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8 time management skills to help reclaim your work-life balance
If you’re like me, your to-do list isn’t getting any shorter.
And with the pace at which things can change, that list is probably changing, too. Priorities shift, projects expand or collapse, and as a result, the list tends to grow. Somehow, we don’t think to remove things from the list. So, when it comes to trying to get everything done (and done well), it requires more than just simply hoping things work out.
You need time management skills. In fact, everyone does.
In our current world of hybrid work, people are saving time by not commuting or traveling for business. More than 75% of people report that working from home saves them time. But at the same time, we know that employees are stressed. And stress levels have reached an all-time high.
In fact, 76% of Americans report that stress harms their productivity. We also know employees are combating burnout. Others might feel the paralysis of not knowing where to start or how to manage their energy or time well enough to succeed.
While the connection might not be obvious, time management skills can help. Time management skills can help alleviate the negative impacts of stress, burnout, and unproductivity. Time management skills alone won’t solve burnout, stress, and disengagement. But time management skills can be a pathway to helping to better holistically manage the employee experience. And, for employees, their lives.
We know that people struggle to manage their time, especially when priorities are changing so quickly. Effective time management skills can be the difference between thriving and flailing. And it’s more than simply making sure you have enough time in the week to accomplish your tasks.
In this article, we’ll talk about some key time management skills that you can start to build today. We’ll also talk about why time management skills are important — and how you can improve yours.
8 time management skills
If you’re looking for ways to build effective time management skills, we’ve outlined eight key capabilities.
8 time management skills
- Looking ahead
- Evaluating priorities
- Making decisions
- Setting (and understanding) goals
- Communicating and clarifying commitments
- Knowing when to delegate
- Asking for help
- Organizing to win
1. Looking ahead
Good time management skills start with looking ahead. Planning ahead is more than simply looking at your to-do list for the week. We can think about planning ahead in two ways.
First, there are the tangible, more transactional to-do components. This includes things that you must complete. It’s evaluating the important tasks. What do you need to do in order to move your own work forward and what tasks are on the critical path for others to move forward?
For example, let’s say you’re a project manager for a tech company. You’re leading a project where your organization is launching a new marketing campaign. You know that in order to prepare for an upcoming kick-off meeting, you need to scope out the project details. You need to outline all necessary resources and team members that will need to be involved. You need to think about the amount of time, realistically, it will take to complete the project.
But second, there’s also the big-picture thinking. Thinking strategically about the future means more than simply scoping out the transactional details.
Let’s go back to this project. If you’re a team leader, you know this project ladders up to bigger goals for the organization. This marketing campaign isn’t just a one-off campaign. It ties back to the vision and brand of your organization. You see this project as just one of many that will help set the foundation for what you’re trying to achieve with your brand.
At the heart of it, it all requires strategic planning and a sense of future-mindedness. While the future is always subject to change, it’s better to try to get a sense of what the future might hold. Being realistic and pragmatic about the future can help to evaluate where your time is best spent.
2. Evaluating priorities
Strategic thinking and prioritization go hand-in-hand. We know that time management requires good prioritization skills.
But it takes some practice to be able to evaluate priorities well. For example, you might have some more urgent tasks that take less time. Or, you might have lower-priority items on your task list that will take a good amount of time to get done. You have to get into a practice of weighing the importance against time.
For example, I’m currently working on a few different projects. I know that my day-to-day writing is a must to get done. But I’m also working on a bigger writing project that requires more time. I’ve decided to try to get most of my day-to-day writing done as early in my workday as possible.
That way, I’m able to spend a good chunk of my time focusing on the bigger priority project. While it’s not due for a while, I know that I still need to dedicate time throughout my work week to be able to complete it well.
Lois Melkonian, BetterUp Premier Silver Coach, works with Members on their time management skills. She recommends using a framework called the Ivy Lee method.
“This evening, write out the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Begin with the first item tomorrow morning, and work until it’s finished before going on to the next item. If you are interrupted or can’t complete a task, move it to a new list of six items for the following day. Do this for a week and see what happens to your time management.”
Lois Melkonian, BetterUp Premier Silver Coach, MCC
3. Making decisions
When it comes to time management techniques, making decisions is a must-have. Once you’ve planned ahead and evaluated your priorities, you need to make decisions about where your time is best spent.
Your time is valuable. Getting things done and meeting deadlines are good. But you need to map your decision-making to your long-term goals. And so once you’ve assessed your priorities and your responsibilities, it’s time to make decisions about them.
4. Goal setting
If you haven’t noticed yet, these time management techniques are interconnected. They build on each other and work alongside each other.
As you are evaluating, prioritizing, and making decisions, it’s important that you understand your goals. If you don’t have goals, it might be time to do some goal setting. Without goals, you risk aimlessly spending your time on tasks.
Make sure you have a good understanding of what your goals are. But beyond understanding the “what”, it’s important to understand the “why.” What’s the purpose of your goals? How are your goals helping you get one step closer to reaching your full potential? What do your goals mean in the context of what you’re trying to accomplish?
5. Communicating well
Another important component of time management skills is communication skills. We live in a collaborative world. It’s likely that you’re collaborating with co-workers on many of your projects. Getting things done is rarely a solo pursuit.
So, communication is key to being able to successfully manage your time. For example, if you’re deciding to deprioritize a certain project or item on your task list, who might that impact? How are you communicating your priorities, your decisions, and your workflows to your team members?
Better time management comes with better communication. It helps to hone in on these soft skills to better collaborate and communicate with your team.
6. Knowing when to delegate
Taking back control of your time is a paradox. Sometimes, it comes with a good dose of letting go. But sometimes, this is really hard to do, especially in a team management setting.
Knowing when you can delegate tasks to others is an important skill. Do you really need to be in that meeting? Do you need to be the person working on a specific project? Can you tap in another teammate? If you’re a manager, where can you delegate some work to your team?
Think about delegation and how it can help free up some of your time to spend on your most important tasks.
7. Asking for help
Personally, this is an aspect of time management that I struggle with. As a self-proclaimed people pleaser, I have trouble asking for help. Sometimes, it's raising your hand and saying that you need some extra guidance, help, and even resources. But asking for help isn’t always what it sounds like.
Sometimes, asking for help is setting boundaries. Maybe you need to say no to a certain project. At BetterUp, we talk a lot about negotiating and consciously committing to our actions. This means that we’re not only clearly communicating what we’re committing to accomplish. But we’re also re-negotiating commitments, asking for help, setting boundaries, and saying no.
It’s not a natural muscle for me. And it’s a skill that I’ve been working on with my coach. With coaching, I’ve been able to better evaluate my own priorities and long-term goals.
I know that in order to reach some of those goals, I need to re-negotiate to curb burnout or stress. If I end up saying yes to everything or committing to things that I can’t feasibly get done, it's not going to work well. I’m not going to set myself or my team up for success.
8. Organizing to win
Organizing to win is something we talk a lot about at BetterUp. As one of our high-impact behaviors, it’s this idea that we need to better organize ourselves to be able to achieve our most impactful work.
Organization skills are more than just making sure your systems, files, workstreams, etc. are aligned. It’s also about looking at the human components, like how teams work together or collaborate.
Getting organized about your work can help reduce that procrastination urge. It also helps to be able to assess all the necessary key players and information you need to get a certain important task done. In the end, it can make some of those big, important tasks more achievable, too.
Why are time management skills important?
Time management skills bring many benefits to both the employee and the organization. But one common denominator is that these skills do help unlock more opportunities and ultimately, more potential.
“How you do one thing is how you do everything…most of the time. When you choose to structure your day, you are communicating to yourself and those around you that you have a plan to do what you say is important. Even when things come up, your priorities are clear. The more you find you can accomplish, the more frequently you are offered opportunities to dive into areas you may never have imagined.”
Lois Melkonian, BetterUp Premier Silver Coach, MCC
For the employee
First, there are benefits for the individual and the employee. If you’re looking for ways to improve your time management skills as an employee, it’s beneficial for a number of reasons.
- Better work-life balance. If you’re not managing your time well, it means you’re sacrificing parts of your personal life to get work done. A huge benefit of building time management skills is reclaiming your work-life balance.
- Improved productivity. One big benefit of mastering your time management skills is increased productivity. When you know how to best prioritize, make decisions, and spend your time, your productivity increases. Our data actually shows that with coaching, you can increase your productivity by 50%.
- Reduced stress. Stress management and time management go hand-in-hand. And research backs it up. Science tells us that when we’re managing our time well, stress levels go down.
For the organization
But second, there are also benefits for the organization. Investing in your employees’ time management skills can help put your business a step ahead.
- Better positioned to achieve goals. Your ability to reach organizational goals hinges on time management skills at scale. If your employees understand the goals at hand, you’re better positioned to achieve said goals. This leads to a ripple effect of positive impacts across the business.
- Improved organizational productivity. To make sure you can empower productivity at scale, it’s important to invest in time management skills. One study found that time management skills had significant positive impact on organizational productivity. Specifically, ensuring employees know how to prioritize their work was the key to unlocking productivity at scale.
- Better alignment and collaboration. One of the key time management skills is communication. When teams are communicating and organizing to win, companies see better alignment. It leads to increased collaboration (along with productivity) that makes it easier for employees to keep top priorities at the top of their lists.
4 ways to improve your time management skills
If you’re looking for some time management tips, we’ve outlined four ways to help improve your skills.
1. Start by understanding your goals
Goal setting is a critical aspect of time management. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to understand what you should be doing in the present.
Your goals — and your purpose — will help serve as your roadmap. By understanding your long-term goals and purpose of work, you can better slot in your priorities where you see fit. Once you’ve set your goals, you can dissect them into smaller chunks. From there, that will lead you to figure out how to best prioritize your tasks (and your time).
2. Dial in on your priorities
Get really good at figuring out what’s most important to you and your work. For me, this requires a lot of reflection and dedicated thinking space.
Whenever I get a new project or a new task, I try to ask myself these questions:
- If I deprioritize this project, who will it impact?
- What project will have the maximum positive impact on the business?
- What project can I put on the back burner?
- Is there anything on my plate that isn’t aligned with the goals that I’ve set? If so, why?
My coach has helped me to think through my to-do list with this lens of impact and effort. It helps keep me really focused on the most important stuff.
And according to BetterUp research, coaching helps to increase your focus. In fact, Members who started out low see a 3.2X increase in the level of focus with coaching.
3. Set (and maintain) strong boundaries
This is a tough one and a big one. Good time management skills often translate into good boundary-setting. Remember that part about saying no? Start to practice it.
In order to maintain a work-life balance that keeps you efficiently productive in your job, you need healthy boundaries. It’s not possible to continually take on piles of new work without managing it well.
And part of managing your time means managing your boundaries. You can work with a coach to help practice setting boundaries, whether that’s with your team or even your manager.
4. Don’t think you have to do it alone
Unlocking time management skills at scale in your workforce is a job that takes extra support and resources. It also takes individualized support and attention, from developing strong manager and employee relationships to providing the right professional development.
Your employees need extra support to build the skills and capabilities they need to help your organization succeed. And to do so, it’s important to recognize that it’s an investment in your people.
Think about how BetterUp can help support your organizational goals. With personalized one-on-one coaching, you can help your employees develop better skills and greater self-awareness for prioritizing what matters. Every employee will have their own strengths and opportunities. It’s important to meet the employees where they’re at to help unlock their full potential.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.