One of the trickiest things in life is to assume you have time. How often do you tell yourself “This shouldn’t take long” and then wonder why you only managed to finish half of what you had planned for the day? We are very good at getting busy but time doesn’t wait for us. It just passes, no matter if we manage to squeeze in some productivity or not. The best way to stay on top of things is to start employing effective time management strategies!
This is what we’ll be talking about in this post. We’ll teach you how to organize your time better so you don’t feel overwhelmed and unproductive at the end of the day. Once you build a routine based on some techniques that work for you specifically, you will be able to achieve more in the same number of hours.
So, let’s go through some of the most effective time management strategies for busy people!
Effective time management strategies to get more stuff done
Now that we’ve discussed what we’re going to talk about let’s look at twelve proven time management strategies.
Keep your “simple” and “complex” tasks separate
Some tasks take more time than others, obviously. Normally, you should know which task falls into which category, especially if you track them with a time management tool.
Labeling tasks small and complex will help you organize your workday based on how much you spend on each task. For example, you can add either multiple small tasks or a single complex task for the day to make sure you get it done.
If you like to alternate, you can put small tasks at the start of your day so that you can cross them off the list and start working on more complex tasks afterward. This also gives you peace of mind that you already got some work done in the day and now can focus entirely on the complex thing that might take you the rest of the day (or even turn into a multi-day task).
If the short tasks are optional (as in they are not time-sensitive or urgent and can be done anytime), you can focus on finishing the long task first and then squeeze the former in for the end of the day.
Prioritize tasks by value
Here, things are simple. When a task has a higher degree of importance (for you personally, for your team, and/or for your company), you should try to finish it first and only then take care of the rest.
Try to squeeze in both complex and routine tasks, usually in this order. After you finish a task that involves deep work and much time, it’s normal to want to relax through some easy to handle duties like emails, administrative stuff, Slack follow-ups, light research, etc.
Here’s what I mean by task importance:
- it challenges you the most
- it is urgent or time-sensitive (e.g., you have a meeting tomorrow and need to do some research beforehand, or you must send a prototype to your client soon)
- you set a deadline for yourself and want to stay true to your plans
- it’s simply more valuable to you and/or your team than other tasks that can wait a little more
A task can meet all these criteria simultaneously or one at a time.
Plan your day the night before
At the end of your work day, allow yourself 10 or 15 minutes to make a list of what you want to accomplish the next day.
Add the items in the order that they need to be solved (based on importance and estimated time), but stay realistic and add a margin of error to each task for potential unforeseen delays.
Don’t overload your list with things that you are not sure you will be able to take care of. The more tasks you add, the more pressure you’re putting on yourself, which will make you feel like signing out at the end of the day with work left unfinished.
Create daily work habits
Habits can be hard to attain because they require some sort of coordination not only with your own time but also with others’. Sometimes, it’s difficult to coordinate your schedule by the book because various external factors might interfere.
But that’s the trick right here. To learn how to ignore these factors unless they’re of vital importance. If they’re not imperative to interrupt your schedule, then you can follow your routine with loyalty if it helps you stay productive and tick more items on your list.
Here’s a template of how you can break your day into habits:
- Wake up early.
- Get the day rolling with whatever gets your brain ready for work. E.g., drink water right after you get up, do a quick workout, walk outside for 10 minutes, make a cup of coffee, listen to your favorite music, etc.
- Give yourself half an hour to organize. Check the schedule, read your team’s updates to make sure there is no change of plans on your agenda, scan your inbox but only answer to urgent emails, add new items to your weekly to-do list.
- Easily dive into your first task of the day, based on your task prioritization.
- Take short breaks every time you feel like it, preferably away from screens. Especially when you transition from a task to another, it helps you disconnect from a mood and get into another that may be requiring other skills.
- Try not to extend your workday by more than half an hour unless something’s burning. 🙂
If a tool can do a task as good as you can, do not hesitate to use it. The more you automate, the more time you gain to spend on tasks that matter to you. This way, you can avoid tasks that are not as rewarding or challenging.
For instance, you can set up a tool to:
Organize your digital workspace
Since you’re reading this, your computer is probably your main workspace. Even though every piece of software and every file are relatively easy to find no matter where they are, some level of organization can help you out a lot here as well. When everything has its own “drawer” (so to speak), it’s easier to navigate between things without wasting time. You’ll see for yourself how much time you win back with this.
What you can do specifically:
- Create an intuitive scheme in your project management tool to manipulate tasks better. For instance, add columns for work stages (Urgent, In Progress, To Do, Done, Research, etc). This way, you can keep track of tasks and check for information via one single interface.
- Make separate folders for bookmarks with clear categories, so you know for sure that, when you enter a folder, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
- Add labels to emails. I bet you’re getting tons of emails, each related to a different topic. By adding labels, you will know where to look for a conversation that you saved. It will spare you from wasting time searching through an overcrowded inbox.
- Keep your passwords and usernames in a password manager tool. If you lost access to a service, you know where’s the key.
- Set reminders to help you stick to your habits.
Set realistic deadlines
Sometimes, lack of time is a result of not grasping your work patterns and capacities well enough. Before assigning yourself to a task, check your current schedule and see if there’s any time left for a new thing.
If not, you can just postpone it to another week or month. Or simply say “no” to it. If yes, then setting a deadline for it depends on some factors:
Tasks in progress
Assess with approximation when you think you’ll finish the current tasks, then take a margin of error of an extra day in case anything comes up. E.g., something breaks, you didn’t find essential information to advance, you get an email that needs an answer ASAP, etc.
If you manage to finish the task just in time, then perfect. No one will mind if you start and, hence, finish working on the new project earlier than declared. But it’s always nice to have a backup because you’ll avoid having to do stuff in a hurry trying to meet deadlines.
Can you postpone them? Can you squeeze the new task in between or better place it at the end of the queue?
Based on task complexity, you need to find a realistic date when you think you can have it ready. It can be in two weeks or next month if your schedule is full already.
The urgency factor
Every time we learn about a new task, we tend to schedule it as close to the current date as possible. Why? Because we tend to overestimate its urgency.
Questions like “What would my manager say if I can’t handle this task?”, “Does it look unprofessional if I schedule a task in three weeks from now?”, or “Will they think I’m not doing my job if I’m not completing a task when they propose it?”… we all have them probably.
But that’s not really the case. Giving a task a realistic deadline and then delivering on time looks far better than promising a short term and not delivering.
Work on only one task at a time
Switching between tasks thinking you might hit two birds with one stone is completely wrong. Actually, multitasking decreases productivity, attention, and the overall quality of the projects you’re working on at the same time.
When you multitask, you’re focused on just getting things done and not on getting them done well.
If a task is complex and you don’t know where to begin or what to prioritize, break it into smaller tasks. Treat each sub-task as a project per se and apply the same time management strategies you apply to any other assignment.
Set clear goals for the day and week
When you check the agenda at the beginning of each day, try to set a very specific goal in mind for the respective workday. For instance, writing the first draft of an article.
Same as deadlines, do not get overenthusiastic and set goals that you won’t meet. Stay realistic and try to focus on what you can actually accomplish that day. “Today, I’m gonna build the website footer” or “Send three promotion proposals to partners“.
If you achieve your main daily goal sooner than you had anticipated, take a break and you’re free to check the next thing from the queue.
The same goes at a weekly level. Try to have in sights two or three main projects that you can complete in a week’s time.
Stop lingering on completed tasks
Another thing you can do is stop wasting time on already completed tasks trying to make them better. Sometimes, after you get a task done, you have this feeling of the result not being good enough, so you spend a couple more hours overthinking and trying to improve it. We do this even though we did our best the first time around.
While it’s good to wish for more, you won’t achieve greatness with two additional hours looking at the screen in search of new ideas. Actually, you risk making the task outcome worse by trying too hard to improve it without having a clear solution in mind.
Observe what your most productive hours are
One of the most essential and effective time management strategies is to determine what your most productive hours are so that you can schedule your tasks accordingly. Some people love mornings and are able to focus more during the first part of the day. Others take longer to dive into the day and only hit their productivity peak in the afternoon.
Observe these patterns and spot your best working hours so you can organize your day based on your biological rhythm. Schedule the task that requires the most focus when your brain is ready to embrace it entirely.
The best way to stay focused on a task for a longer time is to train your mind to not check other sites or apps before it’s time to take a break. When you interrupt your work constantly, you’ll not only lose momentum but you’ll also find yourself in situations where you won’t be able to meet your goals by the end of the day.
The simplest solution here is to set your phone in “do not disturb” mode (same for your Mac; there are some third-party apps for Win as well). Close your email tool as well, just so it doesn’t tempt you. For an additional hack, you can install an app like Freedom. It will block all sites that lure you away from your main focus.
Final thoughts on the most effective time management strategies
The way you approach your day is totally up to up because we all have different activities, goals, work practices, and productivity time frames. It’s just that sometimes we need to organize ourselves a bit more and create habits so that we don’t feel like we’ve wasted time when we reflect on the day in the evening.
If you doubt you can change your messy schedule by following a handful of time management strategies, we’ve all been there. But it works! Maybe not the next day but after a week of repetition, your brain begins to adapt to the new habits.
To wrap it up, here’s how to make time your friend:
- Track your time and acknowledge where most of it goes
- Prioritize tasks based on how valuable they are to you and your team
- Plan your day the night before
- Create workday habits
- Use tools to automate tasks that do not need manual work
- Organize your digital workspace
- Set realistic deadlines
- Do not multitask
- Have a clear goal in mind for the day and try to achieve it
- Stop lingering on completed tasks
- Observe what your most productive hours are
- Block distractions
What are your favorite time management strategies? Do you have your own special habits that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments.
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