Learning Time Management: 15 Best Practices to Get You Started

Photo by Andrik Langfield

orkplace productivity has been the subject of countless studies, books and online articles, but nine times out of ten, any discussion on how to increase performance at work comes down to that one common thread — time management.

This is hardly a coincidence, though. Most experts agree that if you wish to increase your productivity in any real way, mastering that oh-so elusive skill of time management is critical.

But if you’re someone who’s just getting into the subject of time management, deciding where to start can be a bit tricky. The sheer abundance of hints, tips and recommendations available online is simply overwhelming. But fear not, dear reader, for we have combed through the vast oceans of Internet knowledge to produce for you a list of what we think are the best time management practices out there.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Planning and Organizing

Planning is a vital part of time management. Without a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and when, without getting organized properly, you’re bound to waste time working on unimportant tasks, procrastinating and just thinking of what to do next again and again. In this case, you may suffer due to decision fatigue, which is going to affect the quality of your performance in the wrong way.

Here are some practices that can help you avoid that:

1. Use lists and prioritize tasks

There isn’t a single time management system in the world that doesn’t involve making and using lists. We can only carry so much in our heads, so don’t rely on your memory — create a list (or two)! It can be a daily schedule, a simple list of people to call or things to do during the month or week.

Prioritize the items on your lists by importance and urgency to know which ones you should tackle first. And to help you separate the important from the urgent, take a look at Stephen Covey’s excellent time management matrix.

2. Group similar tasks together

When you have several tasks to complete, and some of them are similar (like phone calls, blog post writing, meetings with colleagues, etc.), it would be a lot more efficient to batch them together and dedicate a block of time from your schedule to working solely on them.

Time blocking is super effective in boosting productivity. The reason for that is simple — different tasks demand different types of thinking. So, use this fact to your own advantage and, while you’re still “in the zone,” knock out a couple of other similar tasks instead of switching to something different, which will then require you to refocus and start from scratch.

3. Stick to a schedule

Using your lists as a blueprint, create a daily, weekly or monthly schedule, reserving reasonably sized time slots for all of your planned tasks and activities. Doing this will keep you focused and more efficient and ensure that you’re always on top of things and not wasting time wondering what to do next.

Sticking to a schedule can also be an excellent way to promote a healthier work-life balance, provided that you consider your downtime and breaks. Allowing yourself to have a little rest between tasks and after a hard workday will help you recharge and maintain a high level of productivity in the long term.

4. Implement digital calendars

Though many of us still prefer to map out their schedules and to-do lists on paper, it is often much more efficient to use digital calendars for scheduling and planning . Such tools like Google Calendar can be accessed through multiple devices and integrated with your email account for a streamlined scheduling of the upcoming appointments and meetings. These tools also support the automatic creation of recurring events. Plus, you can always set reminders in your digital calendar to never forget anything.

5. Set goals

To plan tasks and distribute your time the best way possible, you need to keep a big picture in mind:

  • What kind of results are you expecting to attain?
  • What’s that main thing that keeps you engaged in work in the first place?
  • In other words, what are your performance goals and objectives?

Goal setting is core to successful task prioritizing. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you distinguish significant tasks from everything less critical. And for better results, formulate SMART goals to avoid any uncertainty and make sure you remain on the right track.

Focus

Focus is another factor defining how successful you are in managing time. There’s no point in designing elaborate plans and schedules if you regularly get distracted and fail to adhere to them.

Thus, consider the below practices in order to stay focused and concentrated on work:

6. Learn to say “no” and delegate

It’s not unusual to have too many commitments and things to do than you can realistically manage. Heavy workloads offer plenty of opportunities to learn how to juggle multiple projects at the same time for sure, but on the other hand, our resources are limited, and we simply cannot devote our full attention to multiple tasks all at once. Hence, don’t feel guilty saying “no” to certain things. Delegate some tasks and take on only the most important ones.

7. Keep meetings to a minimum

Meetings are great when you need to discuss work-related problems or check on your team’s progress. However, research data show that meetings are one of the biggest time wasters in the workplace, with top management spending on average 23 hours a week on them.

Besides, we can all agree that attending a meeting is hardly the best way to get things done. We’re not suggesting eliminating meetings altogether, but keeping them very brief and focused is a sure way to manage time well.

8. Minimize distractions

Find a quiet place, sit in a comfy chair, put on some music to block out the office noise. Now, close all the browser tabs, set your phone on silent, put it away and get to work. Direct all of your attention and energy to the task at hand. Immerse yourself in it. It’s just you and your work. Nothing else should matter and fight for your attention at that particular moment in time.

9. Choose single-tasking

Multitasking may seem like a good way to get everything done on schedule. However, in reality, it’s the #1 enemy of productivity. When we multitask, we constantly shift attention from one thing to another. And since it takes time to re-concentrate, by choosing to multitask, we lose much time.

To be more effective in whatever you do, become a single-tasker instead. Focusing on one piece of work at a time, you’ll not only complete much more but also increase the quality of performance.

10. Establish deadlines

When you have no time limits to attain a goal, you don’t see any barriers to postponing work. It means that your tendency to procrastinate may increase multifold without a deadline. Thus, to boost focus, strive to allocate a limited amount of time to each task at hand.

However, make certain your deadlines are reasonable. They shouldn’t cause too much pressure but must still keep you motivated. And to set realistic deadlines, master the art of task estimation — use historical data, comprehensive analysis and precise calculations to forecast how many resources you need to invest in work. With accurate time estimates, finding the optimal deadline is never a problem.

Photo by Markus Winkler

Productivity

Many of us know that time management contributes to better productivity. Nevertheless, the relationship between productivity and time management is not so one-sided and is much more complex than that. In fact, by maintaining the right level of productivity, you’ll automatically begin to utilize time more efficiently.

Some of the best productivity-boosting practices that will help you improve time management are as follows:

11. Handle your productivity peaks wisely

Productivity peak is the period in a day when one has the highest level of energy and can stay focused more easily. According to a study, 11 a.m. is the most productive time for the majority of people. So, it makes total sense to concentrate on performing the most critical tasks during the first hours of the day, before lunch. The less significant and mentally demanding activities may be left for the afternoon and evening. As a result, you will show progress even in the most challenging and tedious types of work and meet your priority goals faster.

12. Make use of your idle time

We happen to have quite a lot of natural downtime throughout the day when we’re not doing anything: commuting, standing in a supermarket line or waiting at the doctor’s office. It may seem like just ten minutes of downtime don’t really matter, but they do — it’s ten fewer minutes to engage in something useful.

Therefore, try to take advantage of your idle time to do useful things. Any things, really — read a book, listen to a lecture or a podcast, watch an educational video on YouTube. A vast body of human knowledge is readily available to you on a device you’re holding in your hand ever so often. Thus, there’s no good excuse to kill time while sitting in traffic or waiting for your flight in an airport.

13. Apply collaboration tools

If you work in a team, collaboration is an intrinsic part of your everyday reality. However, there are many barriers to effective collaboration and communication, and they may slow down both individual and collective performance a great deal. One of the best ways to overcome those barriers is by adopting high-quality software tools.

Many kinds and categories of collaboration software exist today: video conferencing tools, document management platforms, project management apps and more. Explore the market and select a type of software that perfectly meets your team’s needs. As an outcome, you’ll improve your information exchange experience, avoid significant time wasters and boost productivity.

14. Avoid overwork

We can’t be productive twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, when you overwork and rarely give yourself an opportunity to relax, your productivity levels decline drastically.

To minimize stress and psychological strain, to stay energetic and motivated, take a short and quality break once in a while. Besides, try not to work more than eight hours a day / forty hours a week when possible — there’s a high chance you won’t perform as effectively when spending more hours on your professional activities.

Control

The last ingredient in the recipe for effective time management is control over the use of time for an impeccable adherence to your estimates, plans and schedules. Time tracking can help you filfill this task better than any other practice known today.

15. Stay on track with a timesheet

Knowing how much time you spend working on your daily tasks and activities is extremely helpful. Data on how you distribute time gives a chance to assess productivity, identify time wasters and then make necessary improvements in your behaviors and workflows.

For these reasons, you can significantly benefit from applying a timesheet tool, such as actiTIME. Apply it to track your working hours, monitor task progress and run insightful reports on individual and team performance. With a smart time tracking tool, it’s much easier to always stay on schedule and follow your work plans infallibly.

Your ultimate guide to productivity and time management