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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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