Time is the ultimate luxury.
If we had more time we could do our work without the stress of deadlines, relax without feeling guilty, and even have space in our schedules to work on a dream project.
While we can’t create more hours in a day, we can use time management strategies to plan our days more effectively.
Even if you consider yourself disorganized or prone to procrastination, you can certainly improve with the right time management techniques. In fact, being aware of your habits and how you like to work can help you choose the right strategy for you and incorporate them with success.
Here are some of the best time management strategies to help you utilize your time so that you spend less time worrying and feeling like you’re falling behind, and more time doing what matters to you.
Map out your day with a to-do list
When it comes to managing our time, it’s not necessarily about working harder and being productive 24/7, but about applying focus and locking in during key moments.
That’s why a to-do list is so handy.
A to-do list gives us direction, structure, and a plan. When we have an action plan in place, we have an idea of where to begin and end our day.
More importantly, a to-do list narrows our focus. This is so helpful when we have a hundred things going on. When we write things down on paper, we know what to focus our energy and time on.
In this interview with Trevor Moawad, a mental coach for professional athletes, he uses the analogy of shopping in a grocery store:
“It’s no different than if you wrote down a grocery list and you walked into Safeway — you would focus on getting the things that you wrote down.”
In other words, if you go shopping without a list, you’re unprepared, and more likely to waste time and purchase things you don’t need. But when you’re armed with a shopping list, you’re more efficient and purposeful.
A to-do list for your day is no different.
Be prepared with a plan and only do the things that are important and on your list.
Set a timer
A to-do list gives us a specific plan. A timer gives us a specific end time.
I didn’t realize the benefit of timer until I started using one for my editing work. Without a timer in place, I would just keep polishing the same sentence over and over–without making any real progress.
But a timer gives me boundaries. I know I can’t fixate on one thing, because I have a restricted amount of time and I have to keep moving.
A timer also keeps me honest. Knowing that my alarm is going to go off, I’m less likely to dilly dally or check my texts or social media and more likely to stay in my seat until I finish.
Use a kitchen timer instead of a phone so you’re not tempted to go online.
And speaking of phones, put your phone on airplane mode and keep it in another room when you’re working. Out of sight, out of mind.
Have a reward waiting for you
We can’t rely on productivity and will power alone to get us over the finish line. We need positive reinforcement to keep us motivated and sustain our interest. It's so much easier to complete a task knowing that there’s a special treat waiting for you at the end.
After finishing a task or working for a fixed amount of time, give yourself a little reward.
Maybe it’s taking a walk to a coffee shop and getting a yummy latte.
Or checking on your favorite sports team’s scores.
Or reading a blog post.
Or having a sweet treat.
Or listening to a podcast.
Or giving yourself a literal gold star and putting it in your planner.
Rewards are just as important as productivity tools and systems.
Take more (effective) breaks
It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a break can actually help you maximize your time.
Our brain needs periods of rest so that it can recharge and focus. If you’re constantly working and focusing on output, it can put quite a strain on your body and mind, which can quickly lead to burnout.
Here’s how to incorporate more breaks into your day:
- Use the Pomodoro method: After 25 minutes of work, take a short 5 minute break.
- Make sure to actually take a lunch break. Eat your lunch away from your work space. Putting yourself in a different environment, even if it’s the kitchen table in your apartment, can give you a little refresh.
- Go for a short walk in the middle of the work day to clear your mind.
- Or go for a 40 minute walk after the work day to decompress.
- Do ten minutes of stretches.
- Take a 5 minute break to meditate
Task batching is a productivity technique that involves bundling similar tasks and executing them in one session. For instance, if you were to batch your admin related tasks, you would send work emails, submit invoices, update your work calendar, etc. before moving on to another set of tasks like doing meal prep.
The reasoning behind this is that task batching helps you sustain your focus and energy. When you’re doing a string of similar tasks, it’s easier to get into the flow and knock them off your list. On the other hand, multitasking and constantly switching between different tasks disrupts your flow, and can be quite taxing because you’re always starting over and switching from one skillset to the next.
So if you’re looking to knock off a bunch of tasks quickly and efficiently, batch them.
Write your to-do list the night before
At the end of the work day, go through your to-do list and take note of what you completed and what you didn’t get around to doing.
It’s natural for our minds to focus on the things we didn’t accomplish, so make sure that you take the time to actually cross things off your list. It may seem small, but you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment when you do.
Next, create a new to-do list for tomorrow or for the rest of the week. Add the tasks that you didn’t finish as well as new tasks that popped up.
Now you have an action plan for the next day and can start the day with confidence.
Writing your to-do list the day before can ease your mind. Use the rest of the day to enjoy your hard-earned wins and relax.