Workplace productivity has been the subject of countless studies, books, and online articles, but 9 times out of 10 any discussion on how to increase performance at work comes down to that one common thread — time management. That fact 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 techniques out there. So let’s dive in, shall we?
1. Use lists
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. Do the most important tasks first
Continuing from the previous step, identifying a couple of the most crucial tasks and completing them first is key. Even if you don’t do anything else during the day, you can already call it a success because you’ve completed the most important things you needed to do.
3. Stick to a schedule
Using your lists as a blueprint, make a schedule for the day and for the week, reserving entire 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.
We’re all human and we all know that things hardly ever go 100% as scheduled, so make sure to leave some time for breaks or any other unplanned events on your schedule as well. Allowing yourself some downtime between tasks will help you recharge and concentrate on your next task.
4. Know what things to say “no” to
It’s not unusual to have too many commitments and things to do than you can realistically devote all of your time to. It’s a great way to learn how to juggle multiple projects at the same time for sure, but on the other hand, our resources are limited and it’s pretty easy to take it a bit too far. To avoid that, you’re going to have to learn to say no to certain things and take on only the most important tasks.
5. Group similar tasks together
When you have several tasks you need to do and some of them are similar (like make a couple of phone calls, or write three blog posts), it would be a lot more efficient to batch them together and work on them consecutively instead of approaching them in your preferred order.
Different tasks demand different types of thinking. So it makes perfect sense to take advantage of it and, while you’re still “in the zone”, knock out a couple of other like tasks instead of switching to something different, which will then require you to refocus and start from scratch.
6. Keep meetings to a minimum
Meetings are great when you need to have a discussion or check on your team’s progress and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but we think we can all agree that attending a meeting is hardly the best way to get something done. We’re not suggesting escaping from them, or eliminating them altogether, but rather keeping them very brief and focused, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re wasting precious time attending them.
7. Eliminate distractions & immerse yourself in work
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 nothing else outside of that should exist at that particular moment in time.
8. Make use of your idle time
We tend to have quite a lot of natural downtime throughout the day when we’re not doing anything — riding on the subway, standing in line at the supermarket or waiting at the doctor’s office. It may seem like “it’s only 10 minutes” which don’t really matter, but they do. It’s 10 less minutes that you could’ve spent on something useful instead.
So take advantage of this time to do things. Any things, really — read a book, listen to a lecture or a podcast, watch an educational video on YouTube. The entirety of human knowledge is readily available to you on a device that fits in the palm of your hand, so there’s no excuse to simply “kill time” while sitting in traffic or waiting for your flight in an airport.
9. Keep a timesheet
Keeping track of the time you spend working on your daily tasks and activities can be extremely helpful. It could give you a realistic view of your time expenses, and show you how much time certain tasks actually take, or even surprise you with how much of it is wasted on things you had no idea about.
Now that you’ve learned the best time management tips, it’s time to put this knowledge to practice. Be methodical, be patient, but most importantly, be curious and open-minded. Rearranging your entire working process to improve your time management is no simple task, but doing so will make you a more efficient, productive, and ultimately a more happy individual.