rather not do. But if this is the norm, rather than the exception, looking at how you spend your time can offer a useful check. 

The next question is: is the way you are spending your time within your control or outside of it? 

If it is within your control, working on developing your time management skills can get you closer to living the life you want to be living.

 

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What are some key components of time management?

Author Binita Bora highlights five elements that can assist you in improving how you manage time:

  1. Create the right environment. Have a physical space that is organized, uncluttered, and convenient.

    It can save you undue time searching for files or papers, shuffling unneeded materials out of the way, or even tracking down a paperclip. Taking some time to master your organizational skills will save you more time in the long run.

    Be particularly aware of additional challenges that you might face when working remotely.

  2. Prioritize. Here’s where that Mark Twain quotation comes in — are you eating your frog first thing each day? Are you tackling the tough stuff early in the day and getting your day off to a strong start?

    Making sure you go after tasks and projects that are both urgent and important can take you a long way towards good time management.

  3. Prioritize again. On the flip side of tackling the important things is the idea that you also may need to jettison tasks or any distractions that are neither urgent nor important.

    Does it need to be done by you? Does it need to be done at all? Clear your decks!

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  4. Set some goals. Charging ahead on a project — or a workweek — without setting some goals is like zooming out of your driveway without knowing where you’re headed. 

    It may seem counterintuitive, but spending time on goal setting will likely save you time in the long run. It's a concept known as "go slow to go fast."

    At BetterUp, we try to "organize to win," a similar concept that means understanding where you're going and what is going to be most important to help you get there.  This helps you focus on what really matters. 

  5. Build good habits. Some people prefer to plan the next day before they leave work, while others like to use the first 30 minutes of the day planning.

    Some find it effective to block large chunks of time to think/write/design, while others work best in short sprints. The important practice, here, is to spend 5 minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what worked and what didn't. This will help you understand what works best for you and your situation.

    Once you figure out how you work best, stick with it. Build your habits into your workday so that you are getting the most out of your self-management skills.

How to manage time: additional strategies 

As we mentioned before, the concept of time management isn’t new. And chances are really good that you’ve thought of (or even tried) many of these suggestions to improve your use of time. What else is there? 

Let’s look at four additional time management strategies.

1. Perform a time audit

Do you really know where your workday goes? Are you confident in your knowledge regarding how you spend your time each day and week?

A time audit can be an illuminating activity. It will show you just how you are spending your time. You’ll learn what is consuming your days and where you might be able to claim some time back.

Does this feel like a risky activity? No one other than you needs to know that you’re auditing your own productivity.

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2. Create a stop-doing list

If a to-do list hasn’t been effective for you, maybe you’ll benefit from flipping it on its side. A stop-doing list is an intentional look at the time wasters that you want to stop.

These could be social media scrolling, video watching, and even meetings that don’t pertain to your work. Being more intentional about the “don’ts” could help you concentrate more on the “dos.”

3. Block your time differently

With so much to accomplish, it might be tempting to separate your daily schedule into tightly structured blocks of time. This can increase your efficiency.

But it might be more effective if you round up your time estimates for each important task.

Add additional time (10–25%) to how long you think each task will take. Then, when the inevitable delay or glitch happens, you’re not automatically running behind.

This time management technique could be particularly useful for people who chronically overestimate how quickly they work or those who underestimate potential delays. 

Create a weekly schedule to get a high-level overview of what you need to complete as well.

4. Stop multitasking

It’s a fallacy that highly effective people are constantly juggling multiple smaller tasks. Research has shown that multitasking hurts our performance and our well-being.

Ineffective multitasking could be keeping on top of emails while creating a slide deck. Or taking work calls during a commute.

You will be much more effective, move through your projects more quickly, and do far better work if you concentrate on one thing at a time.

Turn off your email and text notifications, mute your phone, and dig into the task at hand. It will pay off in both the short and the long run.

Put time management tips into practice today

Now you know how important time management is and what some of its many benefits are.

It’s time to start making small changes to your time management strategies.

Try to catch yourself when you’re multitasking and choose to focus on one task. Perform a time audit to see where all of your time is going. Or attempt one of the other strategies that we discussed.

Struggling with getting your time management under control? Reach out to BetterUp for personalized coaching that will help you save time in no time.

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Published August 24, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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