What actually is “time management”?
It is the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work.
When we set up systems that help us make the most of our time, we increase productivity, decrease stress, and increase our satisfaction with our work. Showing up to a clean space, with outlined projects, a clearly defined schedule, and a healthy toolbox supporting your ability to get things done, you’re ready to be your most productive self.
Time management is for everyone
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” – Annie Dillard
Regardless of your job title or day-to-day lifestyle, time management is absolutely necessary for you. From the busiest mom to the free-spirited artist, wrangling your time will make a world of difference in your life.
Consider your other resources, like money, food, and clothing. You can’t neglect how you use each of those resources if you’re on a budget. Considering that time is our most precious, limited resource, it’s time to put yourself on a budget.
Flying by the seat of your pants might *feel* like it’s working, but once you have a system in place, you’ll realize just how much better your life could be.
Start by setting a baseline for your current time management landscape. Take this mini quiz to see where you land:
- Do you currently have (and use) a calendar or planner?
- If so, is there a digital or external accountability element to your scheduling system?
- Do you schedule appointments and review them throughout the week?
- Do you schedule project or work time?
- Do you outline projects in plans with multiple steps, milestones, and deadlines?
- Is there anyone who counts on you to be somewhere, complete something, or create something for them by a certain deadline?
- Do you schedule yourself in time-bound increments?
- Do you review your schedule daily?
- Do you use time management tools like timers or distraction-blockers?
- Do you set goals?
- Do you track your work toward those goals on a weekly or monthly basis?
- Do you keep track of progress for the things you’re working on?
If you answered ‘no’ to more than 4 of these questions, you’re likely a great candidate to upgrade your time management game.
Create the simplest structure possible with the greatest impact
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when examining how you can better manage your time. There are thousands of apps, programs, products, and methodologies out there that claim they can make you the most efficient robot-person on the planet.
That’s not what we want for you. Time management is about creating space for what matters most, and what matters most is entirely up to you.
For most of us, streamlining what we’re doing in a day is the first step to managing our time more efficiently. That may mean cutting back in certain areas, but in doing so, you’ll be fresh and focused on the other things to which you’re delegating your time.
The same principle applies to the tools in your toolbox: Don’t download 5 apps, get 3 new planners, and try to learn every methodology under the sun.
Start by looking at where you’re the most messy with your time. Fix 1 thing. Then fix another.
Managing time is not just for work-related productivity; doing projects for yourself and spending time on self-care is crucial to your success as well. If you’re going to maintain the stamina to crush those big goals you’re setting, you’ll need to be strong and well-rested in order to be your best.
Once you have an idea of where you can make the most impact with the least amount of change – because change can be jarring and difficult to maintain if you go too far, too quickly – keep this area of your life in mind as you review the principles of time management. How could they apply to this area of your life?
3 principles of time management
As simple as this sounds, planning ahead is the most important part of time management.
By planning ahead, you’re creating a roadmap for future-you to follow. When you show up for work or sit down to work on a goal, having a plan in place that’s well thought-out and clearly outlined makes it easy to dive right into important tasks.
Get (and stay) organized
“Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” – Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is not wrong – nothing steals time like cleaning up yesterday’s mess. Take a look at the areas most important to your productivity – your desk, your office, your car, your bag, etc. – and organize them. These places should be accessible, tidy, and compartmentalized by function. Try to do one area a day, or if they’re a real mess, one a week.
Record and review
Time management is a practice. You’ll never be done, you’ll never be perfect, but you have the propensity to be ever-improving.
Consistently monitor your time usage with a time log or app; adjust your calendar as you move through your day and make changes to your schedule; utilize journaling practices like reflect & celebrate or keeping a productivity diary. Schedule time to review these records and to make ongoing changes to your time management practice.
Your toolbox: 7 apps, products, and methodologies to streamline your time management
1. Asana | Project Management App
Create workspaces for your job, your small business, your creative projects, and even your home life. Organize tasks in a calendar, in sections, in boards, and in lists. Involve other stakeholders like employees, team members, family members, and collaborators in their respective projects. Treat every area in your life to the gift of project management and see how having a clearly defined, ever-available plan of action streamlines your efforts toward success.
2. Harvest | Time Management App
No matter what kind of employee, creator, or homemaker you might be, knowing how much time you’re spending on certain activities can change the way you live your life. Start a timer for each of your tasks easily from your phone and know exactly how much you’re spending on activities like client projects, team meetings, or vacuuming.. Use this information in the future to adjust how you commit to projects and how much you schedule in each day.
3. Ink+Volt Planner | Planning Product
Keeping a paper planner is the most tactile way to practice time management. This planner’s unique time-blocking-based weekly outline makes it easy for you to schedule large chunks of time for focused work, rather than creating a slew of line-items in 15-minute increments. Additional sections for goal setting, reflection, and brainstorming make it easy to have an all-in-one planning, execution, and review tool with you at all times.
4. Daily Task Pad | Planning Product
Know exactly what needs to be done today on a single sheet of paper. Set your focus for the day and be sure to check off your accomplishments as you go. Each line-item should have a time limit next to it to ensure you don’t overthink or overextend and miss your window of opportunity. Schedule these tasks into your calendar to be sure they don’t get missed or get overbooked with other projects.
5. Unroll.me | Declutter App
Streamline your email inbox by one-click unsubscribing from junk and unnecessary email newsletters. Anything you want to keep but not receive at distracting times throughout the day can be “rolled up” and delivered in a once-daily digest. This prevents interruptions during key focus times of the day and affords you the simplicity of a compilation of your favorite reads. Schedule time each day or each week to go through these important reads so you no longer have to resent your inbox.
6. Time Blocking | Methodology
Understanding time blocking takes a bit of open-mindedness, as it is rather different from the Western ideal of time management. Rather than scheduling the maximum number of tasks you possibly can in short time-bound increments, you instead give yourself a block of time, such as 2-3 hours, to work on a single focus like a project, large task, or event. By keeping your focus on the same subject, even if you’re completing multiple tasks on the same trajectory, you can get into a flow state and accomplish more, faster.
7. Accountability/Reminders (Google, Outlook, Apple) | Planning App
Digital accountability is crucial for those who need a reminder when they need to get up, where they need to go, how long it’ll take to get there (early, hopefully), and how much is actually on the docket for the day. Most of us have calendars on our mobile devices and on our computers, but does your calendar proactively remind you when things need to get done?
Most digital tools offer this function now; it’s just a matter of getting it all set up.
While it may not be your idea of fun to organize a digital calendar, having an accountability tool that keeps you in check, even when you’re busy or on a roll, could be the difference between accomplishing what you set up for your day and leaving work with a mess to clean up tomorrow.
Keep in mind that time management is an ongoing practice and can always be improved. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive the best productivity and time management tips delivered straight to your inbox.