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We want to complete everything important to us in a timely fashion. But sometimes, it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day. Especially in this new normal, people feel the strain on time and seek effective time management strategies as they’re pulled in more directions than ever before.
Thankfully, good time management can help to make your days more efficient and effective. Essentially, it can help you feel like you have more hours in a day.
But for many of us, time management is an aspiration –– it’s something we’re all working to improve. And there’s no ideal solution for every person. So we provided a list of some actionable time management tips to boost your productivity as you find the right strategies that work for you.
Let’s explore effective time management and the skills necessary to use your time constructively in the long term.
What is time management?
Time management is the 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 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.
We don’t have an easy solution to poor time management. And many factors 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. Be it a smaller workforce, fewer resources, or leaner budgets. Many workers have experienced some type of “belt-tightening” in the last few years.
But doing more with less can also be a shorthand for understanding and executing priorities.
Time management is how you demonstrate your priorities and your ability to act on them.
Showing practical 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.
Benefits of effective time management
Managing your time well comes with a long list of benefits. Let’s take a look at four of them.
1. More time to spend where you need (or want) it
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 curious to try. The choice is yours!
2. Ability to realize goals
Simply put, setting and realizing goals feels terrific.
Once you’re managing your time better, you can make goal-setting a part of your routine. Then you’ll get to experience the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing them regularly.
Plus, sharing the goals you’ve set and your achievement of them is a great way to earn kudos from your manager and the whole team.
If you aren’t sure where to start when building out your goals, try creating a personal vision statement. This declaration can act as a compass to help guide you in the right direction.
3. More growth opportunities
Do you want to gain a new skill at work? Are you ready to expand your reach into a new territory or be considered for a promotion?
Becoming a great leader and learning a new skill require time.
You’re more likely to be afforded these opportunities if you’re consistently seen as a good manager of your time.
4. Reduced stress
Perhaps the most significant 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.
Time management strategies and tips
Author Binita Bora highlights five elements that can assist you in improving how you manage time:
- 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.
- Prioritize. Deciding where to spend your time can be a task in itself. But by prioritizing upfront, you can get the urgent tasks out on time and the essential tasks completed as well.
- Prioritize again. On the flip side of tackling the critical things is that you may also need to identify tasks or distractions that are neither urgent nor important.
Ask yourself: Does it need to be done by you? Can you delegate the task?Does it need to be done at all?
If the answer is no, take action to clear the decks (and your mind) to tackle the most important, pressing items first.
- Set some goals. Charging ahead on a project — or a workweek — without setting 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.”
Try stepping up your organization skills so you clearly understand where you’re going and what will be most vital to help you get there. This consideration enables you to focus on what truly matters.
- Build good habits. Some people prefer to plan the next day before they leave work, while others prefer to plan within the first 30 minutes of the day.
Some find it productive to block large chunks of time to think/write/design, while others work best in short sprints. The primary takeaway 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 to get the most out of your self-management skills.
- Perform a time audit. Do you know where your workday goes? Are you confident in your perception of how you spend your time each day and week?
A time audit can be an illuminating activity to 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.
- 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 in the form of a digital detox including social media scrolling and video watching, or even meetings that don’t pertain to your work. Being more intentional about the “don’ts” could help you concentrate more on the “dos.”
- Block your time differently. With so much to accomplish, it might be tempting to separate your daily schedule into tightly structured blocks of time.
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.
You can also create a weekly schedule to get a high-level overview of what you need to complete.
Stop multitasking. It’s a fallacy that highly effective people constantly juggle multiple minor 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.
Time management skills
According to Erich C. Dierdorff, professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Richard H. Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University, it takes more than these activities to gain ownership of our time. There are three primary skills needed to implement the strategies listed above and gain long-lasting benefits from them:
- Awareness: how you see and value time and its limitations
- Arrangement: the tactile part of time management, including planning and scheduling activities and goals
- Adaptation: how you pivot as time runs out or priorities shift
Though these skills are often overlooked, Dierdorff states that they’re crucial to effective time management.
How to strengthen your time management skills
Strengthening these skills isn’t as straightforward as opening an app. But by investing your time in developing self-awareness, understanding your habits, and building new ones, you can increase your chances of managing time more effectively.
Develop self-awareness of your time management abilities
To improve your time management skills, you must first understand how you currently function. Building self-awareness around how you manage your time will set a baseline for you to improve upon.
Try the activities below to grow your awareness of how you manage your time:
- Garner feedback from coworkers, a boss, or your peers
- Use a time-tracking tool to measure the activities you spend your time on and use this as a baseline
- Get to know yourself with a few questions:
- What time of day do you work best?
- Do you tend to over or underestimate how long tasks will take?
- Do you stay busy but less productive?
- Are you more effective or efficient?
- What kinds of projects do you tackle head-on, and which cause you to procrastinate?
Get to know yourself and your relationship to time
Without getting too meta, ask yourself how your personality relates to time. Do you consider yourself more of a go-getter who likes to get a jump on things early? Or do you prefer to divide your time between multiple tasks?
Understanding how your personality and habits relate to time will help you identify the time management skills you should invest in first.
To get a better idea of how your personality relates to time, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I tend to complete a task before moving on to the next one?
- Do I work better under pressure and leave projects until the last minute?
- How do I prioritize?
- How do I delegate?
- How do I approach a new task?
This is not a finite list, but questions like these can help you identify your areas of focus.
Identify the time management skills you want to work on
Deciding which area requires the most improvement first could jump right out at you, or you might need to do a little digging. But knowing whether you should address your prioritization skills, or your ability to adapt to change, is vital to improving your overall time management.
You may discover that you want to improve more than one area. If that is the case, try starting with one area first and then progress once you’ve gotten the hang of the first skill.
Signs of poor time management
Just as there are benefits to effective time management, drawbacks come with poor time management skills. Let’s take a look at six 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 use the readily available help.
It isn’t easy 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 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 entirely 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, likely, the quality of your work will also suffer.
Effective collaboration and communication are required to deliver the best final product.
So, 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 will slip by you.
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 an 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 prefer not to do. But if this is the norm, rather than the exception, looking at how you spend your time can offer a helpful 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, developing your time management skills can get you closer to living the life you want to be living.
3 steps to managing your time better
Managing your time is possible with proactive reflection and by developing fundamental skills. Here are the first three steps we recommend taking to jumpstart your journey and improve your time management:
- Start by building self-awareness and understanding how you view your time and which skills need improvement
- Perform a time audit to see where and how you’re spending your time
- Experiment with the strategies above to develop your time management skills
Start managing your time better today
Now you know how important time management is and what some of its many benefits are.
It’s time to start making minor 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.
Are you struggling with getting your time management under control? Reach out to BetterUp for personalized coaching that will help you save time in no time.
Sr. Insights Manager