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Published on January 7, 2020

10 Best Time Management Tips for Professionals

10 Best Time Management Tips for Professionals

We all have the same 24 hours in a day to work with, but how do you squeeze the most out of that time to get real time-saving results?

It’s not about working harder as that will only get so far, it’s how you plan and structure your time and then how you maximize the time you have planned.

The key for these time management tips is not to do them once, but repeat them over and over until they become habits. This is when those around will think you do have more than 24 hours in a day.

1. Plan Your Week When You’re at Your Most Organized

One of the most important time management tips is planning your week.

Doing this task at the same time each week, not only creates a time-saving habit but can have a positive impact on your mindset and wellbeing.

Let me explain.

By planning your week, you’re making a number of small positive promises to yourself. Each time you deliver and keep these promises your confidence grows, and you’ll feel better about yourself as you’re getting more done.

This approach saves you time as you’re doing the planning when you’re in a focused state of mind as you plan what’s important for you. During the week, you’re then less tempted to do something else during one of those pre-planned slots, as you can remind yourself I planned this for a reason.

So plan your week and keep those promises you made to yourself to see real time-saving results.

2. Plan the Following Workday for a Relaxed Evening

If you struggle with closure after the working day, this approach helps relax your mind and lets you enjoy your evening without the worry of work.

All you need is 5-10 minutes each day and a note pad. It’s quick and has considerable benefits for how you manage your time.

At the end of each day, write down around ten tasks you want to complete the next day.

Next, select one of those tasks you have to complete no matter what and mark it with an H for high.

Then add M’s for medium to five or so tasks. These are the tasks you need to complete, but if you can’t finish them all, it will be manageable.

The remaining tasks mark with an ‘L’ for low. These are nice to have, plus they should be easy tasks.

With your next day tasks planned out, you can leave work with all those nagging tasks in your head written down and ready for you to tackle the next day.

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3. Control Your Day so It Doesn’t Control You

Planning your day is the most impactful time management tip you can do. It allows you to control your day rather than let the day control you.

This approach is straightforward, plus it has the flexibility for when your working day doesn’t go as planned.

Grab a pencil and notepad!

In your notepad, break the day down into 30-minute segments, 09:30, 10:00 etc. Add them line by line with a line or two in between each one.

Now look at your work diary and add in anything that’s fixed like meetings.

Next, take your high priority end tasks and add these into your 30-minute segments.

If you still have free time slots, don’t leave them empty.

If you’re struggling for motivation one morning, try this:

Pick some easy, quick tasks and get them done first, don’t worry if you’re putting off harder tasks. Doing easy tasks first will give you the momentum and the right mindset to then tackle the hard stuff.

4. Manage Distracting Work Colleagues Wisely

It doesn’t matter how well you plan your week, day or even the next hour if you’re continually distracted. Distractions result in loss of focus and are the doorway to procrastination.

This time management tip is all about creating the right working environment, so you can maximise the time you have to be as productive as possible.

Nir Eyal’s book Indistractable explains that if you want to become genuinely productive, you must become indistractable. One of the biggest distractions in the workplace is often our work colleagues.

For the colleagues that distract you the most, simply ask them at the start of each day, is there anything they need from you? By doing this, you’re making them plan without them realizing it, but it’s on your terms. This reduces the chances of a random request later in the day.

5. Deal with Emails on Your Terms

At times, managing your inbox can feel like a full-time job. You can also fall into the trap of feeling like you’ve got a lot done because you sent loads of emails, or got to the mystical inbox zero!

Although sending a few emails can be satisfying, the problem is emails are also used as a form of procrastination, as they’re an easy fallback task when you don’t fancy working on something hard.

So what do you do to stop these distractions and reduce the stress caused by email?

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You plan when you want to read and respond to your emails, so you’re in control.

A study at the University of British Columbia revealed that you should only check your emails three times a day and by doing so reduces stress.[1]

So at the start of each day, plan for when you’ll check your email. How often you check your email depends on your job, but less is more and ideally no more than three.

This approach still keeps you in control of your inbox, but you’re doing it at a time that works for you.

6. Remove Electronic Distractions and Become Present

How many times at work do you see someone distracted by a notification on their mobile or laptop?

Mobile and laptop notifications distract us every day, but they have also become an acceptable distraction.

In the majority of jobs, you don’t have to react immediately to a notification even when we feel we need to. It’s a habit that has been created by technology.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Go through all your notification settings on your mobile and laptop and only leave the critical ones on. In most cases, this should be phone calls only.

By turning off these notifications, you then check emails, messenger etc. at the times that work for you, not when they arrive.

You can also turn off the number count that appears on mobile and desktop apps. You don’t need to know how many emails you have in your inbox at any one time, especially if you’ve planned out when you’ll check your emails.

If you leave this badge feature on, it creates a nagging distraction that will take you away from your work and impact your time.

Try it for a few days and see the positive impact it will have on your time management. Those around will also see the change as you’ll be much more present at home and work.

7. Hit the Timer and Go Deep with Your Focus

Stopping a task usually happens when you’ve either finished it, lost interest or you’ve been distracted. It takes on average 23 minutes to refocus when you’ve been distracted so you need to do everything you can to remain in that focused state.[2]

Unfortunately, loss of interest and distraction are the most likely results of time management struggles, so that’s why setting a timer can make all the difference.

By setting a timer, you make a promise to yourself that you will not be distracted or work on anything else until that timer ends. This small promise can have a considerable impact on your time management.

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You can try different lengths of time to see what works for you, for example, 25 minutes if you use the Pomodoro Technique. 25 minutes might not sound long, but by remaining fully focused for 25 minutes, you’ll be amazed how much you can get done. [3]

8. Find out What You Should Not Be Spending Your Time On

Every day, we spend time on things that remove us from doing what we should be doing — whether that’s distractions like social media, email or tasks that we would rather not be doing, like the weekly shop or the ironing.

All of these time-consuming activities may seem trivial, but they all add up when it comes to time management.

You may be thinking, I have to do these, but there is a technique called the Not-To-Do list that can help.

It’s not just about stopping non-impactful tasks completely. It can also be about automating or delegating the task.

So how do you create a Not-To-Do List?

First, spend 10 minutes writing down all the things that don’t really serve you or help get you to where you really want to be (e.g. watching TV, social media, food shopping, cleaning the house)

Next, place each one under the heading of either automate, delegate or eliminate.

Automate could be for your weekly shop, you now use a company that delivers the ingredients and recipes to your door.

Delegate could be getting a cleaner for your house every week.

Eliminate could be stopping putting the TV on as soon as you come back from work.

Once you’ve created your No-To-Do list, make sure you repeat the process once a month.

Each month you’ll gain hours back you didn’t realise you had.

9. Declutter Your Brain to Maximize Your Concentration

Our brain is processing thousands of thoughts every day; frustratingly, many of them are actions we can’t complete at that moment.

Having a cluttered mind impacts our time management as we can’t focus with these outstanding actions in our heads.

Here is a straightforward way to declutter your mind:

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Carry a small notepad and pen around with you everywhere you go. It needs to be small enough to fit into your pocket or bag and has to be easily accessible. Every time a thought or action pops into your head when you’re out and about, write it down.

This could be an idea, something inspiring, an action for when you get home, anything.

Then all you need to do is schedule in time to make sure you action all of those notes. Every few days is enough.

By capturing tasks on paper rather than let them build up in your brain, you’re then free to work on what’s important at the time in a focused state.

10. Make Promises to Others

If you were to make a promise to yourself or to a friend, which one do you think you’re most likely to keep?

In most cases, it’s going to be that promise made to the friend.

You can use this to your advantage by sharing a commitment you have to complete a task or project with a friend.

Tell your friend what you want to achieve, why and by when. Then ask them to check in with you at various points up until you said you would complete the project.

While working on the project, you’ll have that promise you’ve made to your friend in the back of your mind. That promise you made will be the driver to focus and make the most of the time you have to get that project completed.

The Bottom Line

All of these tips require nothing more than a little of your time each day, but the time you save when using these approaches will be significant.

Put reminders in your diary to keep these tips front of mind, as once you start to practice them regularly, they’ll then become habits.

They can be used independently, but are much more powerful when used together.

Over time, those around you will be asking how do you find the time to achieve so much in a day!

More Time Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Valentin Antonucci via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

It’s 6:00 am. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.

You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive as possible.

Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break.

You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them, because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.

The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything properly.

You wish you’d find a reset button, so that you could start your day from all over – with a different strategy.

What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before and you felt you were on top of your tasks.

However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to do list also contained tasks which were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.

The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.

Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.

But you know what – these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness …

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What People Are Wrong About a To-Do List

Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

How much time did you actually spent on planning your day – was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?

If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.

When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to do – and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.

The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.

Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

Components of a Good To-Do List

When I talk about a good task list, I consider these characteristics to be part of it:

Balanced

The task list contains both important and less important tasks. Let’s face it: although we all would like to work on just important tasks ( e.g. goal related ones), we have to take care of the less important tasks as well (like running errands, taking care of your household or other everyday stuff).

Enough Flexibility

What happens when you have planned a task, but you are unable to take care of it? Do you have a plan B in place? If not, try to figure out the alternative action you can take in these scenarios.

Time for Transitions

Understand that transition times also eat your time. Make sure that when you plan your task list, this time is also included in your plans. Adding some extra buffer between tasks will make your list more flexible and realistic.

Not Too Many Tasks for One Day

Giving you an exact figure on how many tasks you should have on your daily list is difficult. It depends on your situation. But I’m willing to say that anything between 5-10 tasks should be enough for a day.

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Understand that certain tasks are very quick to take care of, so it’s easier to include more tasks on certain days. Just make sure that there are also important tasks on the list so that you are able to move on with your bigger projects.

Shield of Protection

Build a shield of protection around your task list, so that as few tasks as possible can land to your list and that the number of items on your list won’t increase during the day.

In the first case, try to eliminate the sources for your tasks. This is done by reducing your commitments and limiting the projects you have. The fact is that the more commitments (or projects) you have, the more likely they are going to end up as tasks for your daily list.

In the second case, make your list a closed one. I learned this concept by reading Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. In order to create a closed task list, all you have to do is to draw a line under the last task on the list. When you have done this, you are not allowed to add any new tasks to your list during the day. This ensures that the number of tasks is actually decreasing as the day goes on.

How to Create a To-Do List That Boosts Your Productivity

To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:

1. Eliminate the Tasks

Go through your commitments and decide if you really need each one.

For instance, I was an active member of our local computer club in my hometown, but then I realized that I don’t have enough time for that activity anymore. Although I’m still a member of the club, I don’t participate in its activities anymore. This has eliminated the tasks related to that commitment.

2. Take Your Time to Plan the List

Don’t rush creating your task list – spend some time on the planning phase. If required, “isolate yourself” for the planning part by going to a separate room in your home (or even going outside your home). This way, you can actually think the tasks thorough before you enter them onto your list.

Try to spend at least 15 minutes with your list when you plan it.

3. Move Important Tasks to the Beginning

When planning your day, make sure that the important tasks are at the beginning of your list. This ensures that you get those tasks done as quickly as possible.

For instance, as a blogger, I make sure I have the content creation tasks at the beginning of my list. As soon as I wake up, I attack those tasks immediately and they get done before I go to work.

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4. Track the Recurring Tasks

You might have recurring tasks on your list, but do you know how much time they take to accomplish?

If you don’t, make sure you do some time tracking to figure it out. This helps you to plan your day better, as you know how much time a task takes and if there is a certain time slot in your daily schedule, when the task could be executed.

5. Batch Similar Tasks

Look at your list and find out if there are similar tasks that you can batch-process. This way, you can get certain tasks off your list faster and easier.

6. Define the Tasks in More Detail

Don’t just include a task like “build a website” on your list; make sure you have broken the task to smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to take accomplish them.

7. Do Some Prep Work in Advance

Make sure that you prepare for certain tasks in advance.

For instance, I write the outlines for my guests post on Sundays, so that it’s easier (and faster) for me to start writing the actual posts when I wake up. With a little bit of prep work, I speed things up and make sure tasks get done when the right day comes.

8. Automate the Maintenance

Naturally, you could use a pen and paper approach to your task list, but try to take advantage of technology too. In fact, try to find a tool that takes care of the maintenance of your task list for you. My preferred tool is Nozbe, but there are other task management applications that you can try too.

9. Know Your Task Types and Your Schedule

Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:

What else do I have on the schedule?

This question refers to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are traveling, make sure that your list reflects to this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you get only a fraction of them done.

Is the task a gatekeeper?

This question asks if the task is blocking other tasks to be executed.

Every once in a while, we might have a task, which has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then you can take care of the sequential tasks.

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When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.

Do I have icebergs on my list?

This question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).

Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, much more manageable chunks.

Is the task distraction-proof?

This final question asks if the task is distraction-proof. Not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.

For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof and I can take care of them – even if I don’t have my full attention on them.

The Bottom Line

If you still have a hard time of achieving your daily tasks, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.

No one is perfect and we can learn from our mistakes.

It takes a bit practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better!

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Featured photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly via unsplash.com

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