25 Time Management Tips for Working Smarter, Not Harder
Time management has become something of an obsession for our society today. With libraries of books written on the subject – particularly, how to use it to your advantage in the age of technology – it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your greatest tool for better managing time is still yourself.
Still, we know it can be difficult as the days run into one another and the obligations pile up. In the following article, we’ll be discussing 25 tips that should get you back on the right track and keep you there permanently. Ready? Let’s begin!
1. Figure Out How You Are Currently Spending Your Time
It may seem like a boring way to start your journey into better time management, but the first thing you should do is a diagnostic assessment of how you’re currently spending your time. You can do this in any number of ways, but be thorough.
You don’t want to overlook some obligation after you’ve committed the hours of your week to this task or that. We recommend doing this in two different sessions. First, brainstorm your list of obligations, being exhaustive as humanly possible. Next, try to come up with as accurate of an estimate as you can of the time it will take to perform those tasks throughout the week.
Remember that, while each day has 24 hours for a grand total of 168 hours in a week, some of those hours will be completely off limits due to your need to sleep, decompress, and fulfill other obligations that have nothing to do with the work or school objectives you’ve set forth. Include those in your list and try to get a good feel for how many hours of your week these are claiming.
2. Set the Bar
How much work do you need to be doing in a given week? Which days will you be able to work, and will there be any days that are absolutely off-limits? Are you giving yourself enough recreational time and hours of sleep per night.
This is a continuation of time management tip one, but it’s definitely something you shouldn’t overlook. Once you’ve set the time bars for each item, you can see whether you’ve planned correctly and then make adjustments as necessary.
At this point, break it down by the day as well. You want to know which days will be commanding your attention in this direction or that.
3. Work in Spurts
Say you have six hours of work you have to do on a science project. You know this because you’ve mapped it out in steps one and two. The worst thing you can do is try to crush it all at once.
In an ideal world, you’ve planned far enough ahead so you can break the project up into manageable chunks over the course of four or five days. That way, you can devote 72-90 minutes per day and not feel like you’re having to rush while neglecting other responsibilities in your life.
Working in spurts allows you to conquer large tasks in short bursts. But it does require foresight to ensure you can fit in everything.
4. Have a Start Day for Your Week
There needs to be one day of the week that you commit almost entirely to planning. This should be considered the “start day” for your week. In the most traditional sense, this would be Sunday. However, not everyone follows the same work or school schedule.
Furthermore, the flexibility to work when and where we want to has given us opportunities to shrink or elongate the workday at our leisure. Some people prefer working every day for six hours per day as opposed to cramming everything into a 40-hour week while others would rather work four 10-hour days and have three days “off.”
Determining your start day depends on the schedule you have and (sometimes) the one you prefer. Whatever it is, figure it out, and devote that day to laying out the week ahead.
5. Determine Your Daily Action Plan
One great reason to have a planning day at the start of your week is that it gives you a master document from which you can break out your week from day to day. Call it your “daily action plan.”
Make sure you leave room for obligations that may get in the way each day. The more you do this, the easier it will be to make adjustments whenever those other obligations do butt in to the everyday flow of your week.
One of the most common forms of the daily action plan is the so-called “to-do list.” We recommend doing an overview to-do list for each day on your planning day. Then, revisit your first day’s to-do list after a couple of hours on the day itself. From there, you can make the necessary adjustments. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the week.
6. Keep Track of Accomplishments
Just like a to-do list is important, you should also start a “done” list that you keep up with each and every day. Keeping tabs on all your accomplishments is a way of energizing your productive spirit to tackle the other things on the list. It’ll also give you a clearer idea of how long the tasks actually took and whether you need to push a “today” task until tomorrow.
7. Front Load the Day with the Most Important Tasks
You may not feel like you’re at your most energized when you wake up, but just wait until that first cup of coffee or breakfast tea kicks in before making any judgments about yourself. In reality, you have the most productive energy levels in the first part of your day, and this is a great time to put them to work on your hardest or most important tasks.
Even if you don’t get everything you need to get accomplished that day, devoting your mornings and midday to those tasks will move the needle forward. You’ll feel better about how far along you are on those tasks should they have to wait another day. You’ll also have time to “sweep up” some of your smaller tasks at the end of the day and shrink your list at a quicker pace.
8. No Distraction Zone
It’s hard to get anything done if you’re working in an environment filled with distractions. Distractions can take many forms. They can be:
- A PS4 sitting on your entertainment stand by the television
- A little brother or sister
- Nosy parents
- A good book
Pretty much anything that commands your attention can be a distraction, even things that would ordinarily be considered “good.” Be on guard against these distractions. If you need to go to another location, like the library or a coffee shop, do it!
9. Focus on a Single Task at a Time
We’ve railed against the myth of multitasking as a productive practice for years now, and we’re not going to stop. It’s a pet peeve whenever someone says they have to multitask. They’re basically saying they have to do half the work in twice the time.
Instead of resorting to this debunked productivity hack, go back to one thing at a time. Focus on your more involved work activities away from the more superficial work tasks (like checking emails or social media).
10. Get Started Whether You Are Ready or Not
The best thing you can do when you feel like doing nothing at all is start. Your work doesn’t have to be top-notch at this point. It just has to move you forward.
A good way to “juice” this activity along is to go back to the “Work in Spurts” section. Set a timer. The simple act of doing so will get your mind in the place that it needs to be to produce. Once the timer is running, your productive brain will take over.
11. Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes
Anytime people say they’re perfectionists, they’re either teasing themselves or they’re admitting they never get much accomplished. Perfectionism isn’t achievable, so you should stop trying.
Instead, give yourself permission to make mistakes. Those can always be ironed out later on. Permission to make mistakes also helps you to move projects closer to completion and it ensures that you pick up most of what you need to know in a relatively short amount of time.
From there, you can take your newfound knowledge and begin to build on it. That, friends, is how you succeed in school and life.
12. Plan Your Breaks
Just like your work needs to be planned out, your breaks need to be as well. Planning your breaks ensures that you will take them. It can be tempting when you’re “on a roll” to keep going.
However, this can cause you to hit burnout quicker, too. Is two hours of productive time and six hours of burnout worthwhile when you could instead take several breaks and squeeze in four hours of productive time?
We think your brain would say the latter is your better option. So don’t neglect your downtime. Fill it up with interesting things to do. Listen to an audio book while going for a brisk walk. Squeeze in a few sessions of a favorite mobile game. Use the time how you see fit. It’s your break!
13. Master the Art of the ‘Squeeze-In’
Got a doctor’s appointment coming up? See if you can squeeze in some work while you’re (inevitably) waiting. Need to have your tires replaced at Walmart’s Auto Shop with their impossible 2-4-hour wait times? Sounds like another great “squeeze-in” moment!
Be prepared by taking your materials with you whenever possible. You never know when the right time will present itself for a burst of productivity time.
14. Get Exercise
Exercise may not have anything to do with studying or work, but at the same time, it has everything to do with it. It keeps your body strong and active. Your brain is part of your body, and it benefits from the effort.
15. Go to Bed at Sensible Times
Sleep is another important supporting mechanism for time management because it ensures you go into your work time with a clear head and a good strategy. If you’re the type of person who “wakes up hard,” then just grab for an earlier bedtime.
Don’t convince yourself that you have to stay up late. It’s all about making adjustments. Your time management will improve during the waking hours if you manage to get the 7-8 hours of sleep a night that you need.
16. Make Friends with Your Phone Scheduling App
If you’re like us, you may have a hard time keeping track of all your meetings and obligations during the week without the assistance of a technological helper. The phone has revolutionized how we do it and has subsequently ensured that we show up to a lot more stuff.
It’s simple. Whenever you get a new due date or meeting that you have to keep up with, drop everything you’re doing and make a reminder for it in your phone. Make sure you’ve set it up to warn you far enough in advance so the alert doesn’t blindside you with zero time to spare. We recommend the night before if you’re wondering about the best time.
17. Find Time to Relax
Relaxation time differs from break time. How so, you ask? With break time, your mind is still focused on the work that you have to resume in a few moments. You’re not working but you still kind of are.
Relaxation time means that work is out-of-sight and (mostly) out-of-mind. Try to give yourself at least one day off during the week to plan and enjoy some heavy-duty relaxation time. Spend it the way you like to spend it.
That could mean video games or Netflix all day. It could mean a shopping spree, a trip to the bookstore, a jog. You’re in charge. Not school, not work, not the people closest to you. You call the shots.
18. Turn Down People and Opportunities When Necessary
Most of the people and opportunities that “present” themselves throughout our day are distractions from what we should be doing. Don’t just blanket “NO” everyone and everything. But do weigh the value in giving up your productivity time for what they’re offering.
Do the rewards outweigh the sacrifices? Then you may wish to consider. Otherwise, stick to what you’re doing until you’re at a viable stopping point.
19. Do Not Rush
Getting places on time is an important time management tip because it ensures that you’re never “rushed” to be anywhere. It also will filter into how you structure your to-do lists. That means you’ll start giving yourself plenty of time to accomplish everything you need to accomplish from the planning stages.
20. Put Your Phone in a Different Place During Work Sessions
If it’s right by you, it’s easy to stop what you’re doing and get derailed. If it’s in a drawer or another room, then you’ve increased the number of steps that you have to take to “enjoy” the fruits of the phone. So make sure it’s far away from you when you have something that requires the full brunt of your focus.
21. Attack Your Bad Habits
Getting rid of your bad habits will leave more time for the good ones (like time management). Drinking and smoking too much? Netflix eating up all your study time? Brainstorm a list of the things you know you shouldn’t be doing. Start trying to shed one of them a week by restructuring your day to avoid them.
22. Batch Your Work Whenever Possible
Batching similar types of work ensures that you work on those tasks at the maximum speed and accuracy levels. You’ll get them done faster so you can move onto the next batch of like tasks. Before you know it, you’ll have a page of crossed-out to-do items.
23. Live by Routines
Routines are good. They keep us moving forward even if it seems like they force us to do the same types of things over and over again. Your routines will get you through each project so you can move onto something new.
24. Delegate What You Can
This may not be as big of an option for students, but if you do have the opportunity to hand something off to someone better equipped to deal with it, do so. Then, channel your freed-up time into something you have to get done that only you can do.
25. Learn How to Procrastinate
Procrastination isn’t a dirty word when you’re delaying the activities that don’t matter as much in favor of the ones that do. Where procrastination goes wrong is when we put off the things that have to get done now rather than later.
Make Time Management a Priority
Making time management a priority will ensure that you do it better. Now it’s your turn, friends. What are some of your best time management tips? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Flickr Creative Commons]