We all have the same 24 hours in a day and that time is our most valuable asset and precious resource. But if you’ve ever wondered why some people seem to get so much done while you scramble to fit it all in, you can rest assured that they don’t have a special superpower that you can never attain. They’ve simply honed the skill of effective time management, and the good news is you can learn how to manage your time more efficiently too.
If you’re not managing your time well, it can affect your career, relationships, and overall quality of life. Constantly feeling like you’re racing the clock, falling short of your goals, and letting yourself and the people around you down can be both disappointing and frustrating.
Once you’ve adopted strong time management skills, you can make the most of every moment, accomplish what you set out to do, and quickly feel better about yourself and your life.
Here are 10 powerful tips to start mastering time management:
1. Track and Audit Your Activities
If you don’t know how you’re using your time now, you can’t know how to use the time more effectively. If you’ve ever found yourself looking up, wondering where the time has gone, you know the feeling of letting time get away from you. People who have difficulty with time management tend to have no clear idea of how they spend each day or how long things typically take.
Start by spending one week tracking how you spend your time each day, all day, in 30-minute increments. Take note of what you got done in that time, using a journal or time-tracking app on your phone. At the end of the week, tally up your totals and take an assessment of how it went.
There’s a good chance you’ll find that there are tasks and activities that are eating up far more time than you suspected.
2. Plan Ahead
People with poor time management skills tend to let the day unfold without having a clear plan in place in advance. You know you have to get a lot of stuff done, but you haven’t thought about how you will do it and in what order. It all can seem like one giant mass of overwhelming tasks on your plate.
The trick is to get organized ahead of time. Whether you want to plan the night before or first thing in the morning, you should always plan ahead. Write down the most important and urgent non-negotiable things that must be handled, and schedule a time to do them when you know you will be most productive.
Don’t overload your day with an unrealistic plan; no matter how much you think it all has to get done, think again. What can wait?
By planning ahead, you can avoid setting yourself up to fail and prevent the day from running away from you. Create a schedule that works best for you.
3. Put Space on the Agenda
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when struggling with time management is setting yourself up for failure from the start. Cramming too much into your plan for the day isn’t going to help you achieve it all.
Being efficient doesn’t mean jumping from task to task with no break. Schedule buffer time between meetings and activity blocks to clear your mind and recharge. You can only stay focused, motivated, and productive for so long before you start to feel drained and distracted.
You might think keeping your nose to the grind is the best way to get more done, but the truth is taking frequent breaks will allow you to keep your mind sharp, emotions in check, and productivity running at peak levels.
4. Set Goals
Before you launch into your day or your to-do list, set goals of what you hope to accomplish. Estimate how long you think something will take realistically and aim to meet those goals throughout the day. Giving yourself time limits can motivate you to operate faster than you would have without the self-imposed limit.
Not only will setting goals help you gauge how accurate your time estimates are, it will give you some insight into what’s stopping you from reaching those goals. If you intend to finish a project in an hour but it takes you two hours, did you merely underestimate the task? Are you getting interrupted constantly? Did you set out to do the task unprepared?
You can only get a handle on what’s going awry in your time management by looking carefully at what is actually derailing your intentions throughout each day.
5. First Things First
Start by doing your most important tasks (MITs) first thing in the morning or as early in your day as possible. It’s best to tackle your must-do tasks before you get distracted by less important tasks and before the day drains your energy.
There’s a popular quote by Mark Twain that you may have heard before. He said, "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." The short version - just eat the frog!
The point is, if you have to do it, you better go ahead and get it done. Face the most challenging work head-on and you’ll gain an early sense of accomplishment which can kickstart your momentum for a more productive day. Leave the frog for last, and you’ll dread the task all day and procrastinate until you run out of time.
6. Get Focused and Organized
Declutter your space and agenda. Having clutter around will cause you to lose focus, lose time, and even lose the things you need throughout your day. Think about it — how much time do you waste searching for keys and files?
Plus, somewhere along the line people developed the mistaken belief that multitasking is a sign of productivity; it’s not. Multitasking is a sign that you’re unfocused, inefficient, and spreading yourself too thin.
Splitting your attention or switching your attention from task to task is sure to slow you down because our brains were designed to focus on one task at a time. By focusing on one task at a time and batching similar tasks together, you’ll do a better job and get more done overall.
7. Set Boundaries
If you want to run your day instead of letting the day run you, you’re going to have to set boundaries and hold them.
If you already have a full plate, avoid overloading yourself whenever possible. Get comfortable with saying “no.” Sure, you have some obligations that can’t be avoided, but don’t take on more than what’s necessary and don’t let anyone take advantage of you or waste your time if you can help it.
You might think when someone asks you to do something you don’t have a choice, but you would be surprised at how much more reasonable people can be when you teach them how to treat you.
8. Leave Good Enough Alone
Having high standards can serve you well in our career and life. But if you have perfectionist tendencies, it can suck the time right out of your day.
Going back over the same task over and over again, trying to make it perfect, will slow you down every time. The problem is it will never be good enough and you’ll never get it done to your satisfaction. Aiming for perfect will raise your anxiety levels and make everything more difficult and time-consuming than it has to be.
There’s no such thing as perfect, so do your best and move on to the next task for the day.
9. Get Help
None of us can do everything by ourselves. The most productive people may seem like they’re getting more done than you, but they aren’t doing it without help.
Consider the President of the United States, Fortune 500 CEOs, or your favorite celebrities. They all have the same 24 hours in the day as you, but they have a team of people working for them to get it all done.
Whether at work or at home, think of ways to delegate and outsource some of the tasks that are weighing down your day. Start with the things you’re not good at or hate to do and get creative about enlisting help.
Getting help doesn’t have to cost a fortune; in many places, you can get your groceries delivered for under $10, saving you at least 50 hours a year. In other words, you can buy back 2 days of your life for $500.
10. Ditch Bad Habits
If you’re honest with yourself, there’s a good chance you’re wasting a lot of time with what can be considered bad habits. While there’s nothing wrong with relaxing or having fun, be careful not to let your attempts at escapism take over your life.
Chances are, you will be shocked by how much time you’re actually spending checking social media, binge-watching Netflix, walking aimlessly through Target, or drinking beer with your buddies.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with taking time out to enjoy yourself, but if you want to get a better handle on where all of your time is going, it’s best to be intentional about how you’re spending downtime.
Overall, improving your time management can create a positive impact on all aspects of your life. You’ll feel less stress, more ease, and greater confidence that you can handle anything that comes your way.