Wouldn’t we all love to master effective time management skills? We tend to hear the same time management tips over and over again, like “make a to-do list”, “identify your priorities”, or “stick to a schedule”. In theory, these are all great strategies, but incorporating this wisdom into our day-to-day lives is often easier said than done.
Time is a pretty straightforward concept, so it tends to feel like it should be easy to manage. We each have the same 24 hours in our day, and the same 60 minutes in an hour. However, when you’re living in real time, not all minutes are created equal.
When I’m working on a project that excites me, I can easily get lost in time. Hours can seem to pass by in minutes. But when I’m waiting for a guy I’m interested in to text me back, suddenly minutes can feel like hours. Time has a tendency to shrink and stretch depending on the circumstances – and in order to master effective time management, then it’s important to always keep that in mind.
Here are 8 time management tips that will help you to be more productive, fulfilled and successful in your daily life!
1. Know where your time is going.
As a freelancer, I bill hourly for some of my writing projects, while others I complete for a flat fee. Either way, it is important to effectively manage my time and keep track of how my hours are being spent each day. I don’t have a high-tech way of doing this – I simply use a Word document that I update throughout the day. Each project is color-coded, and I write down the exact time that I spend working on each particular task. This system is probably one of my best time management tips, because time tracking not only gives me a sense of my productivity, but it also lets me know when I should look into making some changes.
Here’s why it’s worth tracking every minute of your time, even if you only do it for a day or two. All of the time management tips in the world can’t help you unless you know how you typically spend your day. Are you most productive in the morning, or do you start the day by scrolling through various news sites? Do you tend to zone out around mid-afternoon? Do you watch an hour or two of television to unwind at night? How much time do you really spend checking Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter? To master the rest of the time management tips listed here, you first need to figure out the current state of affairs before you can effectively implement changes.
2. Take an honest look at how much time you’re wasting.
Every once in a while, I take a social media break for mental health reasons. For me, having access to social media means that I’m checking Instagram several times a day. Since I only follow people on Instagram who I know in real life, I tend to feel personally invested in my newsfeed.
However, after my first break from social media, I discovered just how much time I had available to focus on other things. I loved having the extra time so much that it led me to question whether or not it was worth reactivating my social media. I eventually reinstalled Instagram and Twitter on my phone, but now, I make a conscious effort to only check them once a day.
When you make a point to be honest with yourself about how you are managing your time, it is not uncommon to discover that you’re wasting huge chunks of time on things that don’t matter all that much to you. While effective time management does not have the power to put more hours into your day, it can enrich the time you have. By minimizing your wasted time, you have more precious minutes to dedicate to the things you care about most.
If you spend lots of time online or on your phone and you want to know exactly how your time is spent, check out RescueTime. It’s a time-tracking app that shows you how much time you’re spending on each website or app. (RescueTime’s basic services are free.) If you it turns out that a nonessential app is sucking up a ton of your time, consider uninstalling it for a while. Have you been scrolling through Facebook or shopping online as a way to procrastinate? This app will totally bust you.
3. If you’re thinking about something you have to do, write it down.
Next on our list of time management tips is to write down everything you want to remember in a place where you know you’ll see it. Otherwise, items on your to-do list will keep popping up in your head, and it will distract you from your current project.
This is one of David Allen’s time management tips from his best-selling productivity book Getting Things Done. It may seem like a basic tip, but it has saved me from hours of worrying that I’m going to forget to do certain things. Consider keeping a to-do list that syncs from multiple devices, like Trello or Asana. That way you can add an item to your to-do list the moment you think of it – while you’re on a jog, at the grocery store, at a conference, or even out to dinner. The next time you’re ready to tackle your to-do list, you can feel confident that every task is stored in one place.
Another tip from David Allen that I live by? If you can do it in under two minutes, don’t add it to your to-do list. Do it right now.
4. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time.
Even if you’re great at time management, sometimes losing track of time is a good thing. As I mentioned earlier, when I’m working on something I love, I can get completely lost in it. Sometimes I’m so focused on that particular project that I forget to stop for lunch until two hours later than usual, or I forget to take my dog out for his afternoon walk until he paws at my leg to remind me. When I’m that focused, I’m in a flow state, or what some people call being “in the zone.” At those times, I’m concentrating so hard that everything else falls away. This enables my productivity—and creativity— to go through the roof.
I don’t achieve that state every day, despite my best intentions. Often, something interrupts me before I can reach that level of intense concentration. For me, time management is often about reducing the number of interruptions in my life so I’m free to focus and do my best work. I wrote a separate piece on how to stay focused if you’d like to learn more.
If you know you’re struggling to focus because of frequent interruptions, try to find ways to minimize the distractions around you. Every day, schedule yourself a block (or several blocks) of time when you can focus on one specific project. Allocate time for your most important projects at your most productive time of day, and get ready to go deep.
5. Schedule the dull stuff for your low-energy part of the day.
If you want to manage your time effectively, you need to stop wasting your potential productivity on stuff that doesn’t really matter. Personally, I tend to be most productive in the morning and early afternoon, and like most people, I get a ton of email. At some point, I have to sort through my inbox and figure out how to deal with each message. Does this need an immediate reply? Can I bookmark it for later? Is it okay to archive or delete this message? Or should I unsubscribe entirely?
Dealing with email is my least favorite part of the day, so having a strategy in place in crucial to managing my time effectively. I’ve found that going through emails is the perfect task for me to do in the late afternoon, because I don’t need to feel creative or inspired when I’m doing it. If I go through all my email first thing in the morning, I’m wasting my most productive part of the day on an activity that is not a good use of my peak energy and focus.
6. Make time for your own priorities.
Outside influence can play a huge role in how you approach effective time management. If you look at your to-do list and prioritize it by importance, you may notice that most of your priorities were set by other people.
I need to do my writing assignments in order to get paid. I want to pay the bills, so that writing assignment becomes a priority by default. I find that sometimes it’s easy to let making money push everything else down (or off) your to-do list.
For me, the biggest challenge for my time management isn’t finding time to get work done; it’s finding time for the projects that don’t pay the bills… yet. For me, that’s my fiction writing. One thing that has helped me is tracking the time I spend on my personal writing in the same way that I log the time spent on my paid assignments. If my own projects aren’t showing up in my time-tracking document, then I know I should look into adjusting my priorities.
7. Time management only works if you make time for self-care.
One of my favorite time management tips isn’t about productivity at all; it’s about taking good care of your body and mind. When you’re hungry, overtired, and stressed, it’s almost impossible to be productive. Even a basic task can feel like it takes forever, and your coworkers and superiors will probably not be a fan of your cranky, impatient attitude.
Despite my best efforts, sometimes I am forced to stay up late to finish a project. I can usually recover from a single late night, but if I stay up late to do work more than one night in a row, I have found that I am noticeably less productive. I need a lot of sleep to function.
I’ve also noticed that exercising every day helps me keep a clear mind. Even though exercise takes up precious time in the day, the fresh outlook and productivity I get from dedicating myself to regular workouts makes it a worthwhile fixture in my schedule. Making time for the activities that reinvigorate your mind, body and spirit – yoga, meditation, running, etc. – are often integral to effective time management.
8. Before you fall asleep, think ahead to the next day.
When I get into bed at night, I frequently start thinking of all of the things that I want or need to do the following day. I know I may not remember it in the morning, so I send myself a quick email or add it to my to-do list. I have found this to be a good habit, and there’s scientific proof that it works. Scientists from Baylor University and Emory University found that making a to-do list for the next day before you fall asleep may help you sleep better. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll already have a head start – so consider giving it a shot when you get in bed tonight!
My suggestion for the first thing on your list for tomorrow? Try keeping track of how you spent the hours and minutes of your day. If you’re serious about mastering effective time management, this is a great place to start.