Managing your own time is an essential skill in today’s fast-paced world. It's also more challenging than ever. Fortunately, there are many time management strategies that can help you become organized and efficient. Use this overview of 58 strategies and techniques to find the ones that work best for you.
Most plans are strictly sequential. When you invariably have to adjust your plan to reality, you have to update the whole lengthy sequence. Time-consuming at best, motivation consuming at worst. With deep planning, you create a simple hierarchy instead.
Think about what you want to achieve this year. Based on that, what do you want to achieve this month? This week? Today? This way you create a long-term strategy and still adjust your plans with little effort.
Curious? Then take a look at Focality, our time management app. Focality combines deep planning, self-reflection and data-driven insights to let you constantly improve your time management skills.
Without further ado, here comes the complete list of time management techniques in alphabetic order:
For every day, create a list of one big thing, three medium things and five small things that you want to accomplish this day. This brings clarity into your workday and helps not to get buried by an endless flood of to-do items.
See Two-Hour Solution.
There are two 2-Minute Rules:
If you want to establish a new habit, make sure that it requires no more than 2 minutes in the beginning. Work yourself up from there.
In the Getting Things Done methodology (see below), if a task takes only 2 minutes or less, then do it right away instead of organizing it.
If you are putting something off, force yourself to do it for just 10 minutes. Chances are that you will continue past the 10 minutes.
Start your day by planning what you will do that day for 5 minutes. Every hour, take one minute, review your progress and refocus. At the end of the day, take 5 minutes to reflect and evaluate your day.
This method helps you to quickly decide what to do with a task. Either Do it, Defer it, Delegate it or Drop it.
Spend 7 minutes in the morning to plan your day. Then another 7 minutes in the evening to reflect.
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is a rule of thumb that states that 80% of the effect step from 20% of the causes. Applied to time management it means that you can get 80% of the results with just 20% of the work. Getting to 100% will require disproportionately more work. Perfect is the enemy of done.
Align your work with your basic rest–activity cycle by doing focused work for approximately 90 minutes, followed by a 20-minute break. The following article sums it up nicely: Avoid Burnout and Increase Awareness Using Ultradian Rhythms
Created by Brian Tracy, ABCDE is a method for setting priorities. Basically assign each task a priority from A to E. A: Very important, must do. B: Important, should do. C: Nice to do, without consequence if skipped. D: Delegate. E: Eliminate.
Leave every meeting, workshop or other event with a set of concrete tasks that need to be performed, called “action steps”. These should be kept separately from accompanying information (“reference items”). Everything that can’t / shouldn’t be approached right now becomes a “backburner item” to be possibly revived later. The method was developed by Behance. There used to be an online tool that implemented the action method, but it was discontinued in 2015.
The Agile Results technique is heavily inspired by software development frameworks like Scrum. At the beginning of the week, identify three wins that you want to achieve. Each day, identify three wins for that day. Use Fridays to recognize three things that are going well and three things to improve. Accompanied by a set of further practices to improve your time management like 30 day improvement sprints, reference collections and more.
Autofocus is a to-do list methodology by Mark Forster which tries to use as little structure as possible. Dump everything in a ruled notebook. Scan your list and work on what stands out for as long as you feel like it. Then cross the item off the list. If you haven’t finished it, add it to the bottom again. Repeat. If you pass through a whole page (except the latest page) without anything standing out, dismiss all items on that page.
Work on batches of similar tasks instead of mixing unrelated ones. It reduces friction by minimizing context switching.
Track your energy levels and identify your most energetic times of the day. Schedule your most important work for those times. First described by Sam Carpenter in his book Work the System.
A bullet journal combines to-do list, planning and journaling. The name bullet journal comes from the extensive use of bullet(ish) points to structure and mark information.
The Clear-Organized-Productive-Efficient technique helps you to eliminate low-value activities and prioritize everything so that you can focus on the things with the most impact.
See Seinfeld Strategy.
Tackle the biggest and/or most difficult and/or most disliked task first thing in the morning. Then you won’t waste energy or distract yourself the rest of the day because you are secretly dreading that task. Eat That Frog was created by Brian Tracy who named it after a quote by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
See Time Management Matrix.
Start with a list of tasks. Select the first one on the list. Think about which other task from the list you would rather do. Select that one but remember/mark the first. Repeat until you no longer want to do anything before the currently selected task. Then work on the tasks in this chain - but in reverse order! Once you are done with the chain start the process again with the next open task on the list. Reference: The Final Version newsletter
Work on only one task at a time. When you start, write down the time. Continue working on the task until you feel that you need a break. If you are exhausted or can’t focus anymore, take a break. Write down the stop time. Decide how long this break should be and set a timer for it. Repeat.
At the end of the day, when your brain is fried, prioritize your tasks for the next day. Schedule important tasks to the beginning of the day, when your brain is still fresh. Schedule less important or easier tasks towards the later parts of the day when your brain fries again.
Getting Things Done is a famous method created by David Allen. It makes extensive use of to-do lists and techniques to manage them. At its core it employs five basic activities to bring structure to your task management:
Goal setting is the process of defining what you want to achieve in the long-term (or mid-term). Instead of focusing just on tasks, it helps you getting direction in life. If you don’t have clear goals, you are basically adrift. And you hardly get to where you want to be by accident.
We have compiled an extensive guide to personal goal setting which will help you to understand the topic in depth. Learn why it is important, what types of goals to set, attributes of well-defined goals and much, much more.
This strategy focuses on managing your email inbox with maximum efficiency. According to its creator, Merlin Mann, the name Inbox Zero does not refer to the number of emails in your inbox, but “how long it takes to use the inbox”. Basically, you run every incoming email through a short process in which you do one of the following things: Delete, delegate, respond, defer (to do later), do (immediately).
This time management strategy has been created in 1918 by productivity consultant Ivy Lee. He recommends writing down six tasks at the end of each day that you want to accomplish the next day. Order them by importance. Then, on the next day, work your way down the list. At the end of the day, move any uncompleted task to the list for the next day. Repeat.
Combine the strengths of digital and paper tools. Chad Hall’s Medium Method employs paper notebooks, post-it notes, a task-management app, an online calendar and a note app.
Write down the most important tasks for the next day. Up to three. At the beginning of the day, focus on those and do nothing else until your MITs are completed.
Borrowed from requirements management this technique helps you prioritize your tasks. Give each task a priority of either “Must have”, “Should have”, “Could have” or “Won’t have”. Or, reformulated to time management: Must do, should do, could do and won’t do.
Make sure that every day the amount of work you put towards your goal is non-zero. No matter how little you do, you do need to do something.
Write everything that you should never do on a list. This might be bad habits or categories of tasks that are not worth your time. This helps you to avoid unproductive activities by making them more conscious.
OKRs got to fame through their adoption at Google, although their history goes back way further. The principle is easy: You set your objective, a goal, that you want to achieve. For example “Delight my clients”. Then you define a set of key results by which your success will be measured. For example “Improve feedback scores by 20%” or “Increase client retention by 30%”. You should set your key results challenging enough so that you usually only achieve them to approximately 70%.
See 80/20 Rule.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Employ other time management strategies (e.g. time boxing) to combat its effect.
Think of your day as a pickle jar and your tasks as rocks, pebbles and sand that you want to fill in. The rocks are your big, important tasks. Pebbles and sand are less important tasks. If you want to get the most into the glass, your day, you need to fill it in order of importance. Rocks first. If you start with the unimportant stuff, you will never be able to fill in your important rocks.
At the beginning of the day (or the evening before) create a plan of what you are going to accomplish that day. Don’t just “wing it”. Focality is a great tool for that.
Focus on one activity for 25 minutes. Then take a 5-minute break, even if you are in the middle of something. Repeat. After four cycles, take a 15-30 minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique helps to limit the impact of interruptions. It aims to keep you in flow.
If you want to stay true to the name of the method, use a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to measure the intervals. “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato.
POSEC stands for Prioritize, Organize, Streamline, Economize, Contribute. The method draws connections to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Document what you have done.
This technique, created by Tony Robbins, boils down to answering three questions whenever you want to achieve something: What do I want? Why do I want it? What do I have to do to get it?
Tony offers a free workbook if you want to dive into detail.
Work for 52 minutes, then rest for 17 minutes. The 52 / 17 rule is basically a variation of the Pomodoro technique. Why 52 minutes? Julia Gifford analyzed the working patterns of the people at her workplace. Turns out the most productive 10% work for approximately 52 minutes focused on one task.
Slice a big task into smaller ones that you can easily accomplish in 20-30 minutes.
Work on your goal every day. Mark every day in your calendar on which you worked for your goal. Make sure that there is an unbroken chain of marks in your calendar.
A variation of the AutoFocus system described earlier. Write everything that you want to do on a page. Leave space for a second column. Work on what you feel like working for as long as you feel like. If something urgent comes up, add it to the second column. Work on the tasks of the page until no tasks feel ready to be done anymore. Then move to the next page - but not until you have completed all items from the second column.
Avoid work that has no strategic value for you.
Do you need to tackle a big, complex task that you can’t bring yourself to face head-on? Punch some holes into it. Find something small and manageable that you can do right away. Copy over your template presentation, brainstorm some headline ideas - anything. Keep repeating until your cheese or project either has so many holes that it is gone or becomes easy to complete as a whole.
Amir Salihefendić, the founder of the popular to-do list app Todoist, created the time management system Systemist. It consists of six elements:
A time audit analyzes where you actually spend your time. There are several ways to do this (using time tracking software, manually logging time in a spreadsheet, etc.) but the goal is always to understand where your time goes. You will frequently find activities that take up way more of your time than expected. Based on this understanding you can make adjustments so that you allocate your time better.
Split your day/week into distinct blocks. Each block is dedicated to one task or activity. Do nothing else during this time.
Elon Musk famously takes this to the extreme by dividing his days into 5-minute intervals to manage his insane workloads.
Allocate a fixed time period, the timebox, to complete an activity. It’s similar to time blocking but is independent of planning your whole day/calendar.
Former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower used to rate his problems by the two criteria urgency and importance. These criteria are commonly used as axis on a 2x2 matrix with 4 quadrants:
The Time Management Matrix (also known as Eisenhower Matrix / Box) helps you to better prioritize your tasks and avoid the urgency trap where you fill your day with everything that’s urgent and neglecting the important.
More Details: Time Management Matrix
See Not-to-do list.
Take two hours each week to plan your next week and have at least a vague idea of the following week.
Schedule fixed commitments, self-care and time off. Don’t schedule your work activities. You then clearly see the remaining time available for work. Now get to work. After you worked at least 30 minutes on something, add it to the calendar to make your progress visible. Don’t let yourself get interrupted before the 30-minute mark or you won’t be allowed to record the session. Allow yourself a break after each work period.
The Unschedule is described in Neil A. Fiore’s book The Now Habit, which also contains plenty of other tricks like making sure never to end blocked. Always have at least some idea how to continue before you stop your work session.
Remember the action method that said every meeting must be left with an action item? That item is the monkey. Make sure that you don’t take care of other people’s monkeys.
This analogy was created in a 1999 article in Harvard Business Review. It is aimed at managers and describes how to delegate effectively, but can also be applied to other areas of time management.
Divide your tasks for the day into three groups that all take roughly equally long to complete. Get to work on the first one. When it’s done, pack your things and move to a different location. For example, move from the office to a coffee shop. Then work on the second group. When it’s done, move on to yet another location. When the third one is done, go home. (Reference: Workstation Popcorn: How To Become Uber Productive While Working For Yourself)
Zen to Done tries to improve on Getting Things Done. It focuses on simplicity and effectiveness. It doesn’t just try to get done as many tasks as possible but also to choose those tasks wisely to bring you closer to your goals. It also offers a strategy to implement the central habits of the methodology step by step - instead of establishing a complicated system all at once.
If you managed to read through all 58 strategies, you are probably facing some analysis paralysis. Where should you go from here?
Obviously, you should first give Focality a try. ;) It combines an effective time management strategy, self-reflection and data-driven insights in an easy-to-use app. Thanks to Deep Planning it also requires very little time investment.
If you are looking for something else, think back right now which strategies you still remember. This little mental shortcut, known as the availability heuristic, tells you which strategies you judged as most important. Read about those in more detail and - if they still seem promising - give them a try. Not every technique is right for every person, so you might have to try more than one. But the time invested in testing time management strategies is well spent.