It’s easy to feel like your own worst enemy. You know you have invoices to send to clients, sessions to prepare for, and laundry to fold. Plus, we're still waiting for an app that gives us more time in the day.
While we can’t do anything to lighten your workload, we can offer some tips to improve your time management skills and save you some valuable minutes each day.
What is time management?
Time management refers to your ability to structure specific goals within a particular period, whether that's a work day, a school semester, or life. While it may seem self-explanatory, time management requires self-awareness. It's not as simple as starting from the top and working to the bottom, as most important tasks have multiple steps with varying attention and effort necessary to ensure success.
If time, or the lack thereof, is all that's keeping a dream from happening, great coaches can help you develop several "soft skills" to make getting things done less daunting.
Why is time management important?
Realizing a goal takes time and energy, whether for your business or your life. Poor time management will make achieving your goals take longer and could increase your risk of burnout. After all, working for hours without accomplishing anything is frustrating.
Good time management ensures that our time working is productive and accounts for necessary rest. Plus, achieving goals is motivating, propelling you forward.
Luckily, there are straightforward steps we can take to make the most of our time, so here’s a list of time management skills examples.
The top 8 time management skills you need
Turning on your computer is intimidating enough when work piles up, and getting notifications at any moment makes knowing where to start confusing. But the last thing that pinged isn’t necessarily an urgent task. If it doesn’t need your immediate attention, put a pin in it.
Take a moment each morning to create a personal task list of what's most important makes prioritizing easier. If there are three things you need to complete by the end of the day that reduces the pile and pushes the whole project forward, the latest email can probably wait.
Schedule some time and the beginning or end of your day for busy work — Slack messages, emails, updating spreadsheets, and whatever else can serve as a warm-up or cool-down to your intensive work. And put your most important tasks on the calendar at the times of day where you’re most effective so they receive your best energy.
Every team includes people with diverse skills, workloads, and stress levels. If one person's at their limit, it affects everyone quickly. Delegating is a time management skill that leaders use to empower their whole organization. If a specialist has to put out a fire, someone else may be able to do their less pressing tasks, like answering emails or leading meetings. Do everyone a favor by asking for help when needed.
Sometimes a difficult task doesn't need to be. If a recurring issue hinders a project, rather than muddling through it, take the time to figure out where it's coming from and try to solve it.
Try the scientific method: observe the problem, hypothesize a solution, apply it, and observe if it works. If it works, the gained efficiency will be worth the time spent. If the hypothesis fails, you’ll still have a better understanding of the problem to build on for later attempts.
Knowing if there's enough time to do a task before starting it will do wonders for your efficiency. Creating a schedule, budgeting time to complete each task, and sticking to it will help drive success and include the little things that also ensure a work-life balance.
If you don’t know how long a task takes, try “time accounting.” Spend a week tracking how long tasks actually take you — not how long you think they take you. This will help you block off your time more accurately. Try time blocking to keep you focused, too. Give yourself a set number of hours to work on a sole task and see how much you get done.
Schedules are also great for a team. If we all know our status in the project, there's less guesswork about what to prioritize. And if we're not where we are on the schedule, we know it's time to problem-solve.
Having a guiding light not only makes what to prioritize clearer, but it inspires us. Breaking an overarching project into realistic and attainable goals will rally energy and direct it where it needs to go in the moment. We won’t be discouraged when we bite off more than we can chew, and we can keep one eye on the ball while the other’s on the goal.
Effective time management means that you’re regularly hitting your targets, even if you encounter some bumps or have co-workers that are time wasters. Take control of your time to do your part well and you won’t have anything to worry about.
6. Stress management
Unfortunately, when deadlines approach, the energy we need to complete a task might manifest as stress. Even in an emergency, a calm moment can clarify a solution. Take the time to clear your head.
While scheduling, plan for stress by keeping the amount of time needed to complete our tasks clear of distractions. It's reasonable to say no to unnecessary requests, and budget some wiggle room so that your plan isn’t ruined by something unexpected.
7. Strategic planning
Everyone knows our workflow and productivity levels aren’t guaranteed to be the same every day. Any number of issues can disrupt efficiency, so factoring that into a schedule is critical to effective project management. So long as the goal remains the same, navigate a changing situation by delegating tasks, shifting immediate priorities, and problem-solving. (Are you sensing a theme?)
8. Resource management
It's incredible what we accomplish in a limited amount of time when we have everything else we need. Resource management feeds into a holistic time management strategy, like everything else on this list. If someone has solved a problem, they probably received the necessary resources to do so promptly. Make sure everyone has what they need.
3 practical tips for how to improve time management skills
For many of us, improving a skill is an endeavor in itself. Becoming more efficient isn't like flicking a switch. It means adopting a new way of looking at things. Here are a few time management tips anyone can try to become more efficient:
1. Set short-term goals
Our big goals often feel impossible because we don't consider the steps we take along the way. Dividing large goals into smaller ones will help you better allocate your time and energy. And not only do these smaller goals feel good to achieve, but they're cumulative, building momentum to conquer the next.
2. Establish clear priorities
The key to completing a task is understanding it. We often waste time determining if we've fulfilled every requirement. Know what the matter at hand demands and you can plan every necessary step to fulfill them and be confident when moving on to the next priority.
3. Update the calendar
Not only is creating a schedule integral to time management — you need to update it. This helps everyone using the calendar and makes scheduling new tasks more straightforward. Using a shared calendar app shave hours of updating off the workday.
3 examples of poor time management skills
The other side of adopting time management techniques is recognizing bad habits. Things we do when pressured seem like they may help but can actually make matters worse. The following are some things to be wary of when the clock's ticking:
When we know we have less time than we need, the adrenaline can take over, and we'll work faster than is advisable. That can lead to mistakes that lead to more work later on (and in multiple areas, if we try multitasking). Sometimes, rushing is inevitable, but being realistic and understanding about what we can do well in a small timeframe will make a more pleasant and sustainable work environment. Late work is better than sloppy work.
2. Missing deadlines
Occasionally, we need extensions. Things come up, and the only thing to do is ask for more time. But deadlines are an agreement, and missing them is a breach of trust. If we miss deadlines regularly, it sends a message that we may not be reliable. If things are consistently late, find the source of the issue and solve it — or set more reasonable deadlines in the first place.
It's great when we have more time than we need. Working at a more relaxed pace leads to better work. But even when there's more time, it's finite. And relaxing at work can only be so relaxing. Using the extra time to get ahead of issues before they occur or working on simple tasks can make work easier for longer.
Take charge of your time
Efficiency doesn't have to be on anyone else's behalf. Yes, it empowers us during the workday, but better time management skills can also limit our stress and keep our minds clear. If you need help balancing your time, consider working with Practice.