Very few people need convincing that time management is a good thing! As with so many other things, strengthening your time management muscles takes practice and intentionality—but it is possible.
Coming in with expert tips is Jenny Blake. Jenny is an author and podcaster who loves to help teams move from fiction to flow. Her third book, Free Time: Lose the Busywork, Love Your Business, is about creating opportunity by freeing up time.
What Are Time Management Techniques?
Time management techniques are the tools that people use to maximize the effectiveness of their time. Time management can help you improve productivity and accomplish more in a set amount of time.
Some examples of time management techniques are:
- Minimizing distractions
- The Pomodoro Technique
- Having uninterrupted time to focus on work
- Organizing your to-do list
We’ll talk about all of these in a moment!
Why Are Time Management Skills Important?
Time management skills are essential as they can help you accomplish more in a day, be intentional about spending your time, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Time management is the discipline of using your time thoughtfully and improving productivity through improved work processes.
15 Tips for Effective Time Management
Think strategically about how to improve your time management. This can mean both are achieving good focus while you are working so that your time is being used as effectively as possible and finding ways to save yourself little bits of time throughout the day to regain those precious moments.
Here are 15 tips for how to do that!
#1 Identify your golden hour
Golden hour is a term often used in photography and film. It’s the final hour of the day when the light becomes soft but still vibrant, and people look amazing on camera. What’s more is that it doesn’t take as much work for the gaffers, the lighting experts, to get “the shot.”
Here’s an example of what golden hour looks like on camera.
When working, the golden hour is the block of time—often two to three hours—when you do your best work. You’re the most focused, creative, and energized. Here are a few expected Golden Hour times:
- The Early Bird (4 AM-7 AM): This type of person loves to wake up before sunrise and get started working before everyone else. They thrive knowing they accomplished what they needed to do and have the rest of their day ahead of them.
- The Night Owl (11 PM-2 AM): Similar to the early bird, this type thrives on working when it’s quiet, but this time when most people have started sleeping.
- The Afternoon Athlete (11 AM-2 PM): This person needs a little time to get to total capacity in the morning, but once they’ve gotten some food and finished their morning routine, they’re ready to jump into action.
There isn’t a right or wrong. Each person has unique circadian rhythms that give them their golden hour.
So how do you find your golden hour?
Over the next week, pay attention to when you feel most energized and focused. Ask yourself if there are times when you’re more likely to get distracted or times when you feel productive. This will help you identify your golden hour.
It can be easy to have your best hours slip by while sitting in meetings or checking email.
Once you know when your golden hour is, turn off your notifications, save your emails for later, and work on getting the larger tasks taken care of.
Pro Tip: If you work as part of a team—especially if you’re a team leader—ask your team members when their golden hour is. This way, you can strategically plan meetings for the ideal times for everyone involved.
Action Step: If you work in a company, talk to your boss and tell them when your golden hour is. Explain to them that you want to contribute your best work and that this window of time is when you’re able to accomplish that.
Ask if your one-on-one meetings can be moved out of your golden hour and see if it’s alright for you to turn off notifications during this time.
#2 Avoid time confetti
It’s easy for your day to turn into “time confetti.” This was when your day broke up by meetings and small tasks that you could not reach a productive flow state.
One way to avoid time confetti is by scheduling DNS (Do Not Schedule) blocks into your calendar. Doing this even once or twice a week can help you feel less frazzled and get more done.
Once you have your DNS scheduled, remember to honor it! There may be occasions where you need to schedule something during this window, but to the best of your ability, keep this time meeting-free and prioritize accomplishing larger tasks.
If you have a boss, you may need to check in with them about this. Let them know that your goal with this DNS is to get more of your work done! Most likely, your manager will respond positively once they realize that you want to bring your best to the team and contribute a great job.
Action tip: Make at least one weekly recurring two-hour DNS slot in your calendar.
In your calendar, name the DNS block something like:
- Deep work
- Focus time
- Productivity window
- Gettin’ stuff done
If your colleagues or clients can see your schedule, you may choose not to have the name publicly displayed. It’s enough for them to know that the time is spoken for.
#3 Audit your schedule
Stop and check your schedule—how is your time being used?
It can be so easy to find over time that your schedule has become packed and cluttered. There may be appointments and projects that you are holding on to out of habit. When this happens, you may be minimizing your ability to be both creative and productive.
It can also be easy to say “yes” to meetings weeks away without realizing that you really can’t take that meeting.
If someone asks to schedule a meeting with you, before you answer, stop and ask yourself two questions:
- “Would I have proactively reached out to this person to suggest this meeting?”
- “If this meeting was scheduled for tomorrow, would I still say yes to it?”
The answers to these two questions will give you a lot of insight into how you feel about this appointment.
If you had it in mind to reach out to the person and schedule the same meeting, chances are you also view it as a necessary meeting. Go ahead and add it to your calendar!
Consider how you would feel about it if that meeting was on the schedule for today. Do you still want to do it? Are you a little more hesitant and realistic about what you have the capacity for? This is a much more realistic view of how you’ll feel next month when the time for that commitment rolls around.
Action step: If you work in a company, it can be challenging to edit out responsibilities from your task list. However, take a look at your schedule and think about what your ideal set of duties would be.
Then, schedule a one-on-one with your manager and let them know what of your current tasks you love and would enjoy doing more of and what of your responsibilities drain you that you’d instead take off your plate over the next couple of months.
If you are doing more of the work you enjoy, chances are, your work will be of higher quality. It’s a win-win for you and your manager! Want an easy way to find out what you’re good at? We’ve got you covered: Stop Doing Your To-Do List and Try This Instead
#4 Maximize flow, minimize friction
“Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”— Lao Tsu
Similar to how you have a golden hour during which you’ll have an easier time focusing and creating high-quality work, the work you do may also have a natural rhythm to it.
Instead of just moving from one task to the next, take a holistic look at your to-do list. What tasks complement one another? Are there related tasks on your to-do list that naturally flow into one another that you can complete simultaneously?
Maybe you need to write a social media post and a newsletter on the same topic. Instead of doing all your social media planning on one day and your newsletter writing another, go ahead and write the newsletter and post simultaneously. That way, your mind is already on the topic, and it will likely be more accessible and take less time to get them done—you’ll be maximizing flow and minimizing friction.
Action step: Write out your to-do list for the week. This way, you can take a look at everything at once.
Next, think about what tasks naturally flow into one another. They may use similar software, involve the same teammates, or require a similar type of creativity.
Plan to do this one after the other to maximize your momentum.
#5 “Marry” complementary tasks
Marrying tasks is when you combine two things that you can do at the same time without sacrificing the quality of either of them.
It typically involves one task that requires less mental focus and more physical activity—like walking, cleaning, cooking—and one activity that challenges your mind but doesn’t require as much from you physically—like talking on the phone, listening to an audiobook, or watching a video.
Some examples of good task marriages are:
- Listening to a podcast while you cook dinner
- Calling a loved one while you go for a walk
- Listening to an audiobook while driving
- Watching a TED talk while on the elliptical at the gym
Research shows that multitasking is not effective, so don’t confuse marrying tasks for multitasking. Multitasking is when you try to get two (or more) things done simultaneously that use a similar focus type. You end up sacrificing the effectiveness and quality of your work for both.
Action step: Think about if there are any tasks you can marry to use your time more effectively. Could you use the time commuting to chat with your mom? Or the time you spend cleaning your house listening to an educational podcast?
#6 Opt for Single-tasking over Multitasking
Single-tasking, the opposite of multitasking, is when you focus on one single project at a time. Researchers have found that the human brain is not as effective while multitasking. When multitasking, study participants were less able to complete either of the two tasks, and the work they did was of a lower quality than when they single-tasked.
The difference between multitasking and task marrying is that married tasks complement one another, like cleaning and listening to a podcast. In contrast, multitasking involves two tasks that require a high level of concentration, like if you tried to listen to a podcast while reading.
Some people believe they are good at multitasking, but research indicates that people have an inflated view of their ability to multitask.
If you are prone to multitasking, do your best to minimize the temptation to multitask and instead focus on one task at a time.
Action Step: Keep your phone in a different room while working on projects. Removing as many distractions from your line of sight as possible.
A study from 2018 found that people check their smartphones roughly every 12 minutes.
Even if you have a stronger resolve than average, removing the phone from your line of sight can help you not even think to pick it up until you’re at a stopping point with your work.
Depending on your profession or family situation, this may not be possible. If that’s the case, try setting a different ringtone for the people you want to answer immediately. This way, you can leave your phone in a drawer or your purse, but you’ll know if you need to respond directly to a call or text message or if it can wait for a while.
#7 Start the week with a sprint
Think about what you need to do for the entire week, and front load as much of it as possible. For many people, Mondays are the day they feel most rejuvenated following the time off over the weekend.
Mark Twain once said, “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.”
Mondays help set the tone of the week. By tackling the most challenging tasks right away, you’re setting yourself up to have a less stressful week (hopefully).
If possible, keep your Mondays meeting-free and focus on getting the most important tasks done by the time you clock out of work.
Action Step: Get your biggest, most meaningful projects done on Monday. That way, you’ll be set up to have a smoother and less stressful week!
#8 Train the system, then the person
Are there any questions you get from colleagues or clients regularly? Create automation to answer these questions.
Think of how an Airbnb host will leave a “guide” for staying in their space, so they don’t have to repeat to each new guest how to run the laundry machine or give each new guest the wifi password.
In the same way, think about questions you repeatedly get from clients or colleagues. Turn the answers into automation to save your time while still being helpful to the person.
Ask yourself, “What small steps can I take today to save time indefinitely into the future?”
Action step: Start a “Common question” document. When you get a question more than twice, add it, along with the answer, to the document. Then, the next time you get asked, you can copy and paste from the document. If needed, you can customize the answer from there, but you’ve just saved yourself the time it would have taken to write the majority of that answer.
Pro Tip: For more experienced tech users, you can download a text shortcut tool like TextExpander that allows you to type a tiny bit of text and have an entire phrase or message pop up on your screen. A true time-saver for busy people (especially those handling many emails!).https://textexpander.com/
#9 Time block when you check your email
Checking your email is a necessary aspect of communication in most professional settings. However, it can also eat up a lot of your time. If you aren’t careful, it can almost take over your week. One study found that workers spent roughly 30 hours per week checking email.
Time-blocking emails aim to take care of the needed communication while getting some of those hours back.
Time blocking emails means that instead of constantly checking your email account (or getting lots of notifications), you only check it during specific windows of the day.
This can help increase your productivity as researchers at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that consistently checking email decreased participants’ IQ by 10 points.
Action step: Decide one or two times during the day when you will check your email. For example, you might decide to check it right after lunch and an hour before you leave work. Respond to all necessary emails and then log out.
If you have your work email on your phone—delete it if possible (or at least turn off notifications). By creating healthy boundaries from work, you’re setting yourself up to be better rested and prepared for work the next day when you get there.
#10 Get “in the zone.”
Have you ever been working on a project and lost track of time because you were so immersed in it?
This is what lots of people refer to as the “zone,” or a “flow state of mind.”
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave a TED talk on the benefit of achieving flow. According to his findings, “flow,” defined as a “state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play, and work,” contributes to human happiness, creativity, and fulfillment.
“[Flow is] being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away—time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Being “in the zone” helps you be focused, increasing your ability to manage your time effectively. It also contributes to your sense of accomplishment and happiness from the work you do.
Action Step: Work on strengthening your ability to get in the zone. It is easier to get in the area doing something that you enjoy. Do you love reading? Have a passion for chess? Enjoy going for long runs? These are great ways to strengthen your ability to access being “in the zone.”
As you strengthen your “zone” muscles, it will be easier to carry over into your work day.
#11 Try the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique is a time management tool invented in the 1990s by Francesco Cirillo. It gets its name from the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo used to help him keep track of 25-minute blocks of time during which he would focus without interruption.
The Pomodoro technique consists of four 25-minute intervals. One sets a timer and focuses on only one task for those 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, you take a five-minute break before diving back into another 25 minutes of focus time.
After completing all four chunks of time, take a 30-minute break to let your brain recover.
Action Step: Even if you don’t use the Pomodoro technique that schedules short, regular breaks, be sure to take breaks so you can recharge throughout the day.
It can be tempting to skip lunch or not step away from the computer, thinking it will make you more productive in the long run. However, a survey of North American workers found that taking a lunch break improved job satisfaction and efficiency. Plus, you can use this time to enjoy a recharging video while you’re at it.
#12 Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, invented the Eisenhower Matrix (also sometimes known as the Urgent-Important Matrix). It’s a way of labeling and prioritizing various tasks to help you simplify learning what to prioritize.
Grab a pen and some paper and divide the page into four quadrants. Along one side, you have Urgent and Non-Urgent, while along the other side, you can write Important and Not-Important.
Now, add items to each of these quadrants in varying degrees of priority.
- Urgent and Important: These are the critical tasks that you must complete by the end of the day. If this quadrant has more than 3-4 items, consider moving some to the “Urgent and Non-Important” quadrant that you can delegate to someone else.
- Non-Urgent and Important: These are important to work on but don’t have as near of a deadline. For example, if you have a project for a client due on Friday or Monday, you could put it in your “Important” quadrant. If you finish all of your “Urgent” tasks, you might as well work on them, but if you don’t get to it, your day can still end peacefully.
- Urgent and Non-Important: Delegate these tasks to others (if possible). If you have an intern or an assistant, this is an excellent opportunity to give them some projects to work on. For example, flyers might need to be printed by the end of the day or a thank-you gift you need to deliver to someone’s office.
- Non-urgent and Non-Important: These are the tasks that aren’t urgent or important—they’re the things that you might as well get done if you have the time, but they aren’t a high priority. It could be something like deleting old emails or decluttering your desk drawer.
Action Step: Ask your colleagues what their favorite projects to work on. This way, you will know who to reach out to for help when your plate is too full.
Depending on your team dynamic, it may not be appropriate for you to delegate tasks to your coworkers. If this is the case, and you have too much on your plate, reach out to your superior and ask them to help you find someone who can collaborate with you on a project.
#13 Take advantage of “do not disturb” settings
Many team project management apps have “do not disturb” options that you can turn on. For example, Slack allows users to pause notifications or set a notification schedule for certain times of the day. (For example, you could have a recurring do not disturb setting from 8-11 every morning or turn off notifications for the next 2 hours.)
Many other team communication software has ways to turn off notifications for specific windows of time as well.
If you have your phone near you while working, turn off the notifications from apps that don’t need to have your attention while working.
Action Step: Take a moment to check what do not disturb options are available on your team’s communication platform. If possible, turn off notifications during windows of time when you need to achieve deeper focus.
Some platforms, like email, will allow you to schedule an automated email that lets people know when you’ll get back to them. This can be helpful as it will keep people in the loop on what to expect.
#14 Communicate about communication
If you work as part of a team, have you figured out a consistent process for communication that is efficient? When you’re unsure if someone sent certain information in an email thread, a Slack message, a comment on a Trello board card, or some other means of communication, you can easily waste time looking for it.
Communicate with your team members about communication. What methods of communication do you plan on using for different projects? How will you track who is responsible for what aspects of a project?
Project management software such as Trello, Asana, or Wrike can be helpful tools for keeping track of who is responsible for what and keeping tabs on what stage a project is in.
Action Step: Don’t be shy about copying and pasting content sent in the “wrong” pathway into the “right” one. For example, if a coworker sends you an email about something that future you will expect to find in Slack, go ahead and move the conversation.
Let your coworker know by responding to their email with something like, “Hey, I’m going to move this conversation to Slack so that it’s easier for me to reference it in the future if I need to.”
This will prevent it from seeming passive-aggressive but will still move the communication to the best channel to save time down the road.
#15 Schedule your meetings close together
Meetings can be tricky; you often won’t have much control over what time they are since they involve multiple people. However, as much as possible, make an effort to schedule your meetings close together but just a short break to recalibrate.
Gloria Mark, a distraction researcher at the University of Irvine, California, found that, on average, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back into the zone after a distraction. If you have meetings with 30-minute breaks, only 6 minutes and 45 seconds of those 30 minutes will be productive.
Think of the meetings you regularly have throughout a month. Ask yourself:
- How tired am I after this meeting? Do I need some recovery time before jumping into the next meeting?
- Do I have any tasks like sending a follow-up email or adding items to my to-do list that I want to take care of while the meeting is still fresh on my mind?
- How much prep work does this meeting require beforehand?
These questions can help you decide when to schedule a short break or if you’d benefit from having a little bit longer between meetings to accomplish tasks while they’re fresh on your mind.
Action Step: The next time you get an email from someone asking to schedule a meeting, respond with a suggested time.
For example, instead of saying, “My afternoon is open. What’s a good time for you?” try responding with, “I agree, it would be great to meet and talk about XYZ. How does 2:30 on Wednesday work?”
This has two time-saving benefits. First, if they respond with, “That works for me, see you then!” you can add it to your calendar and avoid further emails. The second is that you have a say in what time the scheduled meeting will happen. This allows you to maximize the chances of scheduling your meetings at the best time for you.
Improving your time management can help your workday feel more productive, which can help decrease stress. Time management takes discipline, but overall it will benefit your well-being and productivity—it’s worth the work you’ll put in.
Try using these time management tips:
- Identify your golden hour: When do you get your best work done? Protect this time and use it for the projects that take the most intense focus.
- Avoid time confetti: It’s so easy to get your day splintered into little pieces of time that make it hard to get more significant projects done. Find at least 1 to 2 times throughout the week that you can schedule a 2-hour work window.
- Audit your schedule: Make sure that the things on your calendar are still helping you reach your goals!
- Maximize flow, and minimize friction: Write out your to-do list and see if there are tasks you can tackle back-to-back to make the most of your time.
- “Marry” complementary tasks: Turn on a podcast while cleaning or call a loved one while going for a walk. This way, you can maximize your efficiency.
- Start the week swinging: Work on your most challenging and meaningful tasks on Monday. This way, you’ll make your week a little less stressed and feel accomplished.
- Train the system, then the person: Do you get the same question repeatedly? Automate the response so you don’t have to type the answer out each time from scratch.
- Time block emails: Limit the number of times throughout the day that you check your email. It can become almost a nervous habit, but if you can limit it to 2-3 times per day, you’ll save time and be more strategic with your focus.
- Get “in the zone”: When people are “in the zone,” they get their best work done. It also contributes to overall happiness with the work one does.
- Start single-tasking: Our brains don’t know how to multitask. Instead, when we try to get two or more things done simultaneously, our mind is forced to jump from one task to the next and cannot do as good of a job with any of them. Avoid this by focusing on one thing at a time.
- Try the Pomodoro technique: Named for the tomato timer, the Pomodoro technique is a time management tool in which you focus intensely on a single task for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and then repeat this four more times. This can help you achieve a deep focus while taking intentional, short breaks that help keep your mind feeling fresh.
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix: Divide your tasks by level of importance. This will help you know what to prioritize and when to ask for help and keep you focused on the next task.
- Take advantage of “do not disturb” settings: Most apps have “do not disturb” options. Take advantage of this to minimize the number of notifications and distractions you receive during certain times of the day.
- Communicate about communication: You can waste precious time looking for an essential piece of contact if you don’t know what channel it would have come through. Talk with your team about what methods of communication you want to use to streamline things and make it easier to find old conversations.
- Schedule your meetings close together: If you can manage to have a “meeting window” in your day, that will free up the rest of your work day to be meeting-free and help you not waste time between meetings.
Check out this article with 14 unique productivity tips if you want to not only boost your time management skills but also improve your productivity.