Adopting good time management techniques in your life isn’t about squeezing as many tasks as you can into your day.
It’s about working smarter, not harder.
We all have 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use those hours that define our work.
You can’t store time, borrow it, or save for later use. You can only decide how to better spend it, on activities of higher rather than low value.
Time management is a game of choices: projects to pursue, tasks to complete, routines to follow.
“Time management is not a peripheral activity or skill. It is the core skill upon which everything else in life depends.” — Brian Tracy
Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite time management techniques.
Want to focus on things that matter, get more done, and boost your productivity?
Apply this set of principles, rules, and skills as they will change the way you deal with time.
1. Track Your Time
Do you know how much time you spend on each task? Most of us can guess, but our estimates are usually way off.
Time tracking is a time management technique used to keep records of work hours. It helps measure working time and gives information about how much time we spend on each specific task.
How can you track your time?
To do it manually, use a spreadsheet. Every 30 min, write down what you worked on.
Or you can use a time tracking app. Time-tracking apps can help you provide real data on your productivity.
RescueTime is a free app that tracks exactly how you spend time on the computer. At the end of the week, you get a report revealing how you spend your time. You can also check other metrics, such as time spent on each specific task.
After a couple of weeks, you’ll start noticing patterns and knowing where and how your time is leaking.
By being aware of how you are using your time, you can devise a plan to attack your leaks and get rid of them.
Time tracking is a powerful time management technique. By having real data on your work, you will uncover insights on how you can improve your productivity.
2. Time Blocking
Sometimes it feels like your schedule controls you. There’s so much to do and so little time.
Making lists of things to do and desperately trying to finish them isn’t enough. It doesn’t give your days structure or routine.
You need to bring in an important element: time.
To do so, start associating tasks with time. Determine when a task will get done and how long it’s going to take.
If it sounds simple, it’s because it is.
Time blocking is a method in which you combine task management and your calendar. You create ‘blocks’ of time in your days and assign them tasks to focus on.
Every task fits into its time block. No interruptions.
With time blocking, your schedule is completely filled. Work tasks, social events, and rest. Everything is planned and prioritized.
The great thing about this time management technique is that it forces you to figure out how to spend your time.
This is more powerful and way more productive than endless to-do lists.
3. Eat That Frog
From “Eat That Frog”, by Brian Tracy:
“You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond. But you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.”
Each day, identify your most important task. This is your frog. It’s the task that creates the most impact on your work.
Begin your day by tackling this frog. Discipline yourself to start on your most important task and work without interruptions.
Why does it work?
Because this simple time management technique brings a win early in the day. And this builds momentum and a sense of accomplishment. That’s how you achieve big goals: small continuous effort, every day.
Resist the temptation of tackling the easiest tasks first. Always begin your day with your frog.
But what happens when you have many frogs?
Mark Twain has the answer:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Eat your frog first thing in the morning.
And when you have more than one frog, eat the biggest first.
4. The Pomodoro Technique
The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Switching between tasks has damaging costs to your work and productivity.
The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management system that forces you to single-task.
It is one of the simplest, yet most effective, time management techniques.
Turn off all the distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes. During that time, you can only work on a single task.
25 minutes doesn‘t sound like a lot. But that’s 25 minutes of completely uninterrupted Deep Work.
Do it every day from now onwards so you can develop the habit of working with the Pomodoro Productivity.
How does the Pomodoro technique save time?
It’s simple. The idea behind it is to create a sense of urgency.
Instead of feeling as if you have all day long to complete your tasks, you know you have only 25 minutes to make as much progress as you can.
Also, it forces you to take breaks. This is important to keep you fresh throughout your workday. It’s impossible to spend hours in front of your computer without feeling tired.
5. The Eisenhower Matrix
Knowing how to prioritize your work is an essential time management technique. When everything is a priority, nothing is.
Not all tasks are equal. The Eisenhower Matrix (aka Urgent–Important Matrix) helps you discover your most important tasks.
Tasks can go into 4 quadrants:
- Urgent and Important
- Not-Urgent and Important
- Urgent and Not-Important
- Not-Urgent and Not-Important
Here’s how to use it:
- Write down all your tasks. Don’t worry about the order (for now)
- Now, identify what’s urgent and important. Mark urgent tasks with an “U” and important with an “I”. Tasks can have one, both, or none
- Insert each task into a quadrant and do the corresponding action. Work on Q1 tasks right away; schedule Q2 tasks; for Q3, delegate; delete Q4 to-dos.
To be more productive, spend more time on Q2 activities. These are tasks that are meaningful to you and your work but not urgent.
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Use the Eisenhower Matrix every morning. It is an effective time management tool that will help you rank your tasks.
6. Work Around Your Energy Levels
Energy levels affect productivity. So you should schedule critical work for peak productivity times.
Find your most productive hours and schedule Deep Work for those periods.
When your energy is low, work on low-value and low-energy tasks (known as “shallow work”).
If you’re most productive in the morning, do the most critical work during that period.
After lunch, your energy levels might crash. This is a great time to clean your desk, check emails, or update spreadsheets.
To find when you have the most energy, rate your energy from 1-10 every 30 min on a spreadsheet for a couple of weeks. Eventually, you’ll be able to identify patterns.
Energy levels also vary by day of the week. Tuesday seems to be the most productive day for most people. Find your patterns.
Here’s how you could organize your week around your energy level:
- Monday: Energy ramps out of the weekend. Schedule low-demand tasks like setting goals, organizing, and planning
- Tuesday, Wednesday: Peak of energy. Tackle your most difficult tasks. You can write, brainstorm, schedule your Make Time
- Thursday: Energy begins to ebb. Schedule meetings, especially when you need consensus
- Friday: Lowest energy level. Do open-ended work, long-term planning, and relationship building
7. Remove Distractions
Distractions hurt your productivity and focus.
It takes around 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption (study).
In “The ONE Thing”, Gary Keller illustrated what happens when you get interrupted:
Here’s the truth:
Half an hour full-on focus is more productive than 2 hours switching between tasks. Remove distractions from your work to avoid task-switching costs.
To remove distractions:
- Turn off all notifications on your phone and computer
- Leave your phone away from your workspace
- Use noise-canceling headphones. Co-workers are less likely to interrupt you if you look plugged in and on-task
- Save articles to Pocket or Instapaper and read them later
- Turn off Wi-Fi if it’s not needed for a task
- Don’t use social media at work. Can’t resist? Schedule “distraction time” throughout the day
- Put your phone and apps (such as Slack, Hangouts, and Messenger) on “Do Not Disturb”
- Change your inbox to a GTD Gmail to become productive in email. You can also use Inbox Pause to stop getting flooded with new emails
- If you have an office, shut the door
8. Follow the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule states that “80% of the output or results will come from 20% of the input or action”.
In other words:
It’s the little things that account for the majority of the results.
To be more effective at managing your time, focus in on the 20% of your tasks that bring 80% of the results. Use this time management technique to work your most impactful tasks.
Here are other questions to ask yourself using the 80/20 rule:
- Are 20% of the emails 80% of the important conversations?
- Do 80% of your distractions come from 20% of sources?
- Do 20% of your tasks give you 80% of the pleasure in your job?
- Do 80% of problems originate with 20% of projects?
- Are 80% of customers only using 20% of software features?
- Do 20% of customers make 80% of the complaints?
Batching is grouping specific tasks that are similar and doing them together. The idea is to focus on the tasks less often, and for longer.
When you process all your emails in one sitting or cook for an entire week on a Sunday, you are batching.
This time management technique allows you to work efficiently on many tasks. This way, you won’t lose your flow since the activities call for similar mindsets (to learn more about flow read about the flow channel).
Batching forces your brain to focus on one type of task at a time. And so it reduces the start-up and slow-down time, daily clutter, and improves focus.
To discover which tasks you should stack, start by writing all your activities for the day and week. You can batch together the ones that call for similar mindsets.
Try it out and, if necessary, you can rearrange.
Here are a couple of tasks you could batch together:
- Outlining all your blog posts for the upcoming week in one sitting
- Processing all communications: emails, Slack, and phone calls
- Updating several related worksheets at the same time
- Completing all your errands — grocery shopping, dry cleaning, post office — at one time
To process batches faster, work on similar tasks for a set period of time using the Pomodoro Technique.
10. Automate Tasks
Do you need to do the same tasks every day (or week), over and over again?
If you’re not automating them, you’re wasting valuable time. Thousands of hours per year.
Putting some of your daily tasks on autopilot is key to working smarter.
And the good news is: you can use that extra time for deep work or taking breaks.
Here are some tasks you can put on autopilot in under 10 minutes:
- Create canned responses in Gmail for emails you keep writing over and over again
- Set reminders on Google Calendar so you never forget anything
- Proofread your writing using Grammarly
- Use Buffer to schedule and automate your social media posts in advance
- Use LastPass to fill online forms and save all your passwords in one place
- Create spreadsheet templates for tasks you have to do every week or month
11. Plan Your Day
One of the best ways to improve your time management is to plan how you’re going to use it.
A daily planning ritual protects you from chaos and gives direction to your day.
By planning your time, you’re better prepared for the challenges ahead. This way, you won’t leave any room for procrastination. You’ll work faster and smoother than ever before.
When should you plan your day? You have two options: the previous night or first thing in the morning.
Spend a few minutes writing everything you need to do.
What should go into your to-do list? Tasks that help you move towards your professional and personal goals.
12. The To-Don’t List
In Mathematics, there is a problem-solving technique called inversion. You start with the result and work backwards to calculate the cause.
Inversion is a powerful tool. It forces you to uncover hidden beliefs about the problem you are trying to solve.
You need to think about how to minimize the negatives instead of maximizing the positives.
Let’s say you want to improve productivity.
Thinking forward, you’d list all the things you could do to be more productive. But looking at the problem by inversion, you’d think about all the things you could do that would decrease productivity.
Enter the To-Don’t List.
Create your own by writing down all the habits you want to quit and the activities you wish to remove from your life.
Visualize your usual day of work — long meetings with people you don’t like, boring repetitive tasks — and work from there.
Create a To-Don’t list with all the habits you want to remove from your life. Use it as a guideline of what you don’t allow in your life.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Don’t email first thing in the morning or last thing at night
- No morning meetings
- Don’t say yes unless you’re 100% certain you can deliver
- Don’t drink coffee in the afternoon
- Don’t agree to meetings or calls that have no clear agenda or end time
The reason why inversion works is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.
In the words of Steve Jobs:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
13. Set Time Constraints
You become more productive when you decide on a specific amount of time to complete a specific task. That’s why we create deadlines.
Parkinson’s law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
So, if you reduce the time you have to complete a task, you force your brain to focus and complete it.
Set deadlines even when you don’t need to. Scheduling less time to complete tasks and force your brain to focus.
Here’s an example:
You have to review and reply to an email, a task that normally takes around 20 minutes.
Now, reduce the time available to 10 minutes, set a countdown timer and work as hard as you can to beat it.
The timer creates a sense of urgency and pushes you to focus and be more efficient.
Use deadlines and time limits to your advantage. Even when you don’t have a deadline, set one. Your brain will acknowledge it.
Knowing you only have one hour to complete a report will ensure you don’t waste 20 minutes on Facebook.
On Time Management Techniques
It’s so easy to get caught up in our busyness that we forget to enjoy what we’re doing. The ultimate goal of work is enjoyment. You want to spend more time doing things that you enjoy.
Work can and should be fun. It’s fun that drives motivation, passion, creativity, and productivity. Dread your job and no time management technique in the world can help you.
Some of the best time management techniques are very simple and straightforward. Others are a little bit more complex, but you can easily apply all of them in your daily life.
But remember: everyone is different.
These are the time management techniques that I find useful in my life, but you might not. Adopt the ones that work for you and keep trying to improve your own practices.
Reevaluate regularly and think about how to improve your time management skills.