We only have 24 hours in a day. And some people are productive during that time. With a few effective time management strategies, they tick off items on their to-do list faster than Jackie Chan striking down bad guys. A karate chop here, a roundhouse kick there, and bam, they’ve knocked out their daily tasks.
If you’re at that level, congrats. If not, don’t despair. Much like karate, time management is a skill. And practice makes the master.
Developing effective time management skills will do wonders for your career. By getting things done faster, you’ll be able to achieve more in less time.
But using time efficiently isn’t just about chasing ambitions. It’s about making more time for what matters.
Do you spend hours worrying about deadlines and feeling stressed about urgent tasks? That’s time you could be using on what is meaningful to you. Like discovering a new country or learning a new sport.
Time management strategies go beyond the Pomodoro technique. To make the most out of 24 hours, you have to learn how to prioritize and simplify.
The key to freeing up time to enjoy life?
Prioritizing your most important tasks and complete them efficiently.
Here are 13 time management strategies to help you achieve a better work-life balance.
1. Put a Value on Your Time
How much is your time worth? The poetic answer is that it is invaluable. And while that may be true, there are also ways to put a dollar value on your hours.
We make this type of calculation regularly. Taking an Uber that costs $15 more than public transportation but saves us 10 minutes? Then we decide based on how much those minutes mean to us.
If you work at a traditional job, it’s tempting to divide your annual salary by the number of hours you work per year. The problem? You’re determining cost, which is not the same as value.
To price your time, it helps to think like a freelancer. The rule of thumb is to total your expenses + what you would like to save and divide it by the number of hours you want to work.
Say you regularly spend $2500 per month and want to save $7500. And you’re willing to 40 hours a week. So your hourly price would be $250.
Understanding the value you put on your time helps prioritize your to-do list. The number that you come up with isn’t important. What’s essential is that you begin to think of your time as a resource that is worth something.
You might not blink at watching 5 hours worth of Netflix, but would you pay $250 an hour to do it?
2. Know Where You Spend Your Time
Simplifying your task list is prioritizing what should be on it.
Most people aren’t aware of where they spend their time. You can use free time-tracking software, such as Clockify, to understand the time you spend on specific tasks.
What may seem innocent pauses are distracting you from bigger and more important tasks. Note the amount of time it takes you to refocus after checking your phone.
You may want to track differently depending on which area of your life you are trying to improve.
If you aim to be more productive at work, you may only track Monday-Friday. If you have specific goals, like making an hour a day for the gym, you should track your whole week.
After you track your behavior, separate your activities into categories. It helps to be very targeted at this stage.
Categories will look different for everyone, but some examples include:
- Phone calls/Meetings
- Administrative Tasks
- Social media
- Health and fitness
Once you understand where you use time, it will be easier to create processes and habits to make those activities more efficient.
3. Prioritize Your To-Do List
The most productive people live by the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. This rule says that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes.
This means that 80% of productivity comes from 20% of tasks. Everything else either supports these impactful tasks or is busywork.
Does how you spend your time align with your personal goals? The purpose of knowing where our time goes is to adjust habits to reflect priorities.
Want to build a business but spend more time on entertainment than setting up meetings? This may be a good wake up call.
Conversely, you may find that there are categories you don’t want to touch. Let’s say your hour at the gym is sacred. Knowing that this is a priority will help you determine which categories you are willing to modify.
Ultimately, everything falls into 3 simple boxes:
- Spend more time on. The 20% of activities that have the largest impact on your goals and overall happiness
- Spend less time on. Distractions and activities that do not contribute or take away from your quality of life
- Maintain/Make more efficient. Maybe you work 9-5 or have an hour-long commute. If it’s not possible to change the amount of time spent, you may be able to change the impact of that time
4. Automate and Delegate
The quickest way to spend less time doing something is to offload it. The ideal tasks to delegate? Activities that are necessary for supporting important tasks but are not impactful themselves.
Most people live by this principle inside their homes. You want to live in a clean house even though you don’t like washing dishes, sweeping floors, or hanging up laundry. That’s why you use a dishwasher, Roombas, and dryers.
So why not apply the same principle to other areas of life?
Let Buffer make your social media posts. Set up a Calendly for scheduling meetings. And create Google Alerts to curate relevant articles.
Here’s the step by step:
- Write down all your tasks
- Now identify what’s urgent and what’s important. After each task, mark them with “U” for Urgent and “I” for Important. Tasks can have one, both, or none. If none, you’ll need to purge them
- Now we need to assess value. Look at your “I” tasks and identify the high-value drivers of your work
- The next step is to estimate the time to complete each task. Order them from most effort to least effort
Finally, insert the tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix. You now have a complete overview of all your work tasks.
Automating simple tasks can save hours a week and free time (and headspace) for more important things.
If you can’t automate it, you can delegate or outsource. Find someone you trust to do the job and to provide clear directions, as micromanaging eats up your time.
Minimizing your wardrobe allows you to choose outfits faster. Decluttering your home eliminates the need for constant organizing. Digital minimalism creates a healthier and more intentional relationship with technology.
It’s about doing more with less.
6. Induce Flow States
Psychologists refer to the feeling of being “in the zone” as a flow state. This is when we are fully immersed in an activity and complete it effortlessly (see Deep Work).
Flow states allow us to achieve our peak performance and improve focus, which saves us time by being more efficient.
Athletes often enter flow states during a game and musicians during a performance. Flow state is the optimization of effort and challenge. It requires a task to be within our skillset, but still be challenging enough to be engaging.
It takes time and training to intentionally produce a flow state, but some tips that can help include:
- Prepare the right environment. If it’s too cold, too warm, noisy or otherwise distracting, it will be difficult to enter into a flow state
- Prepare your body. A good night’s sleep and a full stomach won’t induce flow states, but being tired or hungry may make it more difficult to achieve
- Listen to focus music. Background music helps to block out distractions and stay focused
- Choose the right task. It’s nearly impossible to enter a flow state when doing something new or considerably challenging. Choose a task that is appropriate for your competencies and skill level
7. Multitask Smart (Or Not At All)
The human brain is incapable of multitasking.
When we split our attention between activities, we are switching rapidly between them. This leads to inefficiency and can actually take more time than doing each task individually. For this reason, single-tasking is generally preferable.
Develop the habit of single-tasking by forcing your brain to concentrate on one task only. Immerse yourself in this task. Only move to the next one when you’re done.
The one exception to this is when we are doing something on autopilot.
Activities like washing dishes, or running on the treadmill don’t need our full attention. These are great opportunities to take advantage of multitasking and add productive hours to the day.
The development of voice recognition and digital assistants allows us to read and answer messages, place orders, and research information while our hands and eyes are busy.
Podcasts or audiobooks are also a great way to add value to menial tasks.
8. Do Things in Batches
Studies have confirmed that multi-tasking is normally less efficient than single-tasking. The brain needs time to adjust when navigating different tasks, also known as task switching. Switching makes you tired and unproductive, not the tasks themselves.
But if you batch similar tasks that call for similar mindsets you can efficiently work on multiple tasks without losing your workflow. In other words, your brain is focused on one type of task at a time.
Batching refers to a time management strategy that works by doing similar tasks all at once. Our brains focus better in intervals of 25 – 90 minutes.
Batching takes advantage of this fact by grouping tasks that use similar skills or mindsets.
This is one of the time management strategies Elon Musk uses to multitask strategically.
Some examples of productive batching include:
- Answering all non-urgent emails at set times during the day
- Reading a list of articles a few times a week
- Taking phone calls or meetings during one half of the day
- Cooking all your meals for the week on Sunday
- Run all your errands within a few hours
- Checking your calendar and planning the next day at the end of every day
To find more activities you can stack, write down all your general activities for the day and week and identify the ones that can be batched together. Try the batch a couple of times and rearrange tasks if necessary.
To process batches even faster, use the Pomodoro Technique.
9. Wake Up Earlier
Get ahead of the game by waking up early. Being awake at the beginning of the day allows you to knock out tasks before being barraged by emails, meetings, and phone calls during normal business hours.
You can use the extra hours of calm to exercise, read, do work, or simply prepare for the day. Doing so will give you more energy and peace of mind to complete tasks throughout the workday.
10. Eliminate Distractions
Quantifying where we spend our time can help us make rational decisions about our behavior.
No one aims to waste hours on Instagram, but it’s much easier to kick the habit once we learn how much time we spend scrolling each day.
Minutes add up. The average person spends well over two hours a day on social media. Assuming a lifespan of about 80 years, that’s a total of 6.4 years.
Understanding how much we really lose from being distracted helps motivate us to change.
11. Make Distractions Productive
If you have trouble eliminating distractions, try making them work for you. Turning these vices into useful activities extracts value out of time wasters.
Some ideas include:
- Follow the profiles of your favorite news websites, entrepreneurs you admire, or accounts that inspire you. If you can’t help scrolling, you can at least choose to view material that may benefit you down the line
- Prepare stimulating conversation starters for chit-chat. Trade office gossip for an opportunity to learn from your team members by asking them about what they are reading or working on
- Watch documentaries instead of movies or TV shows
12. Set Time Limits
We work faster when a deadline is approaching because we feel that we don’t have time for distractions.
This feeling can be simulated by setting time limits for tasks. Set a timer to create a sense of urgency and commit to completing the task before the time ends.
This can be combined with the Pomodoro technique, which traditionally lasts 25 minutes.
Cut out all distractions and only do one task or batch of tasks during the full time.
Knowing that you only have to focus for a short period of time helps to motivate you to begin the task sooner and stay focused throughout.
13. Say No
Investing in the wrong stock can lose you a lot of money. In the same way, saying yes to the wrong commitment will lose you a lot of time. The difference is that you can always make more money, but you can never make more time.
Productive people say no more than they say yes (like Steve Jobs). You should only take on commitments that align with your limits, values, and priorities. However, you can’t say yes to every single thing that matches your goals.
Whenever you are considering saying yes, ask yourself three questions:
- Do I have time for this right now?
- Can someone else do it just as well or better?
- Do I truly want to do this?
Effective Time Management Strategies: Practice Makes the Master
You don’t need to use all of these time management strategies to be successful. Choose the ones that work best with your goals and lifestyle.
Remember that at the end of the day, the goal is to get more enjoyment out of life. It doesn’t help to be productive if it makes you unhappy. If a time management tip adds more stress than it eliminates, find another one.
Mastering time management is a matter of trial and error and developing a system that works for you.
Implementing the right techniques will make you more productive, help you achieve your goals and give you more time to go out and do what really fulfills you.
So get your timers ready.