Effective time management will benefit you in many ways. By actively managing your time you gain a feeling of control. Life is not just happening to you. You know what you are doing, what you can do, and when you are doing it. This greatly reduces stress and anxiety.
Being in control also works wonders for your work-life balance. No more catching up late at night because you are behind schedule. Use your time management skills to effectively plan your working hours - and when they end. Not to mention that time management is a very valuable skill in your personal life as well.
By better managing your responsibilities you also set yourself up for greater achievements. Remember that goal you had that you never get around to pursuing? No more. Get to where you want to be.
So much for the why. Now let's see what time management skills are important to learn.
There is always more stuff to do than there is time to do it. You need to accept this fact or a feeling of overwhelm will be your constant companion. Since there is more to do than can be done, you need to be good at prioritizing what actually gets done.
Numerous prioritization strategies can help you with that. The time management matrix categorizes tasks by importance and urgency. It helps you to focus on tasks that bring you forward instead of just keeping you busy.
Other examples for prioritization frameworks are the ABCDE Method, COPE, or “Fresh or Fried”.
One extremely important sub-skill is learning to say no. Many people just accept more and more responsibilities just because they cannot say no. This is a sure-fire way to become externally controlled. You have to do so many things that other people delegated to you that you can no longer work on the things that are important to you. So learn how to say no and get back to focusing on what’s important.
"If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." – Lawrence J. Peter
Prioritizing is important, but it is not enough to spontaneously prioritize what to tackle next each time a task is done. You need to think more long-term to make the best use of your time. You need a plan. Or several.
Planning is a time management skill that you want to turn into a habit. For starters, always know what you want to achieve today or this week. Then make also sure that you know what you want to achieve this month and this year.
Sounds exhausting? It doesn’t have to be. With Focality, our time management app, you can do what we call Deep Planning. Instead of creating a painstakingly detailed sequential plan, you think in a hierarchy of time periods. What do I want to achieve this year? This month? This week? Today? You create the plan for next week only after the current week is done. Maybe things have changed by then, who knows what happens. No need to adjust a long, sequential plan just because something did not quite go according to that plan. All you need is these four plans, each one relatively “simple” - and you automatically act more strategically.
An important sub-skill to planning is estimating. Knowing how long stuff takes. Estimating is one of the more challenging time management skills, especially if your work is not repetitive. But getting good at it pays off. You need to know how much time will be required for a task or your plans are doomed from the start. Practice this. Routinely estimate how long things will take. How long will it take you to brew your coffee? How long to write that email? How long to book that plane ticket? And don’t forget to check how your estimation panned out afterward.
When it comes to the execution of your plans, you need to focus. It’s been shown over and over again that multitasking does not work. Constantly switching your thoughts between different topics will reduce your performance. So focus on one task at a time.
Today, focusing is among the most important time management skills. It is also one of the most challenging skills to master in today’s environment. Distractions are everywhere. Phone calls, emails, social media, and an ever-present way to access any information you might be curious about – never has it been easier to lose your trail of thought.
An effective tool to help you stay focused is to use a focus timer. The idea is simple: Decide for how long you want to focus. Then set a timer for this time. Until the timer rings, you must not allow yourself to do anything other than the task you set out to do.
Our focus timer app helps you with that. It’s a focus timer that constantly expands your focus period, depending on your progress. Train yourself to longer and longer focus periods. It also allows you to reflect on your common causes for interruptions so that you can work on those. And to combat interruptions in the first place it gives you a way to dump them to pick up on them later.
Remember that there is always more to do than you can possibly do? Well, you are not alone. You do not need to do everything by yourself.
Obviously, this is easiest at work if you happen to be a manager. Delegating is a key time management skill for leadership positions (see Why Managers Must Learn to Delegate Effectively).
But even if you are not in a management position, be it at work or at home, you can still delegate. It’s just called “asking for help” then. :) Obviously, you shouldn’t just dump any unwanted task on coworkers, friends, and family. But there are many instances where asking for help is the right thing to do.
Last but not least there is the important time management skill of knowledge. Knowing what strategies exist and when to use which one. Knowing which tools are available to support you and how to use them.
To get you started with the countless strategies, methods, and techniques that are out there, you can refer to our compendium of 58 effective time management strategies. This will give you a great overview of which strategies exists including short summaries of what each is about. Use it to get an exhaustive overview and decide where to dive deep from there.
To learn more about what software and other gadgets can support your efforts check out our article about time management tools. From basic tools like pen and paper up to specialized software like distraction blockers, you will find every tool you need to take your time management skills to the next level.
Title photo by Eric Rothermel.