Twenty-four hours. You have the same hours in a day as you always have. But when life is more chaotic and stressful than it’s ever been, it might not always feel like it. Time—and along with it, the ability to be productive and effective at your job—is at a premium, now more than ever.
Since you can’t add more hours to your day, that means it’s important to find ways to make the most of your limited capacity.
Wish you had more than 24 hours? Here are 10 powerful tips to manage time and get results at work.
1. Define Your Mission
The first tip to manage time is to first define your mission. Before you learn to manage your time effectively, you need to set goals. And before you can set goals that make sense, you need a big-picture understanding of your mission—to nail down the “why” that motivates your “what.”
Begin by defining a personal mission statement that lays out not only what you want to do but why you want to do it. For example, let’s say you want to start selling tacos. That’s a great (and delicious) goal. But what’s your mission? To make people happy? To bring them together? To celebrate your heritage?
Defining your mission keeps you on track to create smarter goals, which in turn will help you be more productive. If it doesn’t serve your mission, it’s not worth your time.
2. Practice Saying “No”
When I first started in my career, I never wanted to miss an opportunity—to network, to take on a project, to learn something new. That “fear of missing out” mindset can be helpful when you’re getting the hang of a new industry, but it won’t serve you when it comes to time management.
The more you take on—even in the name of growth and development—the less time you’ll have to accomplish what really matters. Another way to say it: When you say “yes” to one thing, you’re always saying “no” to something else.
If your goal is to better manage your time, start viewing it as a limited resource and spend it wisely—and not on people or projects that don’t serve your overall mission and goals. It’s hard to say “no” at first, but if you filter your decisions through your overall mission, you’re also protecting your time.
3. Pinpoint How You Currently Use Your Time
How productive do you feel you are? What’s the quality of the work you’re producing? Those are vague questions until you quantify them with actual data. To identify what needs to change in your routine (and, ultimately, how to become more effective), you first need a clear picture of where your time is going now.
Start by planning a week-long period to “audit” your time down to the hour, using a notebook or a spreadsheet.
For example, you may find you’re spending a lot more time on social media than you thought or that you’re wasting too many minutes a day mulling over what to write in an email. Once you measure how well things are going against how you currently make use of your time, you can make the necessary adjustments.
4. Ration Your Energy
Another important tip to manage your time is to ration your energy. There’s a common myth in hustle culture that the most effective workers are up at the crack of dawn, already in a deep flow by sunrise. But for every startup CEO who gets up at 4 am to work, there’s one who’s still sound asleep (and who actually needs the shuteye to do their job well).
The key to time management isn’t to sacrifice your sleep in the name of productivity. It’s to identify the times of day (or evening!) where you have the most motivation to get things done, and then plan your work accordingly. So, think through when you’re most energetic, of course—but keep in mind that getting results doesn’t just require energy. When are you the most creative and inspired? When are you the most focused?
For example, if you’re most alert in the late morning hours right after your breakfast and coffee, schedule your most important, demanding work for that window. On the flip side, when do you feel the most drained? Save mindless, admin tasks for that period. You’ll not only make better use of your time, but you’ll also produce better work.
5. Plan Ahead
Fail to plan, and plan to fail. That principle is why I use every Sunday afternoon to plan my workweek. I grab my favorite notebook and pen, set up at my dining room table or in my home office, and write down everything I need to finish in a given week. Then, I break each goal down into specific, time-oriented tasks.
Macro-level planning keeps me keep my goals at the forefront so I can stay on task with a greater purpose in mind. Micro-level planning for specific tasks is also important because it prevents you from wasting time on the projects and tasks that serve your goal.
Before you head into a meeting, for instance, write up a list of talking points and goals you want to accomplish. The direction will help you stay focused on the bigger picture and save you the minutes or hours you need to get things done.
6. Minimize Distractions
Distractions get in the way of productivity and time management. But the answer isn’t just to set up your laptop in a quiet place. It’s about eliminating distractions of the mind—the “work” that takes up mental space but doesn’t actually contribute to your overall productivity. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, calls these attention-suckers “half work.”
For example, let’s say you’re working on a presentation, but you stop every few minutes to check your inbox. Reading and answering emails is part of your job, so it feels like work.
But according to Clear, it’s also a major drain on your time:
“Regardless of where and how you fall into the trap of half-work, the result is always the same: you’re never fully engaged in the task at hand, you rarely commit to a task for extended periods of time, and it takes you twice as long to accomplish half as much.”
Next time your time is at a premium, focus on focusing. Eliminate the tiny distractions that punctuate your state of flow and keep your mind fully present on what actually needs your attention.
7. Avoid Multitasking
Whether you’re responding to an email while you’re on a call or you’re switching back and forth between projects, you might feel like you’re making the most of your time when you’re juggling multiple tasks at once. But if you’re anything like me, the more mental “tabs” you have open, the less you’re actually able to focus on each one.
Why is multitasking the enemy of time management? According to experts, toggling between several tasks at once expends energy on the act of switching gears rather than the actual tasks at hand. Worse, when you’re stretched thin between duties, you’re not focused—which means you’ll never get into a state of “flow” that’s essential for productivity.
Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.
8. Consider “Future You”
Our decisions today affect how tomorrow plays out, and that includes time management. How you spend your minutes and hours has a long-term impact because it also drains the time that’s available to you in the future—to get other things done and, just as importantly, to take breaks and rest.
So, if you’re struggling with managing your time, shift your focus ahead to your future self. Thinking about how what you’re doing right now will help or hinder you in the future will tighten your focus and broaden your awareness of how your decisions affect you down the road. The future you would probably want the present you to learn about tips to manage time.
9. Don’t Confuse Urgency and Importance
There are a lot of important things to get done each day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those things are urgent or time-sensitive. Conflating the two is a quick way to drain your time and miss deadlines.
Here’s a primer: Urgent items on your to-do list need immediate attention and action, while merely important tasks have more significant consequences, but might not need immediate completion.
To make the best use of your time, always focus on tasks that are both urgent and important. Once those are checked off the list, move your focus to urgent tasks, then the important but non-urgent ones.
9. Take Breaks
It might seem counterproductive to stop working when the end goal is to get things done. But for optimal productivity, your brain needs the occasional pause.
While some studies suggest a formula for a work/break rhythm—such as working for 52 minutes, then breaking for 17—there’s no black-and-white rule for effective break-taking.
Since everyone’s mental capacity varies, your optimal period for a break will vary, too. The idea is that we all lose mental steam after a period of using our brains at a higher capacity. Breaks help set the “reset” button.
Ideally, plan your breaks ahead of time and use them to do something totally unrelated to work. Go for a walk. Run up and down the stairs. Call a friend or loved one.
You’ll not only return with a fresh perspective on the task at hand but also with the feeling that you have more time in your day than when you started.
Time management is an essential life skill, but not everyone is good at it. Managing your time is difficult, but you’re not alone. So, start with these 10 powerful tips to manage time that will help you get the results you want.
More Tips to Manage Time
- 7 Effective Time Management Tips To Maximize Your Productivity
- 10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills
- 10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today
Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com
|||^||Forbes: Manipulate Time With These Powerful 20 Time Management Tips|
|||^||James Clear: 3 Time Management Tips That Actually Work|
|||^||Health: 12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks|
|||^||The Atlantic: A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17|